Middle Eastern Okra and Tomato Stew, with a twist

I used to live close to the Edgware Road in London, which is the Middle Eastern part of town, well as Middle Eastern as it can be in London. It has a fairly chilled atmosphere with people spilling out of the cafes onto the pavements smoking their apple tobacco from their hookahs, when the weather permit and the sun shines.

There are two things however that I really miss most about the Edgware Road.

1) Mandalay Burmese restaurant, which as the name states is not Middle Eastern but a Burmese restaurant run by the affable and learned Burmese brothers Dwight and Gary. The restaurant serves good, honest, home cooked Burmese food (cooked by Dwight and Gary’s female relatives). It tastes divine and the whole experience is very memorable. They have a little library up at the front with a few Burmese books, which you can peruse at your leisure whilst waiting for your dining companion to arrive. Whilst it won’t win awards for decor, it wins hands down on charm and substance. You need to book as it is often packed to the rafters.

2) Green Valley Lebanese mini market, which Mr B and I always referred to as ‘Valley of the Kings’ for some reason. It has a wonderful deli selling a huge array of salads, hot bread, stews, cheeses and a butcher selling good quality halal meat, as well as cuts you may not see at your typical English butcher – sheeps’ tongues anyone? In addition, it also sells a vast array of fresh produce and the best baklava in town, which they put together on platters for you. Basically they stock every interesting food product imaginable and this place is like a tardis in the amount of food that it holds. We would make weekly weekend trips to stock up on goodies.

I was back there the other day buying some baklava (it’s worth the trip trust me), when I decided to buy a few little savoury edibles from the deli counter to munch in the car on the way home. Whilst making my selection my eyes rested for a while on the delicious looking okra and tomato stew. Whilst it isn’t so easy to transport and eat in the car, I decided to make some of my own when I got home and add my own little twist to the dish – butter beans. I do love my lentils and pulses and couldn’t resist adding them to the dish – for true purists amongst you simply skip the bit about adding butter beans.

The dish tastes great warm or at room temperature with Middle Eastern flat bread. It takes no time to make and am sure can convert even those who are a little reluctant about eating okra (or lady’s fingers as it is also known).

Middle Eastern Okra, Tomato and Butter Bean Stew

Inspired and adapted from  Mongolian Kitchen.com

2 onions, chopped

3 garlic cloves,  roughly chopped

400 g of frozen okra (or fresh if you have it to hand)

1 tin of tomatoes, blended

splash of olive oil

1 tin of butter beans (they tend to be around 240g)

half a lemon, juice only

2 tsp of ground coriander

1 tbsp tomato puree

salt and pepper, to season

1. Add a splash of olive oil to a deep pan and when it is hot add the chopped onion and garlic and stir a little until they soften and becomes translucent. This should take around 6 minutes.

2. Whilst the onions and garlic are softening, blend a tin of tomatoes with a hand blender until smooth. Before adding the blended tomatoes, add the ground coriander and seasoning and stir into the onions and garlic.

3. Add the blended tomatoes to the pan along with the tomato puree and lemon juice. Stir thoroughly and let simmer for a few minutes.

4.  Add the butter beans and frozen okra and add a little boiling water so that the okra is fully submerged. Leave to gently simmer for 25 30 minutes, stiring gently, occasionally.

5. Taste and add more seasoning as required and serve with warm Middle Eastern flat bread. It could also be served with cous cous or steamed rice.

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