Since I got married, I have turned my kitchen into a laboratory. Ever since I was younger, I had an urge to cook like no other. When I was 13, my parents went away for two weeks, so I decided to make a green bean stew for my siblings. I made a long distance call to Syria to get the recipe from my grandma, the Queen of Syrian cuisine, and started cooking. Due to my lack of experience in the kitchen, I dumped in whole tomatoes into the sauce without chopping them up. My grandma told me to add tomatoes, so I assumed to just dump them in. I did not factor in that she has been cooking for 40 years and has developed a short hand way of giving recipes. ( Note to self, do not follow nana's recipe's word from word.) To this day, anytime I mention cooking to my brother and sister they recall the green bean stew.
Now my cooking has improved significantly ( although for some reason my green bean stew still isn't that great) and I have made great strides in the kitchen. My husband hails from Damascus, and their food is slightly different then food from my city, Aleppo. One major difference --> The use of cilantro.
I hate cilantro. My Mexican restaurant visits are always a disappointment because of their love of this herb. Unfortunately for me, my husband loves cilantro. To him, okra stew is inedible without it. Here's the recipe for it:
1) 2 lbs beef stew chopped
2) 1 bag of chopped frozen okra
3) 6 whole tomatoes ( large ones, not vine)
4) 1 teaspoon of butter
5) 4 tablespoons of olive oil
6) One onion roughly chopped
7) Two cloves of minced garlic
8) teaspoon of tomato paste
9) 3 freshly squeezed lemons
10) Teaspoon of sugar
11) Optional ingredient: chopped cilantro
Ok I know what your thinking, it looks like a lot of ingredients, but it's really not. You have most of this stuff in your kitchen.
Now, first things first. Take the frozen okras and put them in a strainer. Run some hot water on them, and sprinkle them with salt. Let them sit out for an hour or two, until you cook the stew. This prevents the okras from getting mushy.
Take the tomatoes and put them in some boiling water. Let them boil for about 10 minutes till they are soft. Remove them and let them cook. Once they are cool, remove the skin and the hard white part inside the tomato. Then, put them in a food processor and puree them. ( I usually just use my hand mixer in a bowl, b/c it's amazing. Best kitchen tool ever.)
Voila! Move over Julia Child, you now have fresh tomato sauce. Whenever I make it I truly feel gourmet and organic. Take the stew meat and onions, and saute them together with olive oil and butter till the stew meat is browned in a large pot. Then, add about 5 cups of water, tomato sauce, tomato paste, sugar, and lemon juice. Let it come to a boil, and then lower the heat to simmer. Beef stew needs to cook slowly in order for it to become tender, so I usually leave it slowly simmering for about an hour and a half, two hours. Then near the end, dump in the okra and minced garlic and let it cook for another half hour, and add salt and pepper. And there you have it, Okra stew. Oh ya, and if you want, you can add the nasty cilantro at the end too. =) This tastes good with rice or bread.