Bemyeh b Lahem (baby okra, lamb, and tomato stew) will always have a special place in my soul, because it’s the dish I always ask Mama to make when I’ve been away from home. The savory combination of aromatic lamb, rich tomato sauce, and baby okra cooked to perfection is the most wonderful way to be welcomed home, and I can always smell it bubbling on the stovetop when I enter the house.
For many people, okra is not a go-to vegetable, but this recipe will change that! Make sure you select the smallest okra you can find, and it will turn into a smooth, succulent veggie with not an ounce of sliminess (I promise!). For an authentic Arabic meal, spoon the Bemyeh b Lahem over my Rez b Shayriyeh, a rice and vermicelli pilaf.
MAKES 8 TO 10 SERVINGS
3 tablespoons pure olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound boneless leg or shoulder of lamb, cut into 1½-inch cubes
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
2 small shallots, finely diced
2 whole heads garlic (about 20 cloves) peeled, cloves from 1 head left whole and cloves from 1 head finely minced
6 to 8 medium tomatoes on the vine, cored and finely diced
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 pound fresh baby okra (whole, not halved, or one thawed 16-ounce bag frozen baby whole okra, not cut okra)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground allspice
In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil and 3 tablespoons of the butter over high heat until the butter sizzles and the pot starts to smoke slightly. Add the cubes of lamb and sear in small batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pan, until the meat is evenly browned on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side; the meat should be caramel colored and have a crisp crust.
Once all the meat is seared, add the cubes with the lamb’s natural juices back into the pot, stir, and reduce the heat to medium. Stir the onion and shallots into the pot with the lamb cubes, along with the whole and minced garlic cloves and sauté until the onion and shallots are translucent and have slightly caramelized, about 5 to 7 minutes.
Stir in the diced tomatoes along with 2 cups of cold water, the cinnamon stick, and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Increase the heat to high, cover the pot and bring to a boil. Once the stew begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and partially cover the pot with the lid. Simmer for about 45 to 60 minutes, or until the meat becomes very tender and the stew thickens.
While the stew is simmering, gently wipe the outside of the okra with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. Do not wash or rinse the okra. Using a small paring knife, carefully shave off the tough okra stems and cut off the tops in a straight line, keeping the okra whole, and add the fresh or thawed okra to the stew.
Add the lemon juice; this will help the okra remain intact while cooking. If the stew appears overly thick and begins sticking to the bottom of the pot, add ½ to 1 cup of hot water as needed. Continue to simmer for another 10 minutes, just until the okra is fully cooked.
Once the okra has fully cooked, stir in the black pepper and allspice, and taste. Add additional seasoning if needed. Simmer for a few more minutes to allow the flavors to fully develop. Serve the stew hot, over rice.
VARIATION Substitute beef sirloin for lamb if you prefer.
VARIATION Substitute flat Italian green beans (romano beans) for the okra.
Taboulie tip! The longer this stew slowly simmers, the more flavorful it will become and the more tender the meat will be.
JULIE ANN SAGEER is an award-winning chef, bestselling author of her new cookbook Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen: Authentic Recipes for Fresh and Flavorful Mediterranean Home Cooking and and the TV host of the Emmy-nominated Cooking with Julie Taboulie and her brand new cooking show series Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen, airing on PBS stations nationwide. Born in Central New York and raised in the Finger Lakes, her warm, welcoming way in the kitchen lends a vibrant quality to the fresh and flavorful Mediterranean food she shares. Join the joyful Julie at www.JulieTaboulie.com and follow her on social media @JulieTaboulie.
Copyright © 2017 by Julie Ann Sageer in Julie Taboulie’s Lebanese Kitchen and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.