okra, lamb, and an oven

In the mid-seventies, Greek restaurants invaded West Germany. These restaurants all worked more or less according to the same formula: to the accompaniment of plink-y-ploink background music, you were first served a “free” glass of freezing-cold Ouzo (whether you were thirteen or eighty). Mellowed accordingly, you ordered a too copious and too salty meal, such as the following classic: mixed grilled meats with tsatsiki, olives, salad, a heap of rice and French Fries. An alternative would have been to choose between their oven dishes: lamb with beans, lamb with eggplant, lamb with tomatoes, lamb with okra, beef with beans…

When I finally visited Greece in 1977, I found that, in fact, the real Greek restaurants usually offered rather few of these grilled excesses (not counting the ubiquitous souvlaki) but had instead many varieties of the veggie-plus-meat squishy-stew kind of food. As every good tourist guide will tell you, another special thing in Greece is that the tourists often are invited into the kitchen to look around and pick the food of their choice. Of course, I still don’t know how the Greek cook at home. So this following manner of preparation is not “Greek”: just my way with okra and lamb.

Preheat the oven to medium, 375 degrees F.

Okra: people always buy the cans; they’re just not good at all. Others try fresh okra perhaps once, find them too slimy and forget about them. My kitchen dictionary describes the technique of getting rid of their excess of jelly-y juice: one cuts off their stems at the base without damaging/opening the okra themselves and cuts off the dried tips. Then they are cooked in salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes, drained and set aside.

Lamb: One would need a whole bit of some sort of medium-sophisticated roast of lamb. I normally buy lamb when there’s some sort of a sellout (like Owen D. does according to Lynn D’s comment on this post). Then I can get bits of around 1 kilo without too much fat and other unpleasantness for a reasonable price. I cut away any excess of fat (there’ll be plenty left) and brown the meat on all sides in olive oil, in a cast iron pan with a fireproof lid that afterwards can go into the oven.

Tomatoes: big ripe ones cut in not too small pieces, or a can of good, red plum tomatoes.

Eggplant: sliced one way or another.

I dissolve the brown residue in the pan with some water, reduce it, add half a glass of white wine and spices like mint (not peppermint), half a teaspoon of ground caraway seeds, pepper, rosemary and some cumin, perhaps also paprika powder. And garlic, of course.

Now I put the tomato bits in one corner, the okra in the other one and slices of eggplant flat down in the middle. I add a little olive oil (but remember, there will be lots of fat in the meat), sprinkle everything with salt, place the meat on top, sprinkle with a little more salt.

All this goes into the oven, lid on, and is forgotten for about 2 hours. Not completely forgotten… sometimes one needs to add some water or to turn the meat.

Rice is a good accompaniment, another one would be the rice-shaped Greek pasta from the specialty corner, but I’ve never really managed to get it like they serve it at home. You need something along with this. Look at Greek salad.

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