Whenever the question is asked, "how can I meet new people?" there seems to be one consistent answer: join a club. Personally, I've never taken this advice. Joining a club involves going somewhere on your own and meeting new people, and the thought of being surrounded by people I don't know kind of gives me panic attacks.
But last week I stepped outside of my comfort zone to go to a meeting of the Brooklyn Kitchen's Foodie Book Club, and I'm so glad I did! I guess the reason people are told to join clubs is to find other people with common interests (really now), and I'm definitely interested in food, so it was a perfect fit. (My friends, for the most part, are not interested in food at all. In fact, my closest guy friend either eats out or eats frozen tortellini - with no sauce - for every. single. meal.)
The book for last week's meeting was Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver which is about one family's attempt to produce as much of their own food as possible for a year, and supplement it almost exclusively with local products. Members of the book club are asked to bring a dish inspired by the book, so I picked up some extra ingredients during my most recent greenmarket trip. I would have loved to include something home-grown but the tiny basil plant on my fire escape is not too happy that the days are getting shorter. Apparently 5 minutes of direct sunlight a day isn't really enough to keep it growing. Anyway, at the market, I saw a giant pile of okra, and I remembered a dish I had at a Turkish restaurant a while back that had okra, lamb, and tomatoes. I thought I'd try to recreate it so I picked up some fresh lamb stew meat from another market vendor and this is the recipe I came up with. Sorry it's so vague - my camera died, so I don't have any pictures, so I wasn't really planning on blogging the dish. But it was well received at the event last night, and Taylor (one of the owners of Brooklyn Kitchen) asked me for the recipe, so here's what I remember!
Lamb, Okra, and Tomato Stew
3/4 lb lamb
1 lb fresh okra
a few cloves of garlic
4 plum tomatoes
salt and pepper
knife and cutting board
saucepan or dutch oven-type pot
Prepare the okra by rinsing it and gently rubbing it try to remove some of the fuzz. Trim the tops leaving a little bit of the "cap" on. Put the okra in a bowl and drizzle some vinegar over them, then set it aside for half an hour (you can get everything else ready in the meantime).
Cut the lamb into bite-size pieces and season with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil, maybe 1-2 tbs, in a Dutch oven or something similar, then add the lamb and brown it on all sides (~10 mins). While the lamb cooks, chop the onions and the garlic. Add to the pan and cook until the onions turn translucent.
For the tomatoes, I chopped two of them finely and two of them in larger pieces, but once everything cooked down together I'm not sure it made a difference, so cut the tomatoes to whatever size you want. You can also peel them beforehand if you are feeling fancy. I didn't bother. Either way, once the onions and garlic are cooked, add the chopped tomatoes, okra (drained), a splash of the vinegar the okra were sitting in, and water to almost cover everything. Stir it all up, season with more salt and pepper to taste, and if you added a little too much vinegar (*raises hand*) you can balance it out with a small spoonful of honey.
When the water starts to boil, cover the pot and lower the heat. Let it simmer for a while, however long it takes to shower and watch the Daily Show - probably an hour. Check to see if the okra are tender and the lamb is cooked through. If they are, remove the cover and turn the heat up a little until some more liquid boils off and it thickens up a little, maybe 15 minutes longer. And you're done! This also works ahead of time -- in fact I'm pretty sure it tasted better at the book club the next day than it did when I first made it, and the leftovers the following day were even better.