When we travel abroad, we like to stay in guesthouses for part of the trip to get a “feel” of the local place. I picked a guesthouse that was ranked highly on TripAdvisor, but more importantly was close to bus station. We thought of Selçuk as our base camp for visiting Ephesus, which was only 1.5 miles away. But surprisingly, we had one of our best meals of the trip at our guesthouse.
Upon arrival at the guesthouse, one of the owners gave us the predictable check-in orientation. She mentioned that they cook dinner every night for their guests and to let her know if we were interested, to make sure they’ll cook enough. Eh, at first we brushed it off – said we weren’t sure if we’d make it back in time from sightseeing. I had a couple local eateries listed as places to try anyway. So she said, “sure, no problem.” Then, she said in passing that, “mama’s cooking tonight.”
My food goals for Turkey were to try some street food, some classics, some contemporary cuisine, and some home cooking. I thought authentic, home cooking would be the hardest to find. So when I heard that “mama” was cooking, game over. Done. And we were lucky. Dinner was what you’d expect when you hear a phrase like that. There was nothing fancy, nothing meticulously plated. It was just honest, genuine food.
My favorite dish was this okra in a tomato based stew, hint of tangy but very aromatic. After we left Selçuk and traveled to some other towns along the Mediterranean coast, we saw slightly different iterations of this dish. Turns out, this is called Domatesli Bamya, a Southern Turkish regional dish popular in the summertime. Before Selçuk, I was neutral towards okra. This stew was so delicious, we recreated it the first weekend back in the States.
- Wash and drain the okra.
- Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven.
- Sauté the onion and garlic for about 2-3 minutes, until the onion becomes transparent.
- Add the bell pepper and chopped tomatoes.
- Add in the coriander, all spice, cinnamon, pepper and salt. Cook together for a few more minutes.
- In a separate cup or bowl, mix together the tomato sauce and water and pour into pot.
- Add in the lemon juice and cook together for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the okra and stir to combine.
- Cook uncovered on medium heat for about 15 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low and let gently simmer for 30-40 minutes.
- Serve with bread or rice.
Okra is mucilaginous; this is goo, for lack of a better term, that surrounds the seeds in the pod. Cooking okra for a long time dissolves the goo. But if you’re cooking the pod whole, and break it in the process, then the whole dish will become…slimy. So if you really need to stir the stew, stir gently. And if you break a pod, remove it from the pot. I actually went the whole simmering process without stirring and the stew came out great!