Love Bites: On Okra Stew

This month's Love Bites columnist reflects on maternal love and okra stew

Feature by Esraa Husain | 28 Mar 2022
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‘Dearly I yearn for my mother’s bread, my mother’s coffee, mother’s brushing touch’, wrote Mahmoud Darwish in the 1960s. Today, I personally yearn for Omi’s (‘my mother’, in Arabic) okra stew. Omi’s Persian and Arab mixed-heritage gives her a certain leeway for creativity in cooking recipes: her okra stew unconventionally contains fish; despite years of domestic objections from her siblings, she persisted, and her stew became her branding signature. 

I believe that maternal intimacy is the foundational imprint of love within my own humanity. In my world, Omi’s embrace is a synonym for safety; her scent of oud brings solace; and her word of endearment is my native language. Her being is as crucial as oxygen for my sanity (and, sometimes, my insanity). We live on separate continents now, and I find myself longing for her warmth when I daydream of her okra stew. 

One evening, in winter 2022, Glasgow Southside, I spoke with Omi over Facetime. She was fighting the urge to surrender her eyelids to sleep while asking what I had for supper. I was in bed, covering heavily and seeking warmth. "I cooked the diasporic version of your okra stew tonight," I said jokingly. We said our goodnights and ended the video call.

I couldn’t let the stew simmer long due to my financial limitations when attending to the energy bills. Canned food fits my student budget so I used canned baby okras, canned tomato sauce, and canned tuna flakes. To compensate, I sprinkled in some Kuwaiti mixed spices, and the aroma took me right back to the vision of Omi in her kitchen, cutting fresh vegetables and rearranging her spice cabinets. I didn’t feel cold anymore; Omi’s okra stew brings a complete disconnect from my reality as a solo immigrant, and instead re-connects me to her.