Welcome to SAVEUR’s column on how to cook local produce according to our test kitchen manager, Fatima Khawaja. This is where you’ll find creative, unfussy meal ideas plus plenty of cooking advice—like what to do with that bumper crop of zucchini or how to store delicate heirloom tomatoes. Every other week, Fatima hits the farmers market and chooses a peak-season ingredient to explore in depth. Follow along, and you’ll learn how to turn the season’s bounty into easy plant-based meals that’ll be on the table in under an hour.
Colorful, fresh produce has always inspired me, whether I’m in Pakistan shopping with my mother for turnips and okra, or in Mexico’s mercados eyeing the chiles, tomatillos, and hoja santa. So of course, as New York City’s farmers markets burst to life with spring and summer produce, writing a vegetable-focused column is especially exciting. It also feels important to the times we’re living in: For those of us trying to eat more fruit and vegetables—not only for our health, but for that of the planet as well—I bring you In Good Season: your new go-to source for delicious, unfussy, and simple recipes.
The column’s inaugural star is asparagus, one of the first vegetables that turns up when spring arrives. You can find its stalks thick and stubby or long and slender, green or white or even purple—all are delectable in their own right. You’ll want to make sure to use fresh asparagus within a day or two of buying it, because its tips can turn slimy, but that won’t be difficult because the only real prepwork is trimming away the fibrous root ends. I like to do this by simply bending the stalks to see where the tough end meets the tender top—and that’s where I slice down. I love straightforward sautéed asparagus, and since I wanted to keep them whole, crispy, and barely cooked, for this recipe I took things a step further by coating them in a light chickpea batter seasoned with some of my favorite spices and herbs for a market-inspired take on South Asian pakoras.
I grew up eating pakoras, a beloved street food in Pakistan, either just outside the markets with my mother after an evening of shopping, or at home during the month of Ramadan, where they turn up as a reward for fasting. To make them, vegetables like potatoes, eggplant, or spinach and onion are dredged in batter, then fried in bubbling oil. The batter encases the vegetables in a crisp, crackly shell that keeps the star ingredients moist and al dente. Served with tamarind or cilantro chutney, a squeeze of lemon, or even ketchup, these savory treats are irresistable, impossible to stop at one, or two, or even three. I’ve definitely eaten a whole platter myself.
Enjoy these asparagus pakoras with friends while entertaining, as a tea-time snack, or just because. Feel free to swap the asparagus out for other vegetables that like being fried, such as onions, eggplant, or my mother-in-law's favorite, green chilis.
- 1½ cups chickpea flour (aka gram flour or besan)
- 2 tsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more for sprinkling
- 1¼ tsp. medium-hot red chile powder, such as Kashmiri, plus more to taste
- ⅛ tsp. baking soda
- ½ cups coarsely chopped cilantro
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 lb. asparagus, fibrous ends discarded
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- Tamarind chutney, for dipping (optional)
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