Pakistani Okra Stir-Fry
No slime, no crime: This recipe from the Subcontinent is all crisped edges and spicy sauce.
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.
When people think of okra, they often think of slime and goo, but I'm here to tell you that, with the right technique, the tender green pod might become your new favorite vegetable.
Growing up in Pakistan, okra was always golden and crisp but also tender, robed in a saucy masala of juicy tomatoes and velvety onions. I still make it this way in my New York kitchen whenever I return from the farmers market with a bag of okra. Following my mom’s recipe, I start with a base of garlic, ginger, chile powder, and turmeric. (This mixture to us is like mirepoix for the French or sofrito for Latin Americans.) Then I add the onions and fried okra and simmer everything to meld the flavors.
Sadly, I can’t always find okra at my local farmers market, but a bag of the frozen stuff from the Indian supermarket works great in a pinch. It comes de-stemmed and sliced, which saves me time in the kitchen; I just cook it a little longer and don’t deep-fry it (the extra water makes it splatter).
When buying fresh okra, look for medium pods that are bright green, dry, unblemished, and no longer than your pointer finger: The bigger, the tougher is the rule I go by. Okra is surprisingly inexpensive and will keep for about four days, refrigerated in a paper-towel-lined produce bag. You can use any extra okra in this recipe from the Caribbean, which is a personal favorite.
To clean okra, give the pods a rinse, then spread them on a kitchen towel. (They soak up water, so it’s important that they be as dry as possible to ensure proper crisping.) With some quick prep, this stir-fry comes together in no time. I encourage you to sop it up with flatbread, like a chapati or paratha, or to ladle it over basmati rice—but if not, a fork will do.
- ¾ cups vegetable oil
- 1 lb. okra, stemmed and cut into 1-in. lengths (5 cups)
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tbsp. ginger paste
- 1 tsp. Indian-style red chile powder, or cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp. garlic paste
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 medium plum tomatoes, cut into wedges
- Steamed rice or roti, for serving