The day starts early in the villages of the Punjab, one of India’s “granary” states. Cows have to be milked, breakfasts prepared (very often stuffed parathas served with buttermilk or tea), and lunches made for those who work in far-away wheat fields. These lunches could consist of simple whole-grain tandoori breads and a vegetable, perhaps this okra. There may be a small raw onion or a pickle to add an extra fillip. A majority of the villagers in the Punjab are vegetarians and basically wheat eaters, so no meal is really complete without the flatbreads of the area.

    Okra ripens mostly in the summer or the monsoon season here, and it is a beloved vegetable that comes at a time when mostly summer squashes hold sway. It is prepared the way many Punjabi vegetables are prepared—with onion, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, and some basic spices, such as cumin and coriander. Very often, dried fenugreek leaves are added as well for that special umami flavor.

    SERVES 4

    • 14 oz. okra (small, tender pods are best)
    • 5 tablespoons peanut or olive oil
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 medium onion, peeled and very finely chopped
    • 1 teaspoon peeled and very finely grated fresh ginger
    • 1 teaspoon peeled and finely crushed garlic
    • 2 medium tomatoes (about 10 oz in all), peeled and finely chopped
    • ½ teaspoon ground coriander
    • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
    • ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
    • ¼–¾ teaspoon nice red chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi)

    1. Wipe each okra pod with a damp cloth, then spread them out to air-dry. Remove the very top cones on the pods as well as the tips at the bottom, then slice the pods crosswise into ½ inch pieces.

    2. Put 3 tablespoons of the oil in a medium, preferably nonstick, frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When hot, add all the okra. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes, or until the okra begins to take on a little color. Turn the heat down to medium. Keep frying and lowering the heat as you go for about 15 minutes, or until the okra is cooked through and lightly browned all over. Sprinkle in about ¼ teaspoon of salt and some pepper, and mix well. Remove the okra with a slotted spoon and transfer it to a bowl.

    3. Add enough of the remaining oil to the pan to make 3 tablespoons. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the onions. Stir and fry for about 5 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the ginger and garlic, lower the heat to medium, and stir-fry for a minute. Add the tomatoes, coriander, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, and fenugreek leaves. Stir and cook, breaking up the tomato pieces, until you have a thick sauce.

    4. Fold in the cooked okra, adding ½ teaspoon of salt as you do so. Mix gently, and cook on low heat for a minute. Check the salt.