The okra is quickly cooked in a peppercorn and chili pepper infused hot oil until slightly charred on the outside. The dish has a smoky and spicy savory flavor that is almost as good as a roasted one. It uses only five ingredients and takes five minutes to cook. Isn’t it a perfect dish for a busy weekday?
Okra is becoming more popular in Beijing lately, and I’m glad to see that even my neighborhood vegetable market sells it sometimes. I wasn’t so familiar with how to cook okra until recently, so I have been experimenting with it by employing various Chinese cooking techniques. Some of the experiments didn’t turn out so great, but I loved this simple stir-fry a lot. It uses peppercorn and chili pepper to infuse hot oil with a pungent aroma. The okra is cooked quickly and gets a smoky, spicy, and tangy flavor with a simple splash of soy sauce.
For daily home cooking, my family really likes to keep things simple. If you look at this dish, you’ll get an idea of what we actually cook and eat on a daily basis. Instead of adding various types of vegetables to a dish, sometimes a single veggie yields better results, and it’s just just plain faster to cook.
Unlike roasting veggies in the oven, stir-frying requires no preheating or long cooking times to get a dish on the table. Rather than chopping and cooking a bunch of different veggies, I tend to cook very quick stir-fried dishes that use just one or a few ingredients on a daily basis. Like this easy okra stir-fry, for example, where you need only ten minutes and a few ingredients to make wonderfully flavored veggies.
Like almost all Chinese stir fried dishes, this one uses a simple technique called “qiang guo” (炝锅), which means to add pungent spices and herbs to hot oil before cooking, to infuse the oil with a nice aroma. Think about the simple Spaghetti Aglio e Olio (pasta with garlic and oil). You only need the garlic infused olive oil and a pinch of fresh herbs to cook a very flavorful dish.
By using this technique, even if you just season the dish with a pinch of salt at the end, it will have a more complex taste. The ingredients that can be added to the oil include green onion, ginger, garlic, peppercorn, and chili pepper. In simple recipes like Chinese style green vegetables, kung pao chicken, and cabbage stir-fry, qiang guo is used to add tons of flavor to the ingredients and make the dishes “taste like China”.
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Four-Ingredient Okra Stir-fry
- Heat oil in a wok (or nonstick skillet) over medium heat until warm. Add Sichuan peppercorn and cook until fragrant and dark, about 1 minute. Turn to lowest heat and use a spatula (or ladle) to scoop out the peppercorns and discard them.
- Break chili peppers into 2 to 3 parts and add them into the skillet. Stir a few times.
- Turn to medium high heat (high heat if using electric stove) and add the okra to the skillet. Stir quickly to coat okra with oil, about 1 minute. Swirl in the soy sauce and stir to mix well. Cook and stir until the okra is cooked through and charred on the edges, 2 to 3 minutes. If the skillet starts to smoke intensely, lower to medium heat during stir-frying. If you can’t hear the vibrant sizzling, turn back to high heat.
- Transfer to a plate and serve warm.
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