While it takes some effort to prepare, rempah is incredibly versatile, and is a staple in many Malay and Nyonya dishes found to South-East Asia. One of my favourite dishes is okra stir-fried in rempah, which is also easily found in Singapore’s many nasi padang (assorted meat & vegetable dishes) food stalls.
Also known as lady’s fingers, okra is a versatile vegetable that can either be stewed in a soup or curry, or stir-fried. When fried in rempah, the natural stickiness of the okra is absorbed by the rempah, allowing the diner to savour the texture and flavour of okra more easily.
When buying okra, choose pods that are green and very firm to the touch. A common test for good okra is to hold the tip of an okra pod between the thumb and forefinger and attempt to break it. If it breaks easily, it’s passed the test. However, it’s usually a good idea to do this discreetly — most vegetable sellers do not like their customers leaving the unwanted pods behinds with half-broken tips.
Malay-style Okra in Rempah
Serves 2, as a Asian-style main served with steamed rice.
approx. 15-20 medium-sized okra pods
3tbsp cooking oil
1/2 tbsp sugar + extra, as needed
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp dried shrimp, soaked for two hours and drained
2 large red chillies
1 medium-sized onion
Dice the onions and chillies. Wash the okra and slice crosswise, discarding the stems and tips.
To prepare the rempah, pound the dried shrimp in a mortar and pestle, followed by the chillies and onion. Pound the rempah ingredients together until a smooth paste is formed. Set aside.
Heat 3tbsp of oil in a frying pan or wok over medium-low heat. Add the rempah, salt and sugar and fry for about 10 minutes, until fragrant and slightly browned. Stir constantly- do not allow the rempah to burn. Taste and adjust, adding more salt and sugar if necessary. The rempah’s flavour should be spicy with a touch of sweetness.
Turn the heat up to medium-high, then add the okra. Stir-fry for another 3-5 minutes until the okra turns bright green. The okra should remain crunchy- do not overcook.
Remove from heat, and serve hot with steamed rice.