52 Foods Week Thirty Six: Okra

I am often impressed by the resolve of Southern vegetarians. To willfully place off limits such a wide swath of one’s regional cuisine would be surprising in any instance, but when that cuisine includes such outstanding dishes as fried chicken and jambalaya and even the vegetables, such as collard greens, have meat as an integral component, it would be hard to fault anyone for renouncing their herbivosity.

One culinary trait I have noticed among my Southern vegetarian friends is both an affinity for and a skill at making fried okra that no omnivore I know has ever demonstrated. I admit to being a bit intimidated by okra preparation, afraid I will create a sticky mess. Lucky for me, as okra season arrived, one of those aforementioned Southern vegetarians expressed interest in helping me make some fried okra for Fifty Two Foods. I nearly stumbled over myself to say yes.

I picked up a pile of okra from Vue Family Farms, and our friend, Anna, brought along a few red okras from another friends’ farm. I handed her a knife and stepped aside while she demonstrated her okra technique. She began by cutting the okra into approximately inch long pieces.

Slicing Okra

While cutting the okra, she instructed me to combine two eggs with a cup of milk in a small bowl.

Eggs and Milk

Next she had me mix two parts cornmeal with one part flour.

Flour and Cornmeal

Soon we had a huge pile of sliced okra. Because there was so much, we had to batter and fry it in batches, which allowed plenty of time to eat one batch of okra while the next cooked.

Lots of Okra

We placed a couple handfuls of okra in the egg-milk mixture and let them soak for about five minutes. Anna says that soaking it removes the sliminess that is the hallmark of poorly made okra.

Soak in Liquid

Next we rolled the okra in the cornmeal mixture.

Dredge in Flour and Cornmeal

Finally, we dropped the battered okra into a pan of hot peanut oil and flipped them frequently so they cooked evenly. When they were crisp—about five minutes—we pulled them out, drained them on newsprint and sprinkled them with a little salt.

Anna Supervises

We made four or five batches in total. After the first couple, we tried adding more spices to the batter. A good spice mix was a healthy dose of “cajun creole seasoning” (paprika, onion, garlic, black pepper, lemon peel, chile, allspice, thyme, cloves, mace, cayenne and bay leaf) along with a few more dashes of cayenne pepper for heat.

For a Spicy Batch

Making fried okra turned out to be pretty easy. What I lacked was direction and confidence, two things that being a vegetarian in the South must really inspire.

Fried Okra

One Comment

  1. ElGordo
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Delicious! You can also simplify things and reduce the fat content (as well as keep the recipe vegan) by omitting the egg and milk mixture. The mucilage in the okra will bind the cornmeal mixture to it on its own. As for spices, I just add liberal amounts of salt and black pepper and a pinch of cayenne.

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