Okra is usually something you either love or hate. There's not much in-between territory. I've grown up eating it, so naturally I adore it. Mind you, it wasn't something my mother or my grandmother ever cooked up for us, but it was always ordered when we went out to eat. Whether at a divey meat-and-three, or at Morrison's Cafeteria for Sunday supper, a little side dish of the deep fried vegetable was always on the table.
Okra can be found in a lot of Southern recipes, often sautéed and paired with tomatoes, or as a thickening agent in gumbo. One of my new summer party tricks is to skewer it and throw it on the grill (toss with olive oil, salt, and red pepper flakes. Grill around 425° until tender and slightly charred). Fried will always be the best, though, even if it does take a bit of effort and a little more cleanup. But the best things in life usually do...
Traditionally fried okra is sliced thin and breaded in a cornmeal batter. I've put a little spin on it, however, by keeping the pods whole and making more of a "tempura-style" batter. My mix uses both flour and cornstarch, which adds crispness to the veggies while still keeping them light and airy. I have to serve my fried okra with a generous douse of homemade hot pepper vinegar (which I keep in constant supply in my fridge), but store-bought or cider vinegar will do in a pinch. And If you want to get real crazy, you could throw some thinly sliced lemons into fryer, as well. You know, just because.
So pick up some okra at your local farmers market and try my version. Let me know what you think. Perhaps you'll even convert a few haters...
Serves 6 to 8
okra, preferably small pods
Buttermilk, enough to cover okra
Kosher salt and pepper
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Hot pepper vinegar or cider vinegar, to serve
Pour a few inches of peanut oil into a heavy-bottomed pot, preferably cast iron. Heat oil to 350°, using a fry/candy thermometer to make sure the temperature stays consistent.
Meanwhile, soak the okra in enough buttermilk to completely cover. In another bowl, stir together flour, cornstarch, 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. Dredge the okra in the dry mixture until well-coated.
Working in small batches, cook the okra in the hot oil until crispy and light golden brown, about 30 seconds to a minute. Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the oil at 350°. Remove the fried okra from the oil with a spider or slotted spoon and allow to drain on brown paper bags. While still hot, season the okra with additional kosher salt and a generous splash of hot pepper vinegar. Serve immediately.
Related: Don't Hate Okra
(Images: Nealey Dozier)