I credit fried okra with shifting my finicky food palette for the best. Attending college in Atlanta, Georgia in the 1980s, the cafeteria food wasn’t horrible but it wasn’t always appealing. When the stress of school, a new culture (The South, in capital letters) and homesickness got to me, I looked for comfort food, which usually meant something fried. When I spied fried okra, something I have never heard of before but the lunch ladies told me was “real good,” I decided to be daring and try it.
Yum yum yum! Crunchy cornmeal breading and hot sauce topped fried okra became my new best friend!
After that I ran wild, trying cream cheese (I have no idea why I refused it before then) and chicken fried steak (good, but so decadent, especially before 8am, served as a breakfast food!) Reluctant to share my new adventures with my mom since I had been so difficult an eater as a child, I would casually slip into conversations how much I loved okra, especially fried. It was fun to hear her mouth drop open on the other end of the phone line!
While fried okra is decidedly Southern (ex-pats will grow it wherever they live outside of the South because it is hard to find in grocery stores), everyone can enjoy it. If you come across some fresh okra, grab it immediately and ready yourself for a feast. But be warned, you’ll need to buy more than you think you’ll need, because it truly is the popcorn of the South, and you’ll want more long after you’ve cleaned the bowl!
Pan Fried Okra (inspired by Never Enough Thyme)
1 lb fresh okra, ends and tops trimmed, cut in 1/2 inch pieces
milk to cover okra in deep bowl
coarse or fine cornmeal (or chick pea flour works as well)
high heat cooking oil (peanut, safflower, sunflower)
Soak cut okra in milk for at least 15 minutes; this helps eliminate the gooeyness of the cut okra. Drain well and toss in cornmeal or chick pea flour seasoned with salt. Heat deep skillet with at least 1/2 to 3/4 inch oil. When oil is hot (place the handle of a wooden spoon in the oil and when bubbles immediately form around it, the oil is ready). Fry breaded okra in single layer, cooking until brown on each side. Remove from pan and drain and salt and shake hot sauce to taste. Serve immediately.
Recipes currently inspiring me: