I wasn’t 100% familiar with okra before I moved to the south. I knew of its existence, and I knew you could fry it. But that’s about where my expertise ended. It’s in every supermarket down here (even in winter), and my Georgia-born boyfriend has memories of his granny frying them up when he was little. So I had to wise up to this strange veggie.
They look a little intimidating. And when you cut into them, you get a strange viscous, sticky juice. But once you get past all that, they’re versatile and delicious. A classic application is in gumbo or shrimp and grits (both of which are to die for). And I made a very successful chickpea/okra indian curry this Saturday, which makes me want to try okra in just about everything.
Our CSA is offering okra as a “swap out” vegetable right now, and it’s alleviating my red beet overload from the past two months. Plus, the two little okra plants we put in the garden are just beginning to produce. We learned from our friend’s gardening adventures last season that it’s crucial to harvest the okra pods when they’re still young and tender (less than 5 inches long). Otherwise they grow tough, inedible spines up the sides and lose most of their flavor.
Over the past two years I’ve perfected my absolute favorite okra recipe. Everyone around here loves fried okra, but realistically it’s kind of a mess to fry them at home. And mostly due to my nutritionist mother, I feel a little guilty every time I fry something at home. So this is a delicious, everyday substitute for fried okra that makes a perfect side dish for just about anything.
This recipe calls for breading the okra pieces and baking them in a pretty hot oven. The result is a crispy, tender little bite that’s good by itself and GREAT dipped into any kind of flavored mayo, if you’re into that kind of thing. I’m into the siracha mayo kind of thing. This application also works beautifully with thin slices of summer squash, zucchini, or green tomatoes. (Green tomatoes should be salted and set in a colander for a few minutes before breading.)
Oven Fried Okra (makes enough for 2-4 people as a side dish)
(probably adapted from somewhere, but I can’t remember the original source)
- 1 lb. young okra pods (approximately 20 pods)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup water or milk (or buttermilk!)
- 1.5 cups breadcrumbs
- Salt & pepper
- Olive oil or cooking spray
Preheat the oven to 400°. Trim the ends off each okra pod and cut them into approximately half inch chunks. Line a baking sheet with foil, and grease it with olive oil or cooking spray.
Arrange your breading station in three medium bowls. To bowl #1, add the flour, cornmeal, a big pinch of salt and about 15 grinds of black pepper. In bowl #2, whisk 2 eggs and the water or milk. To bowl #3, add the breadcrumbs, another big pinch of salt and another 15 grinds or so of black pepper (don’t be shy).
Take the cut okra pieces, one handful at a time, and dredge them in the flour mix, egg mix, then breadcrumb mix. Make sure each piece is well coated in each step. Arrange them evenly on the prepared baking sheet as you go.
Spray/drizzle some oil on the breaded okra and bake for 12 minutes. At this point, flip/toss them around to make sure nothing is sticking. If you’re doing slices of squash or tomato, flip each slice neatly. Bake for an additional 12 minutes, or until they’re crisped to your liking.