Okra’s appeal. Southern litmus test. Love it.
There’s no ambivalence whatsoever about okra – people love it or hate it. Two places that love it are the Southern United States and India… maybe it’s something about hot, humid climates? In the US it’s a litmus test – anyone who’ll eat it is probably from the South.
Texture is the problem. Detractors call it “slimy,” and indeed it is if prepared improperly. The classic gumbos are thickened with okra, except for Creole-style which uses filé, ground sassafras leaves. Institutional gumbos certainly can be slimy, as they are made haphazardly and with canned ingredients… “cafeteria gumbo” is undoubtedly the worst single contributor to okra’s poor reputation.
Fried okra is the classic Southern preparation. It’s very simple: okra is dredged in corn meal and fried in some kind of fat until lightly browned. In the old days the fat was always bacon drippings, but now we use canola oil and a lighter touch.
- 1 pound okra
- corn meal (I use Anson Mills)
- 2-3 Tb canola oil
- salt, pepper
Wash and dry okra and cut into 3/16″ rounds, discarding stem ends. Place in bowl, mix in well a handful of corn meal. Add small amounts of corn meal until no more sticks to the okra. Heat the canola oil until hot but not smoking, then add the okra with a slotted spoon to minimize adding loose cornmeal. Fry for a moment, then toss to coat with hot oil. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook until a light golden brown, season with salt and pepper to taste.