Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus)
As I indicated in last week’s introduction, today’s post brings okra to the table. If you didn’t grow up in the southern USA, or aren’t hip on ethnic food, you may not even know what okra is, what it looks like, or what to do with it. Let me fill in the blanks.
History, Uses, and Miscellany
Elsewhere in the world, okra is known as ladies fingers, gombo, bhindi, and bamieh (among many other derivations of these words). It originated in northeastern Africa near Ethiopia and southern Egypt, spreading into other cultures at least 700 years ago. During the 18th century okra arrived in the southeastern United States with the slave trade.
Due to its mucilaginous (gooey) composition, okra has primarily been used as a thickening agent in soups, stews, gravies, curries, and gumbos. It can also produce a high-quality cooking oil, flour, and paper, derived from the seeds, pods, and fiber, respectively. Nutritionally, it is high in vitamin A, C, B6, magnesium, and potassium, plus okra contains a superior class of vegetable protein similar to soybean.
Today, we’re going to cook it the only way I know how — frying! I’ll show you two different ways.
What Does Okra Look Like?
Here are some pictures of okra, so you can see what a nice batch of fresh pods looks like and how to prepare them. You want to select pods that are only 2-3″ long, with no blemishes or brown marks, and intact stems. Usually they are green but you can also find (or grow) okra that is purple-red in color. For both of the following recipes they should be cut into 1/4″ to 1/2″ slices. It is not necessary to wash them beforehand, as they should not be dirty.
Click any image for a larger version.
Mom’s Pan-Fried Okra
Growing up, this was one of my all-time favorite dishes that my mom prepared for us. She always cooked okra in a cast-iron skillet, and always included potatoes and onions in the mix. It is a great hearty side dish that goes well with creamed corn, mashed potatoes with gravy, or green beans.
1 lb fresh sliced okra [picture]
1 cup ground corn meal
1 medium yellow onion, diced [picture]
1-2 medium potatoes of your choice, cut into 1/2″ chunks [picture]
Salt and pepper to taste
A little bit of olive or peanut oil
1. Mix okra, onions, potatoes, salt, pepper, and corn meal in a bowl to evenly coat. [picture]
2. Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium until it reaches temperature (2-3 minutes). Add enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the okra mix to the pan and distribute evenly. Cook for at least 2 minutes without stirring.
4. After 2 minutes, stir it up and check the level of browning. You want it to be dark brown, almost burned. If it is light brown, try going for 4 minutes per side. If medium brown, try 3 minutes. Then turn. Basically you are going to brown for a few minutes, stir it up, then brown again for a total of about 25 minutes or until the potatoes are done.
Mae Mae’s Deep-Fried Okra
On the other hand, my grandma always deep-fried her okra. Nothin’ in here but flour, corn meal, salt, pepper, and buttermilk! Yum.
1 lb fresh sliced okra [picture]
2 cups ground corn meal
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder (or use self-rising corn meal)
1/2 tsp salt (or more to taste)
Pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk*
4 cups peanut oil for frying
[* For a non-dairy buttermilk, add 2 tsp white vinegar to 1 cup of plain soymilk. This is what I used.]
1. Mix the corn meal, flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper together in a bowl. Put the buttermilk in another bowl. You will be transferring the okra from one bowl to another.
2. Heat up the frying oil to 375 F degrees in a large, deep sauce pan. It is key that you use a thermometer! BE CAREFUL: You don’t want the oil to be more than 1/3 full in the pan, otherwise it might boil over and create a dangerous situation.
3. Drench the okra in the buttermilk and then transfer to the corn meal flour mixture and coat well [picture]. Flour only a small batch at a time (about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of okra) otherwise you will overload your fryer, the temperature will drop too much, and your okra will not be as crispy as it should be.
4. Transfer okra to 375 F oil, then crank up the heat to prevent the oil from getting too cool as the okra cooks. The okra is done when it is golden brown, 1-2 minutes.
5. Remove okra from fryer to a plate lined with paper towels. Or, as is my preference, use a cross-wire cooling rack with newspaper underneath.
For Next Week
[I totally dropped the ball and added this after posting]
Next week’s recipes will require:
2 lbs yellow squash
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 green bell pepper
1/2 medium carrot
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1/2 cup milk
4 Tbsp butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
Salt and pepper
1 lb yellow squash
1 bunch green onions
1 clove garlic
1+ cups panko (or reg bread crumbs)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil for pan frying (peanut preferred)
See you next week!
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Now Playing: So This Is Goodbye by Junior Boys and Frank Black by Frank Black.
|Ben is a graduate student at NCSU studying Crop Science with an emphasis on Sustainable Agriculture. Official foodie credentials are non-existent, other than the fact that he has been cooking for himself since he was 12 years old. You can find his personal blog at bengarland.com, photos and videos at bengarland’s Flickr photostream, and his plans for a self-constructed cob house and organic farm over at Our Farm Adventure (still a very new work in progress).|