Lately, the weather around here has been ridiculously hot and humid--which is exactly what okra needs to thrive and flourish. Okra gets a bum rap because of its tendency to be "slimy" when cooked in certain ways. But this humble vegetable can be quite delicious, and slime-free, when properly prepared. Okra plays a notable role in a variety of ethnic cuisines, including Cajun and Creole dishes, in certain parts of India, and in countries or regions with an African influence including the American South, Cuba and other parts of the Caribbean.
Here in North Carolina, okra is usually dredged in cornmeal or cracker meal and fried, ideally resulting in a light and crispy coating and a tender, non-slimy okra interior IF fried in oil that's hot enough.
Below is my version of traditional fried okra, with barbecue-inspired flair, and the recipe after it is one I created last night when I tried to make "oven-fried" okra. You can double or halve both recipes. The "Crispy Okra" is exactly that: Very light and crunchy like the "freeze-dried" veggie mix (usually peas, corn, peppers) that you can buy at natural-foods stores, or like the crunchy fried onion strings used as a topping for green bean casserole. Rather than a lower-fat side dish alternative to fried okra, I think the Crispy Okra works best as a tasty, intriguingly crunchy topping or garnish for gumbo or jambalaya, or sprinkled over a dollop of sour cream on a bowl of chili, or spooned on top of fish dishes like the jerked fish I made for dinner last night. Heck, I could see myself snacking on a bowl of Crispy Okra instead of air-popped popcorn because it's completely greaseless and has a satisfying light crunch with a mild okra flavor. Let me know what you think if you make either recipe--or feel free to share your own favorite okra recipe!
BBQ-Spiced Fried Okra
1 lb. fresh okra
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp to 1 1/2 tsp of your favorite BBQ dry rub or seasoning
1/2 cup oil for frying (e.g., vegetable or canola)
Rinse the okra, pat dry with a paper towel, trim the ends and slice into 1/4" thick rounds. Place the cornmeal and dry rub seasoning in a resealable plastic bag, seal the bag and shake to mix. Add the okra slices and shake until all the okra is evenly coated with the cornmeal mixture. Heat the oil over medium-high heat (350F degrees) in a large heavy-bottom skillet or wok. When oil is hot enough, carefully add the okra: If there's a lot of leftover cornmeal in the plastic bag, I use a slotted spoon to scoop the okra out so that I can shake off excess cornmeal. Fry the okra until it's golden-brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Use a slotted spoon or spatula to removed the fried okra from the oil, and place on a paper-towel-covered plate to cool a bit and absorb excess oil. Serve hot.
1 lb. fresh okra
1 cup cornmeal
Salt and pepper to taste, OR 1 tsp of your favorite seasoning blend
Preheat oven (I used the convection setting of my microwave/convection oven) to 425F degrees. While the oven is preheating, rinse the okra, pat dry with a paper towel, trim the ends and use a sharp knife to slice into very thin rounds, the thinner the better. Place the cornmeal and seasoning in a resealable plastic bag, seal the bag and shake to mix. Add the okra slices and shake until all the okra is evenly coated with the cornmeal mixture. Spread the okra on a lightly greased baking sheet or shallow pan (you can use an ungreased non-stick sheet or pan). If desired, you can very lightly spray the okra with cooking spray (I didn't do this last night). Bake at 425F for 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir to turn okra slices over then return to oven and cook for another 10 minutes or until crispy. The okra might not brown much, which is fine so long as it is completely crispy. When it's done, remove from oven, allow to cool a bit then serve as a topping or garnish, or in a bowl as a finger snack.