Only, you know, not, because if you’re okra-averse due to the slime factor, fried is definitely the way to go. Frying gives you a completely un-slimy result, which more than justifies the inconvenience and mess.
I first fell in love with okra not in this form, or in any typically southern application like gumbo, but in Thai food. One of our regular hang-outs adds okra to their vegetarian red and green curries. The okra’s mucilage melts into the surrounding coconut milk to create a velvety sauce, and the de-slimed rounds have a fabulously crunchy-firm texture and fresh green flavor, the exact opposite of all of offensive things I’d always heard about okra.
Since I had no time for Thai curry on the Monday I made these, I went looking for the easiest fried okra recipe I could find. Mark Bittman’s sounded almost perfect, except that I wasn’t going to batter each individual piece of okra. I opted instead for whisking together the dry ingredients, stirring in the buttermilk, then dumping in the okra to coat. It worked perfectly, the slime from the okra leaching into the cornmeal batter and thickening it so efficiently that you would have thought I’d used eggs.
We had these fritters for dinner with leftover cauliflower and potato soup from Sunday, dipping the crunchy little bites into a cocktail sauce thrown together by His Lordship from ketchup, mayo, horseradish, and some homemade hot sauce. The hot sauce was originally intended to serve as a basic red enchilada sauce, but the peppers, probably mislabeled at the farmers market, were so infernally spicy that we ended up having to dilute it down with vinegar and put it in tiny bottles to use as a pants-kicking alternative to the two commercial hot sauces we already have on hand. If I can reconstruct what went into it, I’ll write it up, because it might have been serious overkill for enchiladas, but is really quite good as a condiment.
(Adapted from Fried Okra in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4-5 grinds black pepper
1/4 teaspoon each chipotle and ancho powder
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 pound okra, trimmed and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
Canola or vegetable oil for deep frying
Whisk together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir in the buttermilk to form a thinnish batter, then fold in the okra. Let the batter sit for several minutes, long enough for the slime to release into the batter and thicken it up.
In the meantime, heat several inches of oil in a medium, high-sided pot until it burbles around a wooden chopstick or spoon handle (technically around 350 F).
With two soup spoons, scoop up around two tablespoons of batter and drop it into the hot oil. The fritters should consist of no more than three slices of okra and its surrounding batter, to keep them small enough to cook through all the way without burning the outside. Once the fritters are a deep golden brown, remove from the oil with a slotted spoon or mesh strainer and set on a rack over brown paper to drain the excess oil and cool to edible temperature.
Should you have peanut oil around instead, I imagine that would give the fritters that much more genuine Southern appeal.
Since it’s the okra that thickens the batter, I would think that you could probably make this successfully vegan by swapping the buttermilk for soy milk.