You Don’t Have To Be Southern to Like Okra!

Okra at the Amherst Farmers' Market  2448x3264

Okra at the Amherst Farmers’ Market

If you’re one of those who cringe when you hear the word “okra,” then you should have a look at Virginia Willis’ Okra. Published this spring just in time for cooks to take advantage of this summer crop, this slim volume is filled with recipes that will convince “okra doubters” that when cooked properly, okra is not “slimy or gummy” but rather a delicious vegetable.

In Okra, the author addresses the fact that people either love or hate okra. “It’s a contentious vegetable,” she proclaims. But to all those who think they don’t like this versatile ingredient, she says, “They just haven’t met the right okra!” To make her point she follows up with a sampling of recipes with both Southern and international accents.

Fried Okra with Chilled White Wine 1896x1707

Like Virginia, I grew up in the South in Tennessee, right next to her native Georgia, and have fond memories of delicious okra dishes that my mother prepared during warm weather months. Sliced okra, coated in cornmeal, then fried in bacon drippings until crisp and golden, was a favorite as was shrimp and okra gumbo served over rice.

Spicy Okra and Tomatoes 1 1824x1368

 Anxious to cook from this book, I’ve prepared Oven-Fried Okra several times—it’s easy and since it’s cooked in the oven all the usual grease and splattering are omitted. After serving this dish traditionally as a side, I offered the crispy morsels as an appetizer along with glasses of chilled white wine on a hot, humid night, and watched as they disappeared quickly. Spicy Okra and Tomatoes is another winner. Sautéed okra and onions are seasoned with Indian spices, and then simmered with tomatoes. This vegetable mélange can be served on its own or over mounds of rice with equally tempting results.

So, if you still have misgivings about okra, here are two recipes that just might change your mind! 

Oven Fried Okra
Let’s face it, there’s really nothing like fried okra, but this oven-fried version does a darn good job of coming close.  I prefer to use organic canola spray for a nonstick cooking spray. It has little flavor, high smoke point for high heat cooking, and no aftertaste which some of the other cooking sprays seem to have.  Serves 4-6

1 cup yellow cornmeal
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 pound fresh okra pods, stem ends trimmed and cut into 3/4-inch slices
Cooking spray

 1. Place a rimmed baking sheet oven in the oven. Heat the oven to 450°. Combine the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish. Season heartily with salt and pepper; set aside.

2.Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a large bowl. Add the okra and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside to coat, about 3 minutes.

3. Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra from the buttermilk and add to the cornmeal. Dredge okra in cornmeal mixture. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and spray with cooking spray. Place okra on the heated pan and lightly coat the okra with additional cooking spray. Bake at 450º for 25 minutes, stirring once. Stir and spray again. Cook additional 10-12 minutes. Remove from the oven and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

 Spicy Okra and Tomatoes
There are subtle Indian influences in this recipe, but it’s not too far out of the box for folks that are tamer with their okra choices. For chopping the tomatoes, simply snip away in the can with a pair of clean kitchen scissors, instead of making a mess on your cutting board. Serves 4-6

1/4 cup canola oil
1 pound okra, stem ends trimmed and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
¼-inch coin ginger, peeled and very finely chopped (1 1/2 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped, with juices
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

 1. Line a plate with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the okra and cook until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the prepared plate. Set aside.

 2. Add the onion to the residual oil in the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes or less. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, 45-60 seconds. Add the cumin, coriander, cayenne, and turmeric and stir to combine. Add the tomatoes with juices, and stir to combine.

 3. Cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the reserved okra and stir to combine. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the okra is tender, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with cilantro and serve immediately.

 Adapted from Okra by Virginia Willis (The University of North Carolina Press 2014)

Print This Recipe Print This Recipe

2 thoughts on “You Don’t Have To Be Southern to Like Okra!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.