This year is our first with a garden. As you’ll remember when I first wrote about the little (little!) raised bed we planted this year, I was thrilled to finally be in one place long enough to see a summer garden through the season. So much for all my dancing and jigging about being in one place – yes, we made it through a year at the same address but now we’re pulling up roots, literally and figuratively, and moving to Los Angeles!
Anyhow, in the midst of all the packing and planning and preparing, I of course am still making time to cook. It’s one thing that helps keep me sane and grounded. This week, Dan brought home some okra that was a gift from a work friend (thanks, Dawn!) and requested I prepare it in the only way he likes that vegetable: fried. I have had mixed results with deep-frying in the past, but once I saw these gorgeous purple and green fingers of summer goodness, I knew that’s what I’d do with them.
I could tell you all about okra, the myriad ways it can be prepared, its international, transcontinental interpretations, it botanical origins (did you know that it comes from the same plant family as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus?) – but I don’t need to. My dear friend Jennifer tells it all, with three different recipes to boot, in this post over at the Peachtree Road Farmer’s Market blog.
What I will say is that I didn’t actually use any of Jennifer’s recipes – at least, not from that blog post. I went with a recipe from world-class Atlanta chef Virginia Willis‘ Bon Appetit Y’all. (Mostly because I had extra buttermilk in the fridge – Jen’s version of fried okra doesn’t use it, while Virginia Willis’ does.) This is fitting enough because Jennifer introduced me to Virginia (well, not in real life – but you know what I mean!) when she gave me an autographed copy of her cookbook for Christmas a few years ago. Now well-worn and much-loved, I thrill as much in the beautiful photography and spot-on recipes as I do in Willis’ recollections of cooking with her Mama and Meme. I can’t step into the kitchen without thinking of my Mimi, so it’s nice that Willis brings hers along, too.
I’ll be bringing along my copy of Bon Appetit Y’all, and many other gifts and memories, as we wind up this summer, load up the wagons, and head west for the next adventure. I wonder if they serve fried okra in L.A.?
Adapted from Bon Appetit, Y’all by Virginia Willis
1 pound fresh okra, ends trimmed
1 cup buttermilk (I used a low-fat buttermilk…not that this matters much when you’re deep-frying!)
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal (I had only half the cornmeal I needed and subbed semolina flour for the rest – it worked beautifully)
3 cups canola oil
Salt & pepper to taste
Mix flour and cornmeal together (I threw in some salt here, in addition to salting the okra after it came out of the oil). Slice okra into 1/2-inch rounds. Toss with buttermilk. Put a plate lined with paper towel next to the stovetop. Heat oil in a heavy, deep (preferably cast-iron) wide-bottomed skillet to 350 degrees, or until flour tossed into the oil begins to bubble. Working in batches, drain the excess buttermilk from the okra and toss okra in flour/cornmeal mixture to coat. Fry okra in oil until golden brown, 3-5 minutes (for me, this took more like 5-8 minutes). Don’t overcrowd the skillet or you’ll lower the temperature of the oil and won’t leave room for the individual pieces to bathe in the oil. Using a mesh basket or slotted strainer, remove okra from oil and place on towel-lined plate. Sprinkle with salt. Keep frying in batches and enjoy!