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Fried Okra- A Blue Ridge Mountain Favorite
It's that time of year once again here in the Blue Ridge with many of our favorite fresh vegetables becoming available either from family gardens or from roadside stands and U-pick farms in the upstate of South Carolina. Although still a little early for this favorite vegetable to be found grown locally here in the mountains, it is already being harvested in Florida and Georgia. We enjoyed our first "mess" of fried okra this evening and were able to find it at a local vegetable stand. My dad always grew a couple of rows of okra in our family garden and mom would fry a big pan at least a couple of times each week. Mom also would put full pods of okra on top of a pot of fresh green beans seasoned traditionally with fat back or salt pork. The boiled okra would have a slime texture (mucilaginous) which is indigenous to the parts of this plant. For the record, I never cared for the boiled okra which by its natural characteristic is downright slick and without any particular appeal to my palate.
Okra is best when fried. Mom always prepared a cornmeal, salt, pepper mixture and shook the okra she had cut into small pieces in a brown grocery bag. The okra now with a coating could be added to a hot cast iron pan cooked in bacon drippings. My Grandma Ballard always said of fried okra,"It's like eating fried cockle burrs!" I suppose because the fried okra did become crunchy and if cooked too long,has a hard texture. Cooked correctly , only the coating will be crunchy and the okra inside soft and chewy. Okra is rich in nutrients and has few calories.
Okra makes a good addition when making tomato or vegetable soup and oftentimes just okra and tomatoes make for some fine eating and a great soup served with corn bread. As with most vegetables okra can be canned as pickles and frozen to be used later. I know one individual who freezes the entire pods and cuts the okra only when she is going to prepare it in a meal.
The following is a recipe from the web for those who may want to try some fried okra this summer.
- 6 cups oil, for frying
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons House Seasoning, recipe follows
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 2 pounds fresh okra, sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven to 350 degrees F. (You may not need to use this much oil; do not fill the pan more than halfway up the sides with oil.)
In a medium bowl, combine cornmeal, flour, House Seasoning, and cayenne pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk and then dredge in cornmeal-flour mixture to coat well. Carefully add okra to the hot oil and cook until golden brown. (It may be necessary to fry the okra in batches.) Remove from oil, drain on paper towels, and then serve immediately.
1 cup salt
1/4 cup black pepper
1/4 cup garlic powder
Mix ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months
Personally, I like my fried okra smothered under creamed corn and fresh ripe tomatoes. Fresh green beans and boiled potatoes served with green onions or a Vidalia onion makes for a meal any country boy or girl will love. The recipe calls for cayenne pepper but can be omitted if you don't like hot or spicy food.
Finally a suggestion: Going to a U-pick garden to harvest or purchase okra, you should consider wearing gloves and long sleeves. Coming in contact with the plant which has tiny spines and the juices when cutting fresh okra can be an irritant to the skin and take it from one who has cut a fair share of okra, it itches something fierce.