As I was buying okra at the farmer’s market in New Richmond last Saturday, someone asked me, “What do you do with it?” I said that we liked to fry it. A bystander asked, “But isn’t it slimy?” The answer is yes and no.
Okra is a good source of mucilage. Mixed with water, it’s the slimy sticky stuff that used to come in a bell-shaped bottle with a neat rubber top that you used to make valentines or paper chains in school. Envelopes and stamps used mucilage too. Licking the dry layer of mucilage made stamps stick to envelopes and many envelopes today still use mucilage. It doesn’t have much flavor alone, but flavors can be added, and I remember peppermint envelopes that I really liked.
So okra is slimy and sticky. You will know that just a few seconds after cutting a pod. But if you cook it right, it is a wonderful vegetable that helps give seafood gumbo its velvety texture, thickens soups, complements many other vegetables and makes wonderful pickles. Okra grows best where it is hot, which explains why there are so many southern recipes that use it.
Toni’s fried okra is not slimy. Dave and Toni were two of our closest friends when we lived in Murray, Kentucky and Toni was a great cook. She learned how to fry okra from her grandma and mother when she was growing up in east Tennessee, and she taught Jerri how to do it. Unlike the commercial fried okra that is dipped in batter, Toni’s recipe results in a low carb light and tasty vegetable that goes well with just about any meat you put on the table.
Making it is absurdly simple. The hardest thing is finding the okra. Even if you count the salt and pepper separately, there are only five ingredients.
Fresh okra pods
Bacon grease or vegetable oil
Coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
Salt and pepper to taste
Wash the okra pods, remove the stem at the base and slice into 1/4 inch rounds. For 2 cups of okra slices, you will need about two tablespoons of grease and 2 or 3 tablespoons of cornmeal.
Heat the grease in a large frying pan until it is moderately hot. Add the okra slices in a single layer and sprinkle them with cornmeal as if you were seasoning them generously. Salt and pepper lightly. Fry over medium heat, turning the okra once or twice, until slightly browned. Serve hot.
NOTE: Okra pods become woody as they grow larger. Choose ones between three and five inches long.