It’s farmer’s market season, so it’s tough to buy things I don’t like. There are actually a few things I do like and they’re all fresh and in season. Okra is something I like. Well, kind of. I only like okra one way. The traditional southern way: pan-fried. It’s not healthy at all, so I’m not even going to quote nutritional facts to pretend that it is. Okra is generally low in calories and a good source of fiber and some vitamins, but deep frying it ruins almost all of that.
I’ve read in some, unsubstantiated, sources that since okra contains mucilage, it binds cholesterol and coats your colon enhancing colon health and lowing cholesterol better than other vegetables. I haven’t found anything scientific to even halfway back that up, so I say bullocks. Fiber, which okra does contain, of any kind is good for colon health and can help lower cholesterol. It’s not a special property of okra, it’s a property of fiber. Livestrong says eating okra may lower cholesterol. Their reasoning is that if you eat okra, which contains no cholesterol or fat, you may be less likely to eat something that does have cholesterol. Again, that’s not a special property of okra. We might as well say apples lower cholesterol. We’re pan frying it here, so let’s not delude ourselves by saying, “At least by pan-frying okra, we’re not eating all the carbs and fat in French fries.” Fried okra is not a health food.
I grow my own okra every year. It’s an easy vegetable to grow. It withstands, even loves, hot Arkansas weather, grows easy from a seed and produces a ton. Summer is the only time I eat fried okra, because I only eat it fresh.
When you pick okra, either from the store or the bush, it needs to be bright green and pliable. If the pod doesn’t have any give to it when you flex it, it’s going to taste woody. If you let okra grow too long or sit too long before prepping, the mucilage dries out and it gets fibrous. It’s not at all tasty at that point. If you cut a piece of okra and it’s black inside, it wasn’t harvested soon enough and will be fibrous and woody. The okra in the top photo is perfectly ripe. Compare it to the photo below of over-ripe okra. Notice that the over-ripe okra looks more fibrous and dryer than the top photo. The good news is that you can save those black seeds and plant okra again next year, so the pod isn’t a complete waste.
- Oil to cover about 3 inches of the bottom of a pan
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 1 cup flour
- salt and pepper to taste
- Okra, sliced thin at moment of prep
- Like any breading for frying, you want to mix the cornmeal and flour together with the salt and pepper (you can kick it up with some garlic powder, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes or whatever spices you want). I mix it all in a plastic bowl that is big enough to shake my okra around in too.
- After the dry ingredients are well mixed, I toss the okra in and shake it up. If you slice the okra right before you want to coat and fry it, it’s moist enough to hold the breading and you don’t have to worry about dipping it in egg or buttermilk. Okra’s mucilage is kind of sticky anyway.
- Add the floured okra to hot oil and fry until you desired level of browness. I like mine well done and crunchy.