by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
Okra is the closest thing to nylon I've ever eaten. It's like they bred cotton with a green bean.
— Robin Williams
The first thing to understand about okra is how some people in the South pronounce it. You would think they would pronounce it Ō-kra, just like its spells. But no, they pronounce it Ō-kree. Just one of the little idiosyncrasies of southern folk. Don't get me started on oncedt and twicedt.
It’s believed that okra originated in the Abyssinia region of Africa, the area we now know as Ethiopia. Because this mountainous region was so isolated for centuries, little is known about the cultivation and use there. Eventually, okra was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Its cultivation spread throughout North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean regions. The seed pods were eaten cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground, used as a coffee substitute (and still is).
Okra reached Brazil at least by the 1600s and then came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s by French colonists in Louisiana. It was introduced to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Créoles learned the use of okra to thicken soups and it is now an essential in Créole Gumbo.
Today okra is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the Southern U.S. Okra is commonly associated in Southern, Creole, and Cajun cooking since it was initially introduced into the United States in its southern region. It grows well in the southern United States where there is little frost.
Due to increased interest in American regional foods, these bright green, tender pods have gained more respect as a vegetable in the U.S., aside from its use as a thickener.
11/2 cups okra, sliced fresh or frozen (thawed)
3 tbsp buttermilk
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
2 tbsp cornmeal
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic herb seasoning blend
1/8 tsp pepper
Oil for deep-fat frying
Pat okra dry with paper towels. Place buttermilk in a shallow bowl. In another shallow bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, seasoning blend and pepper. Dip okra in buttermilk, then roll in cornmeal mixture.
In an electric skillet or deep-fat fryer, heat 1 in. of oil to 375°. Fry okra, a few pieces at a time, for 11/2 to 21/2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Season with additional salt and pepper if desired.
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