Our Texas accent skews decidedly Southern when it comes to okra. We like those fuzzy little pods cooked all kinds of ways: stewed, pickled, gumbo-ed, and, especially, fried. My own love affair with the crunchy round nubbins (which to my mind fall into the category of adorable brown food that also includes tater tots and hush puppies) began on childhood trips to Luby’s with my grandmother Artie, where I’d propel my warm tray, still wet from the dishwasher, pell-mell along the stainless-steel bars straight toward those tan melamine bowls of golden-brown goodness; I can’t even remember what else I ate there, probably a fish square. Ever since, fried okra has been de rigueur for my seafood dinners and as essential to a barbecue lunch as a slice of cheddar and a bottle of Big Red.
Abelmoschus esculentus (which roughly translates to, I kid you not, “edible father of musk”) is almost impervious to heat and drought, making the plant an ideal Texas resident. Also known as lady’s finger, for its slender, tapered shape, okra is best picked right off the vine, before it gets too big. For this recipe, a simple bath in milk, a romp in a bowl of flour and cornmeal, and a dip in hot oil are all that’s needed to render the mucilaginous veggie into the ambrosial stuff of cafeteria dreams.
vegetable oil, for frying
1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
salt and pepper
1 pound fresh okra, destemmed and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
In a cast-iron skillet, heat about an inch of oil to 350 degrees. Pour the milk into a shallow bowl; in another bowl, stir together the flour, cornmeal, and salt and pepper to taste (feel free to add other seasonings—Cajun, cayenne, garlic salt—in addition to or instead of the salt and pepper). In batches, dip the okra in the milk, then dredge in the flour mixture until well coated, letting any excess flour fall through your fingers. Using a slotted spoon or a spider, lower okra into the hot oil and fry, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, then drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.