Monday, March 12, 2012

Okrah WinFry

Today I entered unchartered kitchen territory. For an afternoon snack, I made (and gobbled up immediately) a small batch of fried okra.* I donned my apron and oven mitts like I was Ripley, and deep frying and okra were some nasty aliens that I just had to destroy. Though the supporting characters were humbly positioned as a cast iron pan and a vegetable, this was going to be an adventure, I decided. One of the best parts of cooking for one is that you have free reign for experimentation. If what you've dreamt up is lacking in execution, at least you're the only one having to eat your mistakes. No one will ever know that at one point you thought it was a good idea to combine buckwheat groats with worchestershire sauce and chickpeas.
*Now you can reread this post's title and groan to yourself that I've just made the worst food pun ever.
Voluptuous lady okras

Back to okra: Such a cooking and eating experiment originated a week prior, when on an impulse, I picked up a bag of fresh okra pods I saw at the market. Getting home with my green and finger-shaped loot, I quickly searched the internet for okra recipes. Two distinct possibilities caught my eye: pickling and frying. Both of which elicit just the tiniest bit of fear to even my love-of-cooking self. Frying, well, just involves so much OIL, and so much potential for said oil to splash and sputter and burn skin that's simply had the bad fortune to be exposed. And with pickling, an equally high potential for splashing hot liquids. Oh, and botulism. All this danger for a vegetable that itself is notorious for producing an unappetizing stringy slime. But I was on a mission to have an adventure, so I figured, why not tackle all these unknowns and fears in one fell swoop?

Fast forward to one week later. A bag of okra sits in the back of my fridge, forgotten and shoved behind a week's ration of prepared steel cut oats. There are far fewer okra pods in the bag than I had remembered picking out with such glee in the market, and many of them have started to turn brown. My kitchen bravado slightly humbled, I opted to cut my losses and forgo the pickling for when I had a fresher quality and larger quantity of okra. So frying it is. That plus okra itself made for a fairly ambitious afternoon snack as it was anyway.

Out came the eggs and flour for dredging and battering. Into the former I threw in a small puddle of milk and a few dashes of hot sauce, and into the latter, some salt and baking powder. Sliced the okra into half inch pieces (amazing how they look like little stars!), tossed these in the egg mixture and then the flour. And next, my greatest fear of all, the oil. Turning on the stove to medium high, I poured about an inch deep of canola oil into my cast iron skillet and then... waited. How would I know when it was hot enough? Apparently really hot oil is the key to non-greasy fried foods, but without a thermometer, how would I know? I ended up sacrificing a small droplet of batter into the oil; when it started to bubble and turn brown, I knew the oil would be hot enough for my little battered okra stars. These I threw in over the course of a few batches, being wary of not crowding the fry pan lest they cool down the oil too much, clump together, or create a massive grease fire. I don't actually know how grease fires start, but I imagined that it could be something as benign as afternoon snack fried vegetable matter. The okra browned so nicely in the oil, and I let them cool over a paper towel to soak up excess oil. Sprinkled with a little more salt, these were absolutely delicious.

NB: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunger... now with illustrations! My dear friend Suzanna Wright, a talented artist, educator, and fellow food lover, has offered up her illustration talents for this blog. After you've delighted in her delightful drawing of sassy okra, check out her art blog here.


  1. Your writing is wonderful to read! :)

    I first started cooking with Okra when I was in Japan and learned many cultural difference that exist even in the world of cooking Okra!!
    In Japan I ate it cut up raw with other gooey sticky things like Natto (the sticky-ness is called Neba-neba!).
    In India they made a curry with it. . .but the one I had wasn't particularly good (they also call Okra "lady finger" for some reason)
    My friend in Canada has made it with tomato sauce and some other spices and eaten it with rice!
    So there you go! Things to try out next time ;)

  2. wow! I am very intrigued by that japanese preparation. might as well throw some sticky caramel on there and call it a day. a gooey, very sticky day.