Okra is a polarizing vegetable. Blame it on the slime.
Okra (which likely originated in Africa) contains mucilage, a sticky substance that turns to slime when okra is stewed or boiled.
Gumbo wouldn’t be gumbo without the thickening properties (and flavor) of okra and filé powder (the ground root of sassafras).
And while I love gumbo as much as the next person, I really can’t sink my teeth into a plate of stewed okra.
But fried okra? Now that’s a different story. Somehow, frying okra removes the slimy goo, or at least puts it in the background — where it belongs.
What remains is the green taste of the okra, delivered with a delicious crunch.
Why am I writing about how to fry okra?
Because it’s so easy: slice, toss, fry.
And because I can’t get past the slimy texture otherwise, and this okra from Seacat Gardens looked too fresh to pass up.
Seeing how I never leave well enough alone, I rummaged through the pantry looking for something to jazz up the okra.
I came across a za’atar spice blend I bought from Flavorbank, a spice company based in Tucson, Arizona. It’s used in both North African and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Za’atar is a mixture of dried thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds, and has a green, earthy flavor, along with a citrus note from the sumac — perfect to enhance the green taste of okra.
A pinch or two of cayenne is there just to liven things up.
Because of the sticky nature of okra when sliced, it doesn’t need a batter, although if you’re so inclined, you could dunk the sliced okra in mixture of egg beaten with a splash of milk before tossing in the spiced cornmeal.
The batter would even further disguise the grassy taste of the okra, but I like that herbal taste.
Fry the okra in peanut oil for even more flavor. The oil must be hot before you add the okra, or the okra will just absorb the oil and taste greasy.
Once the oil is hot, it only takes about 5 minutes before the okra turns golden brown. Like more crunch? Let it go for a minute or two longer before removing to drain on paper towels.
And there you have it: how to fry okra.
Slice… toss… fry…
Okra doesn’t have to be polarizing — it just has to be fried.
Za’atar Spiced Fried Okra
1-1/2 pounds okra
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons za’atar spice blend*
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Peanut (or vegetable) oil for frying
1. Wash and pat dry okra pods. Slice crosswise into 1/4-inch rounds. Set aside.
2. Toss cornmeal with the za’atar, salt, cayenne and black pepper in a medium bowl.
3. Toss the okra in the cornmeal mixture until every slice is coated.
4. Heat enough oil to come up about 1/4-inch in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering (but not smoking), it’s ready.
5. Shake off excess cornmeal from okra before frying.
6. Fry okra in batches, careful to not overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown, about 5 to 7 minutes. Don’t stir the first few minutes, but once the okra starts to brown, stir to promote even browning.
7. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain.
*za’atar is a blend of dried thyme, dried oregano, sumac and sesame seeds. If you do not have za’atar, you could substitute an equal amount of another herb blend, such as Italian herbs or herbs de Provence.