Much to my chagrin, we received an entire paper sack stuffed full of okra with our last CSA share. “Oookraaa?”, I whined as Hubby unpacked our goodies. Pouting, I began to wonder what in the world I was going to do with a whole sack full of okra. I have never been a fan of okra. Am I making this clear? I know. I’m from the South. I’m a foodie. I’m supposed to be open-minded and adventurous when it comes to anything food. I get it. But come on! Furry on the outside, slimy on the inside, with strangely large, globular seeds – how on earth is that appealing? And not only is the vegetable unappealing, but the plant itself is a nightmare! One false move while picking okra and you look like you’ve been mauled by a rabid cat!
All that aside, I wasn’t about to shove it all down the garbage disposal. What began as an innocuous bag of okra turned into the ultimate challenge: I was determined to make something edible – and even tasty – out of the prickly little things. I got out my latest food magazines, sprawled them out on the table and had a pinot-fueled brainstorming session.
My goal was to disguise the furry/slimy texture that so many people (including yours truly) find unappealing. While I know stewed tomatoes and okra is an old southern favorite, the texture of the dish makes me shudder. Mushy + furry + slimy does not equal tasty. I needed something with crunch, something with good flavor, and something… with cheese.
I came across a recipe in my trusty Everyday Food magazine for okra fritters, which piqued my interest. A take on fried okra, okra fritters up the ante by incorporating more flavor and texture. The fritters combine chopped okra and onion in a simple buttermilk batter, fry up beautifully, and are topped with only a little kosher salt for a simple finish. But these fritters were missing something… Oh, I know! Cheese, duh!
The addition of the cheese not only helps hold the fritter batter together, but it adds a gooey, salty bite that turns even more delicious once it’s fried. I used what I had on hand: a mixture of mozzarella, yellow cheddar and sharp white cheddar. As I always suggest, try out different cheeses to make these fritters your own – gruyere, Monterrey jack, or even goat cheese – and see what you come up with!
The batter is a cinch to make, simply combining chopped okra, diced onion and a few wet ingredients together. I used a small ice cream scoop to make sure my fritters were even in size and gently flattened them with a spatula once they were in the pan. If you don’t have an ice cream scoop, try using two spoons to scoop the batter into a round shape. (There is a fancy name for this technique which escapes me at the moment, and when I Google “two spoon rolling technique”, I get joint rolling lessons on YouTube. Not quite what I had I mind.)
All these fritters need is a quick fry in hot oil, about four minutes per side. Once they’re done, simply cool them on paper towels or newspaper, and dig in. Crunchy on the outside and cheesy on the inside, these okra fritters are impossible to put down – and that’s coming from an okra-phobe! If you’re addicted to sauces (like dear Hubby over here), try my garlic aioli, which accompanied last year’s squash fritters – it’s potent, addictive stuff. Enjoy!
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Cheesy Okra Fritters
(makes about 10)
1 c. canola oil
1/2 c. flour
2 c. okra, coarsely chopped
1/2 small onion, diced
1/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. shredded cheese
1/4 tsp. cayenne
salt and pepper
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. In a large bowl, combine the flour, okra, onion and cayenne and toss to coat. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk until thoroughly combined. Add the buttermilk mixture to the okra, stirring to combine. Add the cheese and stir again until fully incorporated. Salt and pepper conservatively.
Working in batches, drop batter in small mounds into the oil (a small ice cream scoop works well). Using a spatula, gently press each mound until it’s slightly flattened. Fry the fritters until golden, about 4 minutes per side, flipping once. (If they’re browning too quickly, adjust the heat.) Drain the fritters on paper towels or newspaper, sprinkle with kosher salt and serve warm.
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Laura Hobbs is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her author page or visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.