Okra — like Brussels sprouts — is one of those love-it-or-hate-it vegetables. There isn’t much wiggle room in between.
I love okra, but not unconditionally. It must be fried. What I really like — more than the okra itself — is the crunch.
But let’s just say for argument’s sake, I want crunchy okra but I don’t want the extra calories from frying.
What if we could get the crunch without the fat? And, if in the process we mitigate the slime factor? Even better.
We can do all three. All we need is a a sharp knife, a breading station and a very hot oven.
Recently, I tasted ethereal fried okra topped with a sous vide duck egg at Cafe Bink.
I loved how they split the okra in half lengthwise, instead of crosswise into circles.
But the okra planks were still fried. Gloriously fried — and unfortunately, gloriously full of extra calories.
So I set about trying to recreate the crunchy spears without frying.
(A side note: wondering why on earth I’m writing about okra in November? Our farmers markets have been flooded with okra in the past couple of weeks and I’ve never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth — if it’s there, I’m buying.)
I sliced the okra in half lengthwise. Then I set up a breading station, first dusting the slimy okra in flour, which helps make the egg batter stick, which in turn helps the breading stick.
Flour + egg wash + breading = crunch.
Southern fried okra is made with cornmeal. I wanted some of that corn flavor, but since I was going for maximum crunch, I also used panko.
For extra flavor, I tossed in Jamaican jerk seasoning along with the cornmeal and the panko.
Next time, I might add ground pecans into the breading mix instead of the jerk seasoning. I’m reckless that way.
Next, I set the breaded okra on a rack set in a baking sheet, which helps the hot air circulate and keeps the okra from getting soggy on the bottom.
Pop the sheet into a very hot oven — 500 degrees F, and 13 to 15 minutes later, the okra is crisp and golden brown.
Now, what to do with this extra crunchy okra without the extra fat?
Serve it as a side dish to grilled chicken or pork chops. Or serve it as an appetizer with tomato jam.
If you want to make a light dinner, say for Meatless Monday, serve the okra fries with a salad and a poached or fried egg, like I did last Monday. (I took the picture below with my phone camera.)
The red tomato drizzle is a simple reduction of some overripe tomatoes. I grated the tomatoes (tossing the skins, and straining the pulp to get rid of the seeds) and cooked the puree until it was reduced by half.
Then I just seasoned the sauce with salt, and a touch of chile garlic paste for spice.
And there you have it:
Oven baked okra fries full of crunch, but not full of fat.
What do you think?