Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Southern Roots are Showing

If you're a true GRITS (Girl Raised in the South), you know all about the delicacies: fried okra and fried green tomatoes. There's even a book called, The Goodness of Fried Okra. But in case you missed learning the fine art of frying from your mother, I'd like to share a few tips. (Thanks, Mom!)

First of all, let me clear up a common misconception about Southern cooking. Though we like fried food, most of us do not eat it every day or every other day or even every week. We know it's not a healthy way to eat our vegetables, but it's a seasonal luxury that's worth repeating at least twice a month during summer.

Secondly, if you only need one excuse to grow tomatoes and okra, it should be that you get to enjoy it fried fresh. I realize "fried" and "fresh" seem like oxymorons, but the best fried vegetables are straight from the garden. I've been thankful that my neighbor Mitzi has been sharing some of her okra since our plants are a bit behind this year. I look forward to returning the favor when her plants begin to fade off. If you don't have a garden or friends who garden, check out one of our many weekly farmers' markets. I've seen both okra and green tomatoes there.

Preparing both is quite simple. Wash, slice, and coat in corn meal by shaking it in a bag. I sprinkle a little fresh cracked pepper in as well. For cooking, I use vegetable oil in my cast iron skillet. You don't have a cast iron skillet? How can you be Southern and not own a cast iron skillet?! Go get one! The 10 inch skillet is an ideal size.

Fill your pan with at least half an inch of oil and heat 'til a flick of water makes a popping sound. DO NOT ADD THE VEGETABLES UNTIL THE OIL IS REALLY HOT. Hot oil is the key to "searing" the vegetables in a way and ensures the vegetables don't soak up excess oil and become soggy. I use the setting just under the hottest so that they don't burn.

Do not pour a lot in at once; they should be placed in a single layer and not touching each other. Frying is not a process you can walk away from. Watch and turn quickly as they reach a golden brown. Make sure you use a metal slotted spoon unless you want to see how plastic spoons melt. Been there; done that.

Remove them with the spoon onto a plate covered in paper towels. I blot them quickly and crack more fresh pepper on top before getting the next batch into the oil. Most people will only cook what they can eat at a meal. Call me crazy, but I actually like leftover fried veggies. I'll even eat them cold. But they do taste best if you eat them hot out of the oil. Since you haven't cooked any meat, you can compost the paper towels used to drain the oil. Once cool, I pour the used cooking oil into an old jar.

So how about you? Do you like fried okra and green tomatoes? What's your secret?

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