It's hard to say exactly when I fell in love with okra. I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria, where the viscous vegetable claimed a regular spot on our dinner table. It stars in a spicy, savory side dish called ila asepo, a soup strewn with chunks of meat, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and peppers.
Years later, when I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, to become a pastry cook, I encountered many fascinating riffs on the familiar green pods. Here, okra came to the table battered and deep-fried, preserved in spiced chutney, roasted whole, and added to thick gumbo. But my absolute favorite use of okra came in the form of fritters, fried until golden and crisp and served as a cocktail nibble. The cornmeal lends the tender okra a nice crunch as well as toasty flavor. This recipe elevates the toasty crunch of the Atlanta fritters with elements from the okra soup I enjoyed as a kid—chopped onions, pungent dried shrimp, and spicy stewed tomatoes.