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, most often in the form of a spicy, savory side dish called ila asepo, a soup strewn with chunks of meat, dried shrimp, tomatoes, and peppers. Many 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, conserved 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. Cornmeal adds a toasty flavor of these golden okra fritters. Serve them hot with spicy stewed tomato relish. Dried shrimp can be purchased at many Asian or Hispanic grocery stores. If you want to make these vegetarian, you can omit the dried shrimp.
- 2 tsp. dried shrimp (optional)
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1⁄2 cup stone-ground white cornmeal
- 1⁄2 cup flour
- 1 1⁄4 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- 1⁄4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tbsp. water
- cups okra, sliced crosswise to 1/4 inch thick discs
- Vegetable oil, for frying
- If adding, soak the dried shrimp in hot water for 5 minutes to soften. Drain and chop. Set aside.
- Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté till translucent and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the optional chopped shrimp; stir and cook for 1 more minute. Let cool.
- Place cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder, and pepper in a large bowl and whisk together to blend. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the eggs and water. Blend sparingly till dry ingredients are just moistened. Batter will be thick. Fold in the cooled onion mixture and okra.
- In a heavy skillet, pour oil to a depth of 1″ and heat to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop 2 heaping tablespoons of batter per fritter onto the lined baking sheet and flatten each slightly with the back of the spoon. Using an offset spatula, lift each patty and slide each into the hot oil. Cook a few at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Fry until golden brown on one side, approximately 2 minutes. Carefully flip the fritter and continue to fry on the other side until golden brown, approximately 2 minutes. Remove from oil and drain on a rack. Serve fritters hot with spicy stewed tomato relish.