Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sweet Tea's Almost Healthy Fried Okra


Late summer, and a Southern girl’s thoughts turn to okra. O, O, Okra! Most succulent vegetable, and most maligned! How fleeting your tender youth, how woody your old age!

Okra came to the U.S. From West Africa and claims a seat in the pantheon of Southern cooking , but is often misunderstood and derided by those who didn’t know it growing up. It’s the grits of vegetables. Like grits, it can be cooked badly but is easy to cook well, and worth the little effort.

A Few Okra Tips:

  • Buy it fresh if you can; frozen isn’t good for much but gumbo. There's terrific okra at $4/lb. at the Grand Army Plaza Green Market; for some reason the okra at the Food Coop is not so hot. Chose young, small pods. Older pods can be quite tough, though some varieties stay more tender. Try to avoid ones with dark scratch marks showing age. (Okra can be very prickly when raw, so careful as you sort through the bin.)
  • Okra gets slimy when its insides get wet. This is good if you’re making gumbo, but if it bothers you, try stir-frying whole pods with garlic, ginger, hot peppers, and other spices you like.
  • If you're cooking okra wet (for stews, etc.), add it late in the game. Over-boiled okra is not a good thing.

The most famous use for okra is gumbo — the word gumbo actually comes from the Bantu word for okra — but nothing says summer to me like fresh, salty, fried okra. Unfortunately, nothing says “bad news” to me like the cardiology ward. Fear not; I’ve found a delicious middle ground:

Sweet Tea’s Almost Healthy Fried Okra


The Players

Corn (1/2 - 1 ear per person)
Okra (small handful per person)
Tomatoes (1 big one per person, or equiv.)
Onion/Scallion (1/4 c onion or 1/2 c mild scallion, diced small)
Fresh Mint (1 tablespoon, minced)
Baking powder (optional)
High-temperature oil (canola, peanut, etc.)
Kosher salt
Black pepper

What To Do With ‘Em:

1. Roast or Grill the corn. DON’T SHUCK IT. Just put the whole ears, still in their husks, into the oven or onto the grill. The husk acts as a natural steamer, keeping the kernels crisp, juicy, and sweet. Plus, corn silks pull right off the cooked corn in a sheet without sticking and clinging the way they do when raw.

Corn Porn
Corn Porn

Cook in a 350 degree oven or on hot grill for 35 minutes. When you squeeze the top of the cob through the husk, you should feel the kernels almost break. Let cool somewhat before shucking.

2. While the corn is cooking, cut up the other vegetables. Dice the onion fairly finely, mince the mint, dice the tomato (or quarter cherry or grape tomatoes), and cut the okra crosswise into pieces roughly 1/2 inch long.

All Chopped

When the corn is cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob and break them up a bit. You don’t need to separate every kernel; some variation is nice.

3. Fry the okra. (Disclaimer to my fellow Southerners: this won’t be the kind of fried okra you get at buffets and family-style restaurants, with the thick, puffy breading, but it’s fresher tasting.)
Dredge the okra through a mixture of cornmeal and black pepper. I like to add a little baking powder when I fry, to help the crust along, but to tell the truth, that’s more important with flour-ier frying (like chicken. Mmmm…..). If you like your okra more thoroughly covered, add some white flour to the cornmeal.

You want the okra to be a tiny bit damp so that the cornmeal sticks a bit, but not so wet that the slime gets really going. If the cornmeal isn’t sticking enough — it doesn’t need to be perfect — spritz the okra once or twice with a spray bottle.

Heat a small amount of high-heat oil in a heavy skillet. You’re not deep-frying; a couple tablespoons should do it, depending on your pan size.

When the oil is shimmering hot, toss in the okra. Don’t stir it around right away — the idea is to let the cornmeal cook and stick a bit, not to stir fry. Don’t be afraid of burning it; let it cook for a minute between each stirring until it’s done all over.

Frying the Okra

Frying the Okra
There Will Be Smoke

When it’s done on all sides, cool on a cookie rack or paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt. (And we all know how liberals love salt.)

4. Combine all ingredients except the okra in a bowl and mix somewhat — it’s okay for each bite of the salad to have a slightly different proportion of ingredients.

Top the salad with the okra, crouton-style. Serve. Repeat as needed before winter comes back.

Ready to Eat

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Green Produce Bags on Shoestring Bazaar

Finished bag with potatoes

Hey, ya'll. In a fit of hyper-bloggery, I've also started a crafty blog, called Shoestring Bazaar. Here's a food-related project: reusable produce bags to replace the endless stream of plastic ones I have a hard time reusing. It's an easy project and very forgiving of mistakes.

Tried them out at the infamous Park Slope Food Coop (which really does has the best produce for the best prices within miles of my Crown Heights apartment) this morning. No injuries reported.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Free Eats: Safe Haven's Opening Night


It’s widely known in my household that I’m pretty ghetto, and when it comes to anything free I’m the first in line. So when I heard that Safe Haven, the new bar and grill on 6th ave and 20th st, was having a grand opening party with free southern food and $5 Six Point Craft Ales, I put on my walking shoes.

This space recently held the beloved Bar BQ where young and old liquored up on weekly specials like $2 Bluepoints, free bourbon, and an inexhaustible supply of live bluegrass, country and rock. Safe Haven hasn’t changed much of the inside of this joint. The bar seems to have been cleaned up a bit and the floors have a new coat of polish, but all in all it still has that friendly neighborhood vibe that attracts the locals and there were plenty of them last night!


The bar was packed and the restaurant area was standing room only when we arrived. Despite having what seemed like only one bartender and one waiter we were quickly able to secure a glass of Six Point Emasculator, because after all, with a name like that it has to be good. It had a dark rich color and deep malty flavor. With a 7.4% ABV I can fully see how Emasculator can put any guy or gal in their place! All beers were served in what I can only describe as a tall goblet, which led me to wonder if all the beers that night were full pints. Humm curious… but I digress. With beers in hand and wide grins on our faces a waiter placed before us a basket of catfish fingers.


They were scrumptious. Outside of each hot chunk was a crunchy cornmeal coating with a definite Cajun spiciness. Inside there was a tender and moist hunk of wonderful catfish. On the side came a unique house made tartar sauce. It had the tangy relish of your typical tartar but creamier and speckled with bell pepper, almost reminiscent of a ranch dressing. It complimented the catfish wonderfully.

Our next trip to the bar yielded a couple of glasses of the Belgium Rye. Once again, you can’t beat a locally made brew, it was slightly sweet with a nice hoppy flavor and deep amber color. Back at the table the friendly waiter offered us a basket of hushpuppies, how could I say no?


Each small ball was fresh out of the fryer and looked delicious, but looks can be deceiving. I broke into one only to find an extremely salty crust and an awfully boring center. There was obviously some chives mixed in the batter but the end result left me not wanting another bite. It came with a side of a similar dressing as the tartar sauce but a little less tangy. I tried dipping another one into that to see if it would help, but alas it did not so the basket went largely uneaten. This really says something, because I never turn down free food. Hell, I even disappointed myself. Did I mention I’m cheap and I love free stuff?

The place was getting even more packed and I was hungry to we left soon after. The beers are excellent, but I’m not sure if they will exclusively carry Six Point or if that was only for the opening. The catfish is solid and their seemed to be some corndogs and fritters being passed around, though I didn’t get a chance to catch any of those. I’d certainly go back to try the full menu and some of the pork I hear rumors about. All in all, I still miss Bar BQ but I’m looking forward to seeing this bar develop and grow its niche. Hopefully adding in some of the happy hour specials and great music that helped make the last bar so memorable.

Safe Haven
689 6th Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11215