The other day someone referred to me as a southern gal. I almost spit my diet coke out across the room. What? No slight against southerners intended, but I just had never thought of myself in that way.
I'm a New Englander.
I'm not one of those Northern elitists, either. I count myself as a New Englander not because I think I'm better than southerners, but because I like my ocean the same way I like my beer: cold. When it comes to shellfish, lobster reigns supreme. I like to transition to sweaters at night in the summer. Fall is my favorite season; apple picking my favorite pastime. I have a soft spot for Ben Affleck. I am an Italian-Irish American! I am nostalgic about snowstorms, and, during the winter, I am constantly rooting for more. AND I can ice skate.
Here's the thing, though, I've lived south of the Mason-Dixon line for almost 18 years--15 in DC (which is kinda Southern, sometimes) and three years in Northern Virgina (an actual Southern state!). I think it's time to embrace my southernness, and since humidity is the enemy of my people and something I'll never get over, I thought I might as well start with Southern cuisine.
Now I've been a fan of shrimp and grits for as long as I can remember, but I can say there is one Southern dish -- a vegetable-- that I've avoided because of it's bad rap. Yes, I'm talking about okra. It's time for me to start getting busy with okra, and while I'm at it, I'll fry it, because that is, after all, what Southern food is all about, am I right?
Interestingly, for a lesson in how to pan fry okra, I'm turning to a New Englander, a friend who group up one town away from me in the burbs of Boston, and whom I never met until we were both living and working in DC. My friend Elise, who has a new cook book out!
This dish turned out well. Slightly chewy and earthy, I added a squeeze of lemon, dipped the bites in sriracha mayo, and loved every bite. I will add okra to my growing list of things that I like about the south.
Tell me, dear Southerners, what are your favorite things about the region?
Pan Fried Okra
From Always in Season by Elise Richer
5 Tbsp flour
5 Tbsp cornmeal
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb okra, stemmed, sliced 1/2 inch think (about five cups)
1/4 olive oil
Mix the flour, cornmeal, turmeric, 1 teaspoon salt, and pepper in a shallow dish. Dredge the okra slices in the mixture. Heat the olive oil in a large lidded skillet over medium heat. Add the okra and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Every few minutes, lift the lid to stir and check on how the okra is doing. It should be starting to brown a little, but if you see anything burning, lower the heat. After 10 minutes, remove the cover. If you have lowered the heat, return it to medium. Cook, stirring often, until pieces are nicely browned, about 5 more minutes. Sprinkle a pinch or two of coarse salt. Serve right away.