Despite her entrenchment in all things healthy, unrefined, and bursting with chia seeds and whole grains, my mom can’t kick her Southern roots. Twenty minutes in Texas is all it takes for her to chuck the amaranth and embrace the greasy, greasy chicken fried steak. One of her ultimate favorites, and mine, and all those lovely senior citizens in the cafeteria line, is fried okra.
For years she’s tried to replicate the recipe in her Pennsylvania kitchen, and although the results have always been tasty, and usually crispy, they just don’t match those awesome little crunchy fried balls you can get at Luby’s. I suppose that’s the point – some dishes have to be enjoyed solely on their home front, and any attempt at replication is just that – an attempt.
Other examples in my life experience: fresh shrimp and hush puppies in North Carolina, Bill Miller Bar-B-Q’s iced tea bucket and po’ boys, the salsa at Tomatillo’s in San Antonio (at least back in 1996), the almost aggressively overcooked but non-paralleled-after-water-rides-at-Cedar-Point cavatelli from Alessi’s (pronounced as if you’re wearing a retainer – “Alesshhi’sh”) in Ohio, Amish meatballs and sauerkraut from Lancaster, Anna’s burritos with refried beans in (really?? yes!) Boston… The list goes on.
Anyway. The point of all this is that if you can’t bring yourself to try to make fried okra unsuccessfully again, just roast it like my mom does. First buy the smallest okra pieces you can find – they’ll be tender and less fibrous. Toss in olive oil and large grained sea salt, perhaps a crack of pepper and some red pepper flakes, or a dusting of cumin and chili powder if you’re feeling spicy, and roast at 400 to 425 for as long as it takes for them to get crispy (approx. 25 minutes).
Eat as-is like popcorn, or serve alongside a starch like sweet potatoes, brown rice, polenta, etc. Then dream about the Luby’s line and the lemon meringue or chocolate pudding pie that awaits you at the cash register if mom is feeling particularly indulgent. The neon jello with whipped cream on top? Only get that if you’re weird like my sister.