Our local farmers market is moving into full season. Corn is making a tentative appearance, and there are tomatoes in abundance – all sizes, shapes, and colors – in every vegetable stall. This last week we went to the larger market in Torrance and were surprised to find green tomatoes. I am used to seeing them later on as the season begins to taper off. Fried green tomatoes is to my mind one of the great Southern delicacies. We bought some. Then we saw okra! And the timing was perfect. Carol is away on vacation. She avoids okra as much as she avoids onions. I believe that her aversion arises from childhood. She grew up in Louisiana and spent many days in East Texas. She bought her lunches in the school cafeterias, and she declares (although I think it is an exaggeration) that stewed okra and tomatoes, along with collards that had been cooked beyond recognition, were served every single day. She insists that there is no preparation of okra that will pass her lips. My reply has always been that she just has never had okra prepared correctly. Then we all laugh at the standing family joke.
When we lived on the Texas-Mexico Border, I made the mistake of declaring that I didn’t like menudo. A co-worker informed me that I had never had HER menudo, and the next week she brought a big pot of the soup for lunch. Being a slow learner, I made the same comment at various gatherings, and the outcome was always the same: somebody would bring a batch of their lovingly made tripe soup. And I would eat the soup along with the ever-expanding chunks of tripe. I still don’t like menudo. Never say you don’t like a particular dish. It will be seen as a challenge.
On the other hand, be very careful in saying how much you like a particular dish. Years ago, we visited Thailand where I was treated royally. The first night was a banquet where they served roasted suckling pig. As the guest of honor, I was treated to the crispy skin along with the tail and snout. I said how much I enjoyed it (I really did; it was delicious) so that for every evening meal for two weeks in various parts of the country, I was treated to roasted suckling pig complete with snout and tail. I have not eaten roasted suckling pig since.
Back to okra. I agree with Carol: tomatoes and okra is not a favorite. The dish seems to bring out the worst quality of okra, the slime. Deep-fried okra with a crispy corn meal coating is another story. In my view, it is delicious. Fried green tomatoes have a distinctive citrusy tang, but they are a variant of the same preparation method, along with hush puppies, fried catfish, battered cutlets, chicken fried steak, or even fried chicken. But that’s one of the things that makes Southern home cooking so good – frying. Think deep-fried Twinkies.
These recipes are not authentic. Usually you can just shake cut okra with some seasoned cornmeal and fry it. The slime binds the cornmeal to make a crispy fried coating. Same with the green tomatoes. Instead, I have used a flour-egg-buttermilk-cornmeal coating; I like the extra body (and calories) that the coating brings. I am certain that Carol would still not like the okra. I served the vegetables with battered pork cutlets. It was a very brown plate, and my mother would not have approved of the absence of green vegetable – collards, maybe?
Fried Okra, Fried Green Tomatoes, and Breaded Pork Cutlet
- 1 pound (about) fresh okra pods
- 3-4 medium green tomatoes
- 4 thin-sliced pork cutlets
- salt and pepper
- 4 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 dashes Tabasco sauce (optional)
- bread crumbs
- oil for frying
- Wash the okra and cut it crosswise into ¾ inch rounds
- Cut the green tomatoes into ½ inch slices
- Dust the pork cutlets in flour and pound with the edge of a saucer to flatten. Turn over while pounding and season with salt and pepper.
- Dust the okra slices and green tomato slices with flour.
- Combine the beaten eggs and buttermilk. Dip the floured okra, tomatoes, and cutlets in the egg mixture. Then dip in a plate filled with the bread crumbs until completely covered.
- Let the vegetables and pork rest on cooling racks for 15 minutes.
- Fill a deep-sided heavy pot with 2 inches of frying oil. Heat to 350°F. Fry okra, tomatoes, and pork separately, turning frequently, until well browned. Remove from the oil with a spider and drain on paper towels. Keep warm in a 170°F oven until everything has been fried. Serve immediately.