Most people think of Paula Deen when Southern cooking comes up. But, for me the best cookbook on Southern food is Ronni Lundy's From Blackberries to Butter Beans. When I first read this book I was immediately transported back to my childhood in the South, eating speckled butter beans, gumbo, and gathering dewberries (a form of blackberry) for my grandmother's cobblers. The book's title comes from a wonderful story where the great Southern writers William Faulkner and Katherine Ann Porter had just finished a fabulous meal in France. As they looked at the food debris on their table, Faulkner mused, "Back home, the speckled butter beans are in." And Porter replied wistfully, "Blackberries." As a Southerner who no longer lives in the South, I immediately understood their sentiments. Those foods are a part of me, and I always think about them when their season arrives.
When I was thinking of making a dish for Weekend Obnoxious But Amazingly Tasty, created by the lovely Glenna at A Fridge Full of Food...But Nothing To Eat, I thought of this salad. But, I figured a lot of people would see the word okra and be repelled. I mentioned the recipe yesterday to a friend and she immediately, yelped, "Okra! Yuck!." But, fried okra is a revelation if you hate it prepared other ways. Whenever my mother made it, okra haters rejoiced. The hot, slightly crisp okra aren't the least bit slimy and taste good on this simple salad of lettuce and tomatoes. This is a nice recipe, but I still prefer my mom's fried okra recipe, which we ate as a side dish. For other WOBAT recipes head over to Glenna's site. And for good reading, get Ronni Lundy's book.
Bibb Lettuce Salad With Okra Croutons And Buttermilk Dressing (Ronni Lundy from Butter Beans to Blackberries)
1 cup sliced okra, 1/4 inch thick, or sliced frozen okra
1 head Bibb or Boston lettuce
2 medium tomatoes or 12 cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup corn flour (see note)
1/2 teaspoon kosher sal
1/2 sliced cucumber or other fresh vegetables ( I used a freshly picked bell pepper slices)
canola or peanut oil for frying
Note: If you can't find corn flour, process cornmeal in a blender until it is powdery.
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon minced celery leaves
2 drops tabasco
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely minced green onions
Note: The salad dressing contains no oil, but I added 2 tablespoons of olive oil. You may want to leave it out.
If you're using fresh okra, chill it for at least 20 minutes before dredging and frying. For frozen okra, defrost for 20 minutes.
While okra chills, make dressing by whisking together vinegar, sugar and salt until dissolved. Add other ingredients and whisk to blend.
Prepare salads on individual plates . Rinse and pat lettuce leaves dry . Slice tomatoes or half the cherry tomatoes and arrange them over the lettuce. Add cucumbers, peppers or other veggies if you wish.
When you are ready to serve the salads, place the corn flour in a wide bowl and mix with salt, pour about 1/2 inch of oil into a skillet and heat it over high heat. Dredge okra in the flour until thoroughly coated and shake to remove excess. when oil is very hot but not smoking, add okra in small batches, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry until brown on one side, (about 30 seconds) then flip to brown the other side. Drain the okra on a paper towel.
Pour dressing on the salads, then top with the okra, dividing it among the salads and serve immediately.