The accomplished Southern cook is well versed in okra’s star qualities—the vegetable, be it roasted, pickled, or stewed, brings depth to any dish. But the most satisfying preparation, fried to a perfect crunch, may also be the trickiest. Okra’s mucilage (its slime) is prized when thickening stews such as gumbo but can complicate frying. Meherwan Irani, the chef-owner of Asheville’s Chai Pani, has a solution: his okra “fries,” which fuse the snack his mother cooked for him in central India with the Southern standard to produce some of the crispiest okra around.
Irani recommends slicing the pods lengthwise julienne-style by hand. “I trim one ridged edge so the okra can be laid flat on one side, then I slice—carefully—from there,” he says.
SKIP THE BATTER
You read right. Okra can still be Southern-fried without flour or cornmeal. Too often batter absorbs oil and leads to a soggy bite. Irani calls for a three-to-four-minute dip in 350°F canola oil for a textured morsel with the right amount of chew.
SAVOR THAT FLAVOR
Irani tosses a piping-hot batch with sea salt, a squirt of fresh lime, and a dusting of chaat masala—Indian street food seasoning. “Chaat means ‘to lick your fingers,’” he says. Found at Asian grocers or online, it is made of dried green mango powder (which adds acidity) and black rock salt (a sulfuric hit), which lends the okra its umami.