Crunchy, golden, and delicious, this oven fried okra is vegan and contains no oil or gluten. Prepare to be amazed!
When I was growing up, I knew of only three ways to eat okra–in gumbo, stewed, or fried. As I’ve gotten older and had the opportunity to try recipes from around the world, I’ve grown to love okra in other dishes, such as curries, as well as my favorite (and the easiest) way to prepare it, roasted. I haven’t had fried okra in years because even if I could get past the oil involved in frying, I’ve never seen a vegan version on a menu. If you ask the chef, you’ll find she uses buttermilk, at the very least, and bacon drippings, at the worst.
All of this is to say that I haven’t had fried okra in a very, very long time, so I’m not going to claim that I remember it well enough to duplicate the flavor and texture in a vegan, fat-free version. But I do think I succeed in doing what I set out to do, which was create okra with a crunch to it. As I said, I love roasted okra. Roasting it gives it a lovely smoky flavor and dries up all the “slime” inside the pod. But it doesn’t really make the okra crunchy, and recently I had a craving for crunch, so I set about figuring out how to accomplish that without using oil.
I first experimented with using the traditional fried okra technique of dipping the okra first in buttermilk (vegan milk plus lemon juice) and then dredging it in a cornmeal mixture. Instead of frying it, I baked it. Unfortunately, cornmeal not spritzed with any oil retains its dryness through the baking process, so my okra came out pale and powdery, edible but not really crunchy.
So I went back to the drawing board and decided a moist batter would be better for baked okra. Because coating slices of okra in batter would be a huge mess, I kept the pods whole, which is not how Southern fried okra is normally made. This time, the okra came out crunchy, golden, and delicious. The only odd thing was that the batter tended to pool underneath the okra pods, so that the bottoms were a little flattened, but that didn’t affect the flavor at all. I found that getting the baking sheet hot and letting the excess batter drip off before putting the pods on the pan helps reduce the flatness effect.
My husband likes to dip roasted okra in ketchup, and he managed to convince me to create a dipping sauce for the oven-fried version. I made up a simple cocktail sauce with ketchup, horseradish, and hot sauce, but I can imagine a creamy sauce like Comeback Sauce or Roasted Red Pepper Dressing being even better.
Oil-Free Gluten-Free Oven-Fried Okra
- 1 - 1 1/2 pounds okra
- 3/4 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk of choice see Notes
- 1/2 cup cornmeal
- 1/4 cup brown rice flour see Notes
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt if desired
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (more or less to taste)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- Wash the okra and trim off the stems. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a baking sheet. Remove the parchment and place the baking sheet in the oven. Preheat oven to 450F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all remaining ingredients and mix well. You should have a batter a little thicker than pancake batter. If it seems dry, add a splash of non-dairy milk.
- Put a few okra into the batter and stir to coat well. Once the baking sheet is heated, place it on a pot holder or other heat-safe surface next to your bowl of batter. Place the parchment on it. Working quickly, remove each okra pod, allow any excess batter to drip back into the bowl, and place it on the baking sheet, being careful to leave space between each pod. Repeat with as much okra as you can fit on the baking sheet. (If your baking sheet is small, you may need to make two batches; batter can thicken between batches, so add more liquid if necessary.)
- Place in the oven. After 15 minutes, remove and gently turn each okra pod. Replace and cook until outsides are brown but not burning, about 15 more minutes. Serve warm with your choice of dipping sauce.
I used soy milk, which thickens with the addition of lemon juice. If you use another plant-based milk, you may need to add a little extra flour if the batter seems thin.
Other flours should work, but I have only tested it at this time with brown rice flour. If you use a different flour, use your judgement about whether the batter needs to be thinned with extra milk or thickened with extra flour.
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As I noted in the recipe, one of the best things about this cornmeal batter is that it can be used on just about any vegetable you choose. I found another great use for it, which I will be sharing with you in my next post. Stay tuned!
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