Beth Kirby of Local Milk carries her Southern heritage -- and the ingredients, dishes, and recipes that come with it -- with her wherever she goes. Every other Monday, that place is here.
Today: Reinvent the way you make okra, with this spicy, salty, game-changing condiment.
I’m no culinary tabula rasa. I’m Southern. And that means I have baggage; that means I carry a metaphysical grain sack of Southern dishes and ingredients with me wherever I go. It means I think I’m a genius if I can figure out how to get bacon grease or buttermilk into preparations hitherto unknown to them, and that I’m forever scheming ways to insert sorghum into unsuspecting baked goods, vinaigrettes, and glazes.
Any time I’m creating a new dish, I heave my giant bag of Southernisms onto the table and start rifling through it for inspiration. Out spills pecan meal and chicory. I toss butter beans and black-eyed peas over my shoulder, digging deeper, looking for just the thing. My thumb sinks into a deli container of pimento cheese. I lick it off, keep digging. Past the grits and the pork rinds and the bundles of collards I find what I’m looking for, that quintessential southern ingredient: okra.
Okra’s something of a curiosity to the non-southern populous. For starters, its name is a sort of visual onomatopoeia, oblong and fuzzy-sounding. There’s nothing you can really liken it to, and it tends to fall squarely into the love or hate category. It’s pleated and viscous with seeds like bursting pearls of caviar. You mostly encounter it fried, but I don’t believe in deep-frying the stuff. My grandmother didn’t do it that way, and that’s as good a reason as any for not believing in something. She pan-fried it in cornmeal, and it’s much, much better than deep fried okra -- it's crispy and light.
I’d only ever had okra that way growing up, tossed with cornmeal and fried in my grandmother’s cast iron skillet. It’d certainly never crossed my mind to grill okra until I was in my early 20s and my boyfriend at the time sprinkled some with lemon pepper and threw it over a charcoal fire. Perhaps his only great achievement.
But I need something more than the McCormick’s he fished out of the cabinet, though he had the right idea: acid and spice and a smoky charcoal fire. It was an okra revelation. And that’s where Sriracha Lime Salt comes in.
First, you dehydrate some Sriracha and grind it into a powder -- this alone is, well, a life-changer. At least it is if you’re a Srirachaphile like me. But mix it with some good salt and lots of fresh lime zest and juice and everything is new, from Bloody Marys to popcorn to okra (and frankly any other grilled vehicle under the sun).
2 tablespoons Sriracha
3 tablespoons sea salt or kosher salt
Zest of two limes
Juice of one lime
Olive oil for brushing
Okra (however many you like, there’ll be enough salt to go around)
Lime wedges for serving
Photos by Beth Kirby