Okra corncakes are a magical combination of two well-loved dishes: fried okra and cornbread. They are slightly sweet with a pinch of sugar, and have an approachable kick with some minced jalapeño . A drizzle of Olinda olive oil and honey, and oh boy. For a dinner party, I top them with crema, micro greens and sometimes charred corn and pickled blueberries, or lemon-chive crab salad when I am getting fancy. Pickled shrimp would be a nice fit, too. A guest told me that she insisted on eating these alone with her eyes closed so that she could fully enjoy the experience.
Makes 6-8 servings (2 3-inch cakes each)
2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal (I like Marsh Hen Mill cornmeal in Charleston)
2 teaspoons baking powder
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups cold water, plus more as needed
8 oz fresh okra, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2-1 jalapeño, minced
Zest of one lemon
2 tablespoons minced scallions, optional
1/4- 1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying
Honey, to drizzle (optional)
Olive oil, to drizzle (optional, I use Olinda olive oil in Charleston)
Line a couple plates with paper towels. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the cornmeal, baking powder, salt, pepper and sugar until no lumps remain.
Add 1 beaten egg and water. Whisk away!
Add the fresh okra, jalapeño, lemon zest and minced scallions, if you are using them.
The mixture should be thick but wet. It should be easy to scoop.
Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium heat. You can test if the oil is hot enough by putting a quarter-sized dollop of batter in the pan and see if it gets crispy like a pancake does. If so, you are good to go! The more oil you put in the pan, the longer it will take to hear, and the more "deep-fried" your cakes will get.
Using a 1/4 cup measuring cup, scoop the batter, making sure to include pieces of okra, into the hot oil. You may use the back of the measuring cup to flatten the cake until it is level, but you do not have to. I like to put the cakes in the pan clockwise, so I can remember which one I put in first, which is typically the one to flip first.
Repeat with additional batter, depending on the size of your pan. Do not crowd your pan, or else the temperature of the oil will drop and the cakes will not crispy enough. Booooo. I can fit four 1/4-cup scoops into my 10-inch pan.
Cook the cakes until you see plenty of bubbles around the outside edges on the side that is facing upwards, and some little bubbles in the center. If you must, you can peek, using a spatula (I prefer a versatile fish spatula) to see if you have a crispy bottom and a dark ring on the outside of the cakes. Flip the cakes over and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add oil as needed. Transfer the cooked cakes to the paper towel lined plates in batches, and make sure to add a pinch of salt as to the cakes as soon as you put them onto the plate, because the hot oil on the cakes will help the salt stick.
Top with desired toppings and eat!