Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra


I remember my father’s paternal grandmother as a strong, Southern woman. She was a force. I only saw her on holidays but I will never forget her cooking, which we ate at home all throughout the year. She used to freeze her fresh-from-the-garden, hand-battered okra and we would take it home in bags every winter. That fried okra was a precious commodity, rationed carefully until the next Christmas.

Grandmother Phillips had a garden in her backyard. She grew everything in it. I remember describing her to friends as a farmer, though she did not sell her produce for a living. She canned and froze everything. She was an expert in preservation. Preservation of food and of tradition and of family.  The garage of her old home was lined with walls and walls of cans: cucumber, okra, squash, peas, peaches– you name it, she had it canned from her garden.


At Christmas we would visit her home in (relatively) rural, northern Alabama and there would be an endless array of options. People would comment about how excessive the spread was, but Grandmother Phillips’ would never pare it down. Only after her death did I come to see how food is a love language for Southern folks, and I was (at least partially) descended from Southern folks, and my grandmother was showing her love for us by feeding us well.

After she died I remember looking into our freezer and seeing one last bag of her homemade fried okra. I don’t remember the last meal we ate with that one remaining batch of Grandmother Phillips’ okra, but I’ve been trying to recreate the recipe for most of my adult life.


We recently joined a CSA program, which gives us plenty of fresh produce to consume weekly. Grandmother Phillips would probably call it lazy eating, but it gives us plenty of okra to experiment with and I have finally been able to get satisfactorily close to her fried okra.


It has a ton of flavor and it freezes very well. It is easy to prep, as far as fried foods go, and it can be reheated in the oven, which I love for the easy clean-up.


A single batch will serve five adults as a generous side portion, but we often dole out smaller portions and let half of it sit in the freezer for an easy side on another night.

Grandmother Phillips’ Fried Okra

(serves ~6)

1 cup whole milk*
1 tablespoon white vinegar*
2 pounds fresh okra
1 cup AP flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (just a dash if you don’t like spicy)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
canola or avocado oil
*OR 1 cup buttermilk

First, combine the milk and vinegar in a measuring cup. Let it sit for 15 minutes. (Alternatively: skip this step and use 1 cup buttermilk.)

Next, wash and slice the okra into 1/2″ – 1″ thick rounds.

In a medium-sized bowl, mix the okra and milk. Let this sit for at least 20 minutes.

Then, in a large bowl, mix the remaining, dry in ingredients.

When your okra is done “marinating”, drain the excess buttermilk and toss it in the cornmeal mixture. I find it best to toss the okra in batches as to avoid the pieces clumping together.*

Pan fry in a high-temp oil over medium heat. I find that this, too, works best in batches and there is no need to keep the okra on one side and tediously flip every piece halfway through cooking. It is fine to toss them in the pan and shake it around every now and then to evenly brown each piece.**

Drain the okra on paper towels and sprinkle with a fine, table salt. After cooling, it can be placed in a bag and frozen for later.

*If you have the time and patience, batter each okra circle one at a time. Try to keep them as separate as possible!

**One of the greatest things about this okra is that each bite is a little different. It is fully homemade and thus “rustic” in both texture and flavor. Do not concern yourself over perfect knife cuts or even browning, as this okra should be a delicious, low-stress side!




Grilled Okra

grilled okraThis will be a very short post because this is a very simple recipe that I actually got from my boyfriend’s family, a bunch of northerners! *Gasp!* It is an alternative way of cooking okra to fried okra that is SO much better for you and actually allows you to taste so much of the okra flavor and amazing texture that gets lost when it’s battered and fried.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love fried okra as much as the next southern girl, but this is a great alternative that is healthier and much lighter if you’re looking for a side dish to go with that heavy steak! Ever since I learned this new way of cooking okra, I add it to the grill when my family is cooking their meat. It is easy to do in a sautée as well, or a grill pan (which is what I use here). Honestly, I make this way more often than fried okra because it is so much easier to make and still tastes delicious!

Grilled Okra
Makes about 4 servings

1lb fresh okra
1/4 cup olive oil
kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

After washing the okra, place them in a large bowl and coat them with the olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. Here I do think that kosher salt is much better because not only does it add that salty flavor but it also provides a little crisp and crunch on the outside of the okra once it’s cooked!

Line the okra up on a grill, pan, or grill pan and cook over medium heat. On the stove, cook them for about five minutes on the first side, turn them over, and cook them for another five minutes. If you’re using a grill, it is totally up to you how long you leave them on there. Longer = crispier, so definitely feel free to adapt this to your personal preferences! Once the okra is ready to come off, it should be tender; crispy on the outside but still soft on the inside.

grilled okra