“Fusion Food as a concept is kind of trying to quite consciously fuse things that are sometimes quite contradictory, sometimes quite far apart, to see if they’d work.” ~ Yotam Ottolenghi
Mine did, and it was perfect!!
Well, it all started with Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen menu! That’s what first led us to discover the southern cuisine and explore beyond and much more from there.
Mr. Husbandman S, is a self confessed Indian-KFC obsessed chicken lover. During my first extensive fast-breaking ritual in India (S was so moved, he had fasted with me too!), I remember how he had bought home and kept ready a packet of sweets and paratha-subzi for me versus a bucket full of KFC-wings for his own self. And it was it! That flashback and I haven’t been able to garner my mind again to fast. When we first came to The US, and S had a taste of the homeland’s Kentucky Fried (obese) Chicken wings, he wasn’t inclined to have given up so easily. He was soon out hunting eateries that could remind him more of the crispy, crunchy, spicy, yet tender fries that he was so used to in India. Someone suggested Popeyes, and S was at their local ordering counter the next evening.
The next time he took me along, got my interest in reading the large board they hang at each of their stores. It speaks about their New Orleans heritage and about the founding roots of their authentic spicy recipes. S, being the true-heart-Bengali-foodie he is, he may have never cared to read that board on the Popeyes walls — when he’s hungry his eyes see nothing but when his order is served and the closest empty table where he could sit and gobble down his food! I did take a notice of the unique culinary style nonetheless…
Absorbing a little bit of that 5-minute knowledge from Google-guru and a few planned trips to the local traditional diners in the Carolina’s, Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida and Virginia, had our taste buds and minds sorted. Embracing an unfamiliar cuisine isn’t always an ecstasy. Especially if you have one Mr. Man by your side who’s not always a reluctant subject of a gastronomic-experiment, is however willing to accompany you in the tryout quest, but not without endless rants and curious George’s one thousand culinary-questions till we would reach our food stop. Well, not really a thousand (I exaggerated!!), but easily a dozen inquiries! Then the foray that followed the culinary adventure, met no resistance. After all, it was nirvana for a spice-loving Indian. Southern food opened up gates to the paradise that S hadn’t found in the land that otherwise loves bland. And as we ventured more, we learned greater.
The Southern cuisine was born out of influence from the huge wave of settling immigrants and a long-lasting influence, chiefly African, Creole, Native American, the Caribbean, Mexican and Spanish (plus a couple other European culinary styles). We found that though food in each of the Southern States was unique and had certain fine differences, yet they also had those subtle common elements. Spicy yes! They all were. Mostly. The southern food emphasized strongly on certain meat, seafood and vegetables. Vegetables like corn, okra, aubergines, beans and squash are definitely favored more in the Carolina’s and Virginia. Although we are keen and yet to explore 2 other Southern food giants — Louisiana and Arkansas — we are told that their cuisines draw strong parallels with the rest of the Southern United States.
One local Southern favorite we had more times than often is Okra Fritters. As an Indian, if I were to make a fritter, I’d think of Besan (garbanzo bean flour) first. But no, these fritters had all purpose flour, and sometimes corn meal. Talk of a hot sauce dip, and one quick thing America adopted from Thailand was it’s spicy-licious Sriracha sauce. Fortunately for S, my refrigerator always has a stock of that, along with a glass bottle of the Indo-Chinese hot green chilly sauce, both of which he loves and shakes enthusiastically over his fries and fritters until there is a little “hot” swimming pool of red or green on his plate! And when I make these okra fritters at home, the Bengali soul in me pushes to pour in some rice flour for that added crispiness and a little yogurt for that slight tanginess. Some things come naturally and inherently…and I can’t change my genes…Oh yes! I add the sriracha for the “extra heat punch”. I like how all these regional favorites blend in together to bring out the flavors of this. The result is a plate full of unique and rich brown bodied spicy okra fritters, that are crispy outside and tender inside. These brilliant fusion fritters are a great party crowd-pullers and impressive potluck foods! I like my fritters served with seasoned or plain ranch or mayonnaise dip. You may enjoy yours with these or your favorite fancy sauce or chutney…the fritters will not disappoint you!
Serves 3 – 4
- About 20 bright green and tender Okra (about the size of index finger)
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tbsp fresh ground black pepper
- About 3/4 tsp salt (or adjust to your taste)
- 2 tbsp full hot Sriracha sauce (use less for less heat)
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- Light olive oil for deep frying
- Rinse and pat dry the okra. Trim the ends and slice them into thin wheels.
- In a mixing bowl, add the all-purpose flour, rice flour, baking powder, black pepper and salt. With a clan and dry spatula, dry mix the ingredients.
- Add the chopped okra and onions. Mix them together, so the vegetables get thoroughly coated with the flour mixture. This ensures that the fried okra aren’t as mucilaginous.
- Now add the sriracha and yogurt. With the spatula, fold them together and mix all well, so all ingredients are well incorporated.
- Let the fritter mixture sit for about 2 minutes. In the meantime heat the frying oil in the pan over stove.
- After 2 minutes, the fritter mixture would be ready and a little sticky. When the oil is sufficiently heated, with the help of 2 spoons (use one to scoop the mixture, and the other to drop it down into the oil), carefully drop one the mixture into oil and deep fry. Drop a teaspoon or a tablespoon full depending on whether you’d like small sized or regular fritters.
- Since the fritters could stick to each other while frying, make sure you have enough room for each fritter to fry without overcrowding the pan with too many. Let the fritters brown one side in oil. Then turn and flip to fry the other side till uniformly browned and done. Carefully spoon out the fried fritters on an absorbing kitchen towel.
- Serve the fritters immediately and serve them with ranch or mayonnaise or a dip of your choice. Make them and enjoy any day. Have a good one you all!