I adapted this recipe from one of my most treasured cookbooks, The Gift of Southern Cooking by Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock. When I serve the fritters as a side dish, I offer them up, piping hot, in a bread basket at the table, as though they were biscuits or cornbread. When I pass them as hors d’oeuvres, as at this dinner, I usually accompany them with a spicy Sriracha mayonnaise for dipping.
Yield: About sixteen 2-inch fritters
½ cup white cornmeal
½ cup all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
½ cup buttermilk
½ cup finely chopped sweet onion
2 cups thinly sliced okra
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Sriracha Mayonnaise (recipe follows)
Place the cornmeal, flour, 1 teaspoon of the salt, and the baking powder in a large mixing bowl and stir well. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg and buttermilk together, then add the mixture to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
Wipe out the large mixing bowl and mix the onion and okra in it. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the pepper, and toss to combine. Fold the vegetables into the batter.
Pour the vegetable oil into a heavy-bottomed skillet until it’s 1 inch deep, and heat until it’s hot but not smoking. (If you have a thermometer, it should register about 340ºF.) Drop the batter by rounded tablespoons into the oil, being careful not to overcrowd. Fry until golden on one side, about 4 minutes, and then turn and repeat on the other side.
Remove the fritters from the skillet, drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. You may keep them warm in a 200ºF oven until all are done. If serving as an hors d’oeuvre, accompany with the Sriracha mayonnaise for dipping.
Yield: Makes 1 cup
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable or canola oil
1½ teaspoons Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
1 garlic clove, pressed
Whisk together the egg yolk, lemon juice, mustard, and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. While still whisking, slowly dribble in the vegetable oil until the mayonnaise gets thick and the oil is easily incorporated. At this point, you can add the rest of the oil in a thin stream, instead of drop by drop. If it gets too thick, add a teaspoon of water.
Whisk in the Sriracha and garlic and refrigerate, covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve.
Recipe excerpted from Julia Reed’s South: Spirited Entertaining and High-Style Fun All Year Long by Julia Reed (Rizzoli New York). Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Paul Costello.