Political correctness can be taken too far, but please don’t mistake this as an ode to the “good old days.” Those days weren’t all that good for a lot of people. The fact that the folks who named the salad were Italian doesn’t excuse the offense.
That said, the salad itself is a beautiful thing. Typically it combines olive salad, fresh and/or pickled peppers, tomatoes and crisp greens with some cheese and occasionally salami. I wanted to come up with a slightly different take on the salad, but I wasn’t sure how to do that without compromising the essential elements. There’s not much room to improve on a dish that combines so many flavors and textures so well.
Then I remembered the pickled okra seasoned with smoked paprika in my refrigerator and got to thinking about texture, heritage and how just a little smoky flavor might work well with the other components of the salad, and might work even better if I fried the okra.
So that’s what I did. I dredged one-half inch slices of pickled okra (and a few cloves of pickled garlic that were also in the jar) in fine cornmeal and fried them in very hot oil until they were golden brown. They served as croutons, more or less, for the version of the Italian salad I put together the other night, and the only problem was that I did not have enough okra to satisfy everyone and still garnish the salad as I intended.
So, here’s the recipe:
Fried pickled okra
8-12 pieces of pickled okra, sliced across into half-inch slices
1 cup fine cornmeal
Toss the sliced okra with the cornmeal and fry at 350 until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
1 head Romaine lettuce, cleaned, quartered and sliced thinly across.
1 cup olive salad (I used Boscoli)
1 tbs. sherry vinegar
about ½ cup Pecorino Romano shavings
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved and tossed with salt and pepper
Mix the olive salad with the vinegar in a large bowl, then add the lettuce and tomatoes and toss to mix. Adjust the seasoning again, adding a little more vinegar, salt or pepper if necessary then serve garnished with the fried okra and cheese.
Here’s my question: is “China cap” still the preferred nomenclature? Because I’ve heard that term used recently in reference to the conical strainer similar to a chinois but with larger holes and I don’t know if one is better than the other or if maybe I’m too sensitive. Alternatively I’m desperate for a way to shoehorn a reference to one of my favorite movies into this piece, and “China cap” was the only thing I could think of that wasn’t French fries. You be the judge, I’m out of my element.