Recipe – Home Style Fried Okra

Not everyone likes okra, but I’d be willing to bet that most people will like this recipe. It’s very different from the restaurant style fried okra you may be familiar with (if you are familiar with fried okra at all), where each piece is individually battered and deep fried. Instead, with this method, the okra clumps together a little and the shallow pan frying brings out more flavor.

One of my favorite quick and cheap meals, this is the recipe my mother made when I was a child. I serve it in a bowl on top of jasmine rice with a glass of wine or beer.

You start by combining 1 pound okra cut into 1/2 inch rounds (fresh or pre-cut frozen) with 1/4 cup of all purpose flour1/4 cup of ground corn meal (yellow or white – and if you don’t have corn meal, just use more flour), 1 tsp. of salt, 1/2 tsp. of ground pepper and, if you’re feeling adventurous, 1 tsp. of chili or curry powder in a large bowl. The chili or curry powder is terribly non-traditional, but it’s a fun twist on the flavor.

Here's the okra, flour, corn meal, salt, pepper and chili powder before I stir it all together.

Here’s the okra, flour, corn meal, salt, pepper and chili powder before I stir it all together.

Stir the mixture around with a fork to lightly coat the okra. Most of the flour and seasonings will migrate to the bottom of the bowl.

After stirring, the okra is lightly coated with the flour mixture (but most of the flour is now in the bottom of the bowl).

After stirring, the okra is lightly coated with the flour mixture (but most of the flour is now in the bottom of the bowl).

Then add two eggs and stir to combine. If there are still dry spots, add another egg and stir it in. It’s better to use too many eggs than too few.

Here's what the mixture looks like after I've stirred in 3 eggs.

Here’s what the mixture looks like after I’ve stirred in 3 eggs.

In a 12-inch non-stick pan (or cast iron skillet), add enough oil to coat the bottom and heat it over medium-high heat (I usually use close to 1/2 a cup). When the oil starts to ripple on the surface, add the okra mixture and spread it out into a single layer.

I've just added the okra mixture to the hot pan with the oil.

I’ve just added the okra mixture to the hot pan with the oil.

Put a lid on the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes. Use a spatula to check the bottom of the okra every now and then. When it’s golden brown, remove the lid and flip the okra. NOTE: At this point, the okra mixture will have stuck together to make a single sheet in the pan. Don’t try to flip this whole sheet, just break up into smaller pieces and flip them individually.

Here's what it looks like when you try to flip the okra the first time. It will have all stuck together. Just break it into smaller pieces.

Here’s what it looks like when you try to flip the okra the first time. It will have all stuck together. Just break it into smaller pieces.

Here's what the okra looks like after I've completed flipping all of it.

Here’s what the okra looks like after I’ve completed flipping all of it.

 

Cook for another 10 – 20 minutes, stirring and flipping the okra every 5 minutes or so, until the okra is well done – dark brown and even black in spots.

This is what the okra should look like after another 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, stirring it every so often so that it is cooked evenly all over.

This is what the okra should look like after another 10 or 15 minutes of cooking, stirring it every so often so that it is cooked evenly all over.

 

Season with extra salt to taste and serve immediately or transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.

Here's my favorite way to serve home style fried okra.

Here’s my favorite way to serve home style fried okra. It’s tasty, inexpensive, and satisfying.

Here’s a summary of the ingredients (you can also download the recipe)

  • 1 lb. okra cut into ½ inch sections (fresh or pre-cut frozen)
  • ¼ cup. all purpose flour
  • ¼ cup. ground corn meal (white or yellow)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • (optional 1 tsp. chili powder or curry powder)
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2-3 eggs
  • about ½ cup oil

April – Look Away

Thanks to everyone who came out to the album release show a few weeks ago. It was great to see so many friends in the audience. My friend Kacy Jung was in the front row and took some wonderful pictures (which I’ll sprinkle throughout this post).

The band, plus friends, all on stage for the "Going Back To Cali".

The band, plus friends, all on stage for the last song of the night, “Going Back To Cali“. It’s hard to see in this picture, but that cello is strapped to me so I can stand and play at the same time..

Lately, it seems like I’ve written all of my songs in the shower. This tune was no exception, but it has a bit of a story to it.

One day, before I took a shower, I came up with a really catchy pizzicato riff on my cello and I’d worked it into a full song. The part was peppy and it even included a really clever key change in the middle of the chorus. I thought it was cool, but I didn’t have a melody or lyrics for it yet. So I came up with a plan: I would play the cello part a bunch of times and get it stuck in my head and then run and jump into the shower and sing whatever came to mind.

Performing "The Whistle".

Performing “The Whistle“.

So that’s what I did. I played the part a bunch, then jumped into the shower and started singing. At first I was coming up with potential melodies and words that worked, but somewhere between the shampoo and the soap things changed. The melody got darker and slower, from peppy to introspective. By the time I got out of the shower, I had a melody and lyrics, just like I’d planned, but for an entirely different song. Before, the cello part was flashy and complicated, now it barely had two chords.

After I got dressed I wondered what had happened to my plan and peppy cello part. I tried the same thing the next day and ended up with the same song. I have a theory that this song was stuck in my head to balance out my concert. The show was a huge extroverted thing that was fun and confident. In contrast, this song was entirely introspective. Maybe I needed to have both experiences to keep an even keel?

Performing "You".

Performing “You Don’t Know“.

Folks! I hope you had a great April. Spring has been slow coming, but it’s beautiful now and May should be a wonderful month. As always, if you’d like to play or sing along with this month’s tune, here’s the song sheet.

Recipe – Vegetarian Potstickers

One thing vastly different cultures agree on is that dumplings are awesome and delicious. There are many varieties, but the general method is to take something fantastic and then wrap it up in a bit of dough. One thing that sets dumplings apart from other tasty foodstuffs is that they are a pleasure to make with friends. You can prepare the filling in advance and then throw a dumpling making party. It’s fun, especially when people express their personal style in the wraps, and it’s tasty.

One of my favorite types of dumplings are potstickers. I’ve always loved them, but I’ve always been a little disappointed in the quality of the vegetarian varieties served in restaurants. These can be watery and lacking any rich flavors. So I made this recipe to solve all those problems. There are a lot of steps, but once the filling is made, wrapping the dumplings up is something you can do with the whole family and all your friends. It’s fun and the work goes quickly. Here’s the recipe.

Here’s how to do it:

Make the filling…

First, in a large pan over medium heat, add 2 Tbs. oil and 3 onions, thinly sliced. Caramelize the onions by cooking them slowly (turn the heat down if they brown too fast) for about 30 minutes.

Here I've just put the onions in the pan.  The goal is to slowly cook them for about 30 minutes until they become super soft and sweet.

Here I’ve just put the onions in the pan. The goal is to slowly cook them for about 30 minutes until they become super soft and sweet.

Here are what the onions should look like after about 30 minutes of cooking.

Here is what the onions should look like after about 30 minutes of cooking.

Then add one grated carrot and one diced poblano and cook until soft (about 5-10 minutes).

Now I've added the the grated carrots and diced poblano pepper.

Now I’ve added the the grated carrots and diced poblano pepper. Next I’ll stir the mixture and cook for about 5 or 10 minutes, until they are starting to get soft.

Then add 3 cups of sliced napa cabbage and cook until reduced and most of the water has evaporated (about 5 to 10 minutes).

Here I have just added the napa cabbage to the pan.

Here I have just added the napa cabbage to the pan.

Now add 1 cup of edamame and 2-3 Tbs. of grated ginger and stir to combine. Then add three eggs, break the yolks and and stir to scramble. To finish, add salt to taste (often I’ll just sprinkle a pinch or two of salt in the pan each time I add an ingredient to it and that alone does the trick.)

I've just add the eggs. Now all I need to do is stir them in and cook until scrambled.

I’ve just add the eggs. Now all I need to do is stir them in and cook until scrambled.

Now the eggs are scrambled and the filling is finished.

Now the eggs are scrambled and the filling is finished.

Make the dumplings…

To make the dumplings, you’ll need the filling, one package of Shanghai Style dumpling wrappers (or any other type of dumpling wrapper that you can find), a small bowl filled with water and a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Once the filling is cool enough to handle, put about 1 Tbs. of filling in the middle of a dumpling wrapper. Dip one or two fingers in the bowl of water and coat the outer edge of the wrapper with water.

After putting some filling into the middle of the dumpling wrapper, you wipe a wet finger around the edge.

After putting some filling into the middle of the dumpling wrapper, you wipe a wet finger around the edge.

Fold the wrapper to make a half moon shape and press the edges to seal.

Now fold the dumpling in half to make a crescent shape and pinch the edges together.

Now fold the dumpling in half to make a crescent shape and pinch the edges together.

Optional: Fold the edges to make an attractive border.

This step is optional, but you can make an attractive boarder. It's easy and fun! Check out the video.

This step is optional, but you can make an attractive boarder. It’s easy and fun! Check out the video.

Here’s what it looks like when you’re done making the dumplings:

If you have friends or family helping out, you can make a whole pan of these dumplings in no time.

If you have friends or family helping out, you can make a whole pan of these dumplings in no time.

To cook the potstickers…

Put about 1 Tbs. of oil into a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan. Line the bottom of the pan with as many potstickers as you can fit.

I crammed as many dumplings into the pan as I could!

I crammed as many dumplings into the pan as I could!

The remaining potstickers can be cooked in a second batch (or a second pan) or frozen (I slide the baking sheet in the freezer to freeze the dumplings and then, once they are hard, transfer them to a zip-lock bag.) Cook the dumplings over medium-high heat until they have browned nicely on the bottom. Then add ¼ cup of water to the pan and put a lid on the pan as quickly as you can. Cook another 5 minutes before removing the lid. Continue to cook until all of the water has evaporated and then serve.

This is what the bottoms of the pot stickers should look like when they are done cooking (I've already steamed them and they are ready to serve).

This is what the bottoms of the potstickers should look like when they are done cooking (I’ve already steamed them and they are ready to serve).

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 3 onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 carrot, grated
  • 1 poblano pepper, finely diced.
  • 3 cups of finely cut napa cabbage
  • 1 cup edamame
  • 1-2 Tbs. grated ginger
  • 3 eggs
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 package of Shanghai Style dumpling wrappers

March – Lucky To Be Alive

Is there anyone out there that doesn’t like singing in the shower? That’s where I wrote this song. I was in Bagan, Burma, washing the day’s dust off and this one just came to me, verses, choruses and everything all at once.

Sunrise in Bagan.

Sunrise in Bagan.

During the afternoon, while I was puttering around pagodas, I had been thinking about a time when I was really young. On the playground I had just learned the saying, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. It seemed to me like a pretty clever response to teasing and other juvenile torments. Later in the day, I mentioned it to my mother and she looked at me and said, “if only that were true.” I asked what she meant by that, because the only pain I knew came from, well, you know, sticks and stones. She told me that broken bones heal relatively easily, but the scars that words carve into us take much, much longer to heal.

At the time I was too young to understand what she said. I knew that she was saying something serious, but, having just brushed off insults at school without a second thought, I couldn’t imagine how much damage words could do to me. Since then I’ve learned that she was right. Sadly, it’s something everyone learns.

However, about the same time I learned the “sticks and stones” saying, I also learned about forgiveness. Like my mother’s comments, I didn’t understand it until much later in life. However, I’ve found that forgiveness is the only thing that heals the wounds that words inflict. It frees me from them and lifts my spirits.

The west entrance to the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon.

The west entrance to the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Yangon.

Folks! It’s been a great month! It was busy at times, but I got a lot done and was able to spend time with very good friends. However, I’m super excited about April! My new CD, Germany Zulu, is coming out!!!!! The release show will be at The Cave in Chapel Hill on April 17. I’ll be playing with a full band, and The Drowning Lovers will open up. The show starts at 9, so come if you can. Otherwise, you can pre-order the limited edition CD or pre-order the songs on iTunes and Amazon!

And, as always, if you’d like sing or play along, here’s the song sheet.

Savory Crepes – the fast track to fancy food.

Sometimes fancy food can be really easy to make in a short period of time, and these savory crepes, stuffed with roasted vegetables, a slice of brie, and anything else you can imagine, totally fit that bill.

First, select and cook a few vegetables, like thinly sliced onions and fennel, or cherry tomatoes cut in half and thin asparagus spears, or, if you’re still feeling like it’s winter, small cubes of butternut squash. Thinly sliced fennel and onions can be sautéed with olive oil and a few pinches of salt, asparagus and cherry tomatoes, tossed with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, can be roasted for 10 minutes at 400F, and butternut squash, tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, can be roasted for 30 minutes at 400F. You can mix and match the vegetables depending on what you can find fresh at your grocery.

While the vegetables are cooking (or shortly there after), combine 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk, ½ cup water, 4 eggs, 2 Tbs. melted butter and 1 tsp. salt in a large metal bowl with a whisk, or in a food processor using the pulse mode, until the mixture has a uniform consistency.

Nothing fancy here, just mix the batter together.

Nothing fancy here, just mix the batter together.

To cook the crepes, use ⅓ cup of batter per crepe in a 12” cast iron or non-stick skillet (you may need to rub a little bit of oil in the pan, but I usually don’t) over medium heat. Tilt the pan to spread the mixture and cook until the edges start to peal away from the pan.

Here I've add 1/3 of a cup of batter to a 12 inch skillet and swirled it around.

Here I’ve add 1/3 of a cup of batter to a 12 inch skillet and swirled it around.

You can tell when it's time to flip the crepe when it starts to peel away from the edge of the pan.

You can tell when it’s time to flip the crepe when it starts to peel away from the edge of the pan.

Flip the crepe using a silicone spatula and cook for another 30 seconds or so before removing the crepe to a plate.

I use a silicone spatula to flip the crepes.

I use a silicone spatula to flip the crepes. You can spot a second crepe, already flipped, in the background. I like to have two pans going at once, and can do the whole batch of batter in about 7 minutes.

Here's what a flipped crepe looks like.

Here’s what a flipped crepe looks like.

Continue to cook crepes, stacking them on top of each other on the plate when each one is done, until all of the mixture has been used up.

To serve, put a crepe on a plate or cutting board and put about 1 cup of a mixture of two or three roasted or sauteed vegetables (for example: thinly sliced onions, fennel, cherry tomatoes cut in half, small cubes of butternut squash, thin spears of asparagus, etc.) in a line across the middle, top with a slice of brie, then roll the uncovered parts of the crepe over the filling.

To summarize the ingredients (you can also download the recipe):

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup water
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 Tbs. melted butter
  • 1 tsp. salt

February – On Your Doorstep

Greetings from Singapore!

uku_merlion_smile

The ukulele is visiting his friend the Merlion, Singapore’s mascot. It’s half fish, half lion. Trust me, the Merlion gets bent out of shape if you call it a mermaid. He says, “Merlion! Merlion!”

For the past two weeks I’ve been here, visiting my folks. It’s been a lot of fun (and I’ve eaten a lot of good food).

Do you see that building in the background that looks like a durian shaped performing arts center? It actually is a durian shaped performing arts center. One day the ukulele will play there.

Do you see that building in the background that looks like a durian shaped performing arts center? It actually is a durian shaped performing arts center. One day the ukulele will play there.

One highlight was a side trip to Burma (Myanmar). This country is known for a lot of things, one of which is its sunsets, particularly in Bagan. Months before I arrived, I had read about them in travel books and once there, was desperate to see one in person. As soon as I could, I rented an “ebike”, an electric scooter that I named “Ernest”, and headed towards the nearest pagoda. Ernest wasn’t the speediest ebike around, and had a lot of trouble whenever we weren’t going downhill, but he tried has hard as he could.

Burma, an especially the Bagan region, is covered in old pagodas, many of which are over 1200 years old.

Burma, and especially the Bagan region, is covered in old pagodas, many of which are over 1200 years old.

My timing, however, was rather poor. The sun was setting as I made my way to the pagoda. I begged Ernest to go a little faster and he chugged along as best he could. When I arrived at the pagoda, it was bathed in a breath taking golden light and the sun was just on the horizon. Everything was perfect except one small detail. The camera shot wasn’t as awe inspiring as what I’d seen in the guide book. Certain that I could find a better location to capture the moment, I hopped back onto Ernest and puttered off to the next pagoda.

Unfortunately for me, time didn’t stand still. Instead, with my back to the west, the sun silently slipped behind the mountains and vanished. Instead of taking my perfect picture, I missed the whole thing. Disappointed, Ernest and I went back to the hotel for the night.

The last light of the day, shining on a pagoda.

The last light of the day, shining on a pagoda.

The next day, I had a much better plan. I left earlier and had the perfect pagoda picked out long in advance. When I arrived, I climbed to the top level and watched the sun slowly sink into the horizon. Everything was perfect, except one little thing – beautiful sunsets, the kind that fill you with a sense of wonder and amazement – don’t fit into tiny camera frames. Sure, I took pictures, but being there was what mattered most. It wasn’t about saving a formal record of the time – filing it away so that I could look at it later – it was about experiencing the moment first hand – watching it as it happened and soaking it up. To truly enjoy my trip, I needed to be there for the experience, and not just the pictures.

bagan_sunset_1

Believe me, this looked way better in person.

Folks! I hope you had a great February and are looking forward to March. I know I am. Feel free to share this song and story with your friends and loved ones. If you want to sing or play along, here’s the song sheet. It’s about how when you do things that you really care about, that you really love, the thought of failure can be really scary. However, It’s the only way I know how to do anything.

January – You Don’t Know

Do you ever feel like you’re living in a movie? Every now and then there will be a short moment where everything syncs up and flows just like someone had scripted it. That’s how this month’s song came about.

The Ukulele doesn't mind singing in the car when the radio doesn't work. And even when it does, the ukulele still don't mind singing.

The Ukulele doesn’t mind singing in the car when the radio doesn’t work. And even when it does, the ukulele still doesn’t mind.

A few months ago the radio in my car stopped working. This means I either drive in silence, or I sing a little song to myself. I bet you can guess which option I usually go with. One day I got into my car and, while I started the ignition, I sang, “You don’t know… which way to drive this car to day…”. That’s how the song started, and as I drove the rest of the song materialized, finishing when I turned the car off at home. It was just like the perfect montage scene in a movie, where the music plays while the main character does something interesting (like learn karate).

The ukulele isn't all that good with maps. Good thing he can get his phone to tell him when to turn left!

The ukulele isn’t all that good with maps. Good thing he can get his phone to tell him when to turn left!

Even though writing down the date just became really complicated, it’s an exciting time of year. It’s a time to make plans and set goals. I guess I have my usual goals this year (more songs and recipes), but I’ve also got a few other monthly plans for 2015. It’s a fun way to see what I can do. Do you have any new year’s resolutions? Feel free to post them in the comments below!

Folks, I hope you have a great month coming up! If you’d like to sing or play along with this new tune, here’s the song sheet!