Okra, Tomato, and Basil Warm Salad

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I am very fond of salads that have slightly chilled and very hot elements in them. Here, the cool tomatoes, with the sharpness of the vinegar and richness of the olive oil, are in contrast to the heat of the sautéed okra. For a memorable meal this salad follows close on the heels of the “Baltimore” salad recommended to me by James Beard, which is basically a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich without the bread, again combining hot and cold.

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh okra
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 3 large ripe tomatoes
  • 12 leaves fresh purple or green basil
  • 36 small golden cherry tomatoes (optional)
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • ½ cup lard, bacon fat, rendered duck fat, or olive oil

Method

Cut the stems off the okra and slice the okra crosswise ¼ inch thick. Season the slices and set aside.

Mix salt and pepper into the vinegar and whisk in the olive oil.

Slice the tomatoes, put them in a dish, and pour over the dressing. Marinate for 15 minutes.

Put the tomato slices on room-temperature plates. Toss the basil leaves in the dressing in the bowl and put them on the tomato slices. Toss the cherry tomatoes in the remaining dressing and put them on the plates. Pour any dressing remaining in the bowl over the tomatoes.

Toss the okra with the cornmeal; then put it in a very coarse sieve and shake off the excess cornmeal. Heat the lard in a sauté pan over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the okra and fry, tossing it all the time, for 8 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

As soon as the okra is cooked, spoon it onto the center of the tomatoes and serve immediately.

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