Choosing between sides at a Southern restaurant is like trying to choose your favorite child. The macaroni and cheese is a shoe-in, the collards aren’t going anywhere, and there’s always a chance for a “salad” component like coleslaw. But how do you decide between two quintessentially Southern fried vegetables, fried green tomatoes and fried okra? You whip out a napkin and a pen and make a Venn diagram, obviously.
Both okra and green tomatoes (which are simply underripe regular tomatoes) are pretty much inedible when raw, not to mention unpleasantly slimey. Okra in particular emits long threads of snot-like goo as it’s sliced, although the green tomatoes’ slick sheen is weird in its own way.
They are coated in a similar batter, give or take a few eggs or a dash of cayenne pepper, and they’re definitely fried in the same oil. So the debate comes down to the following:
Fingers or fork? Are you the type of person who can abandon your utensil mid-meal and dig into fried okra with your fingers? Or do you want to keep your digits fresh by slicing up discs of fried green tomatoes and sophisticatedly placing them in your trap?
Crunchy or tender? Fried okra, depending on how it’s sliced and fried, can be a crunchy, snackable little morsel. Fried green tomatoes, on the other hand, are going to have a meaty, moist center that may or may not attempt to slide out of the outer fried jacket, causing food construction angst.
Pile or stack? How do you like your food arranged? Do you want a mountain of okra that you can attack from the bottom so that the structure caves from within? Or do you want to be able to stack your tomatoes on top of one another, maybe with some spicy dipping sauce in between each layer?
Tangy or salty? Fried okra pretty much tastes like the salt you load on it, which makes it great for dipping into things like chili sauce, but fried green tomatoes have a tang to them, an acidity that sort of tastes like you could be eating something healthy. Maybe.
Not healthy or not healthy? If you wanted to have a completely pointless debate about which of these two options is better for you, you could say that the individual pieces of okra, each dipped in batter and deep fried, have more surface area fried-ness than the tomato. But that depends on the tomato and the relative thickness of batter. This point is useless to consider.
The conclusion here is that you can’t really lose. Fried green vegetables of any sort deserve a spot on your dinner plate and you’d be a fool to not get one or the other. Or, you know, both.