The inspiration for these delicious okra cakes came from Gloria Smiley, a friend and professional food stylist in Atlanta. Her okra cakes have a rice base, maybe because she’s got rice in her blood since she’s from the Low Country. I felt compelled to use cornmeal, maybe because I’m from farther inland. In fact, in the middle of summer, I like to add fresh corn cut off the cob. Serve these in bite-size bits for a cocktail nibble or as larger cakes for a side dish. They’re also brilliant Napoleon style, layered with a soft, creamy cheese, such as fresh goat cheese or ricotta, and thickly sliced tomato.–Virginia Willis

LC Napoleon Complex Note

It’s not every day that cookbook authors make us chuckle, but we guffawed out loud when we read the following note from author Virginia Willis, which not only explains an alternate plating option for this dish but conveys some of her personality as well: “A Napoleon is traditionally a stacked dessert of puff pastry, pastry cream and fruit, but the term has come to mean pretty much anything stacked. Sometimes the concept is taken a bit too far and the stack becomes towering and difficult to eat, more akin to a Napoleon complex, but it’s a very restaurant way of presenting a thin little cake or vegetable.” We’re still hooting and hollering over that one.

Three okra cornmeal cakes--with rings of green okra in it--in a black cast iron skillet

Okra Cornmeal Cakes

5 / 12 votes
These cakes can be served bite sized for a cocktail nibble or larger for a side dish. When corn is in season, tossing kernels cut freshly off the cob make them extra special.
David Leite
Servings12 servings
Calories115 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time35 minutes


  • 2 cups finely ground yellow cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water, plus more if needed
  • 8 ounces fresh okra, stems trimmed and sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 jalapeño, cored, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed into a paste
  • 1/4 cup mild vegetable oil, for frying


  • Line a plate with paper towels.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and fine salt. In a second bowl or large liquid measuring cup, combine the egg and water. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth. Add the okra, jalapeño, and garlic and stir to combine. (The batter should be thick and wet, not dry. Add a little more water at a time if needed. The amount will depend on the exact grind of the cornmeal.)
  • Heat some or all of the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, depending on how “fried” you like your cakes. Scoop 1/4 cup batter onto the heated surface and, if needed, flatten the griddle cake so it has an even surface. Repeat with additional batter, being careful not to crowd the skillet. Cook the griddle cakes until the bottoms are brown and bubbles form on the tops and edges, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side is golden brown, an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel–lined plate. Season the cooked griddle cakes with salt and pepper. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve immediately.
Basic to Brilliant Y'All

Adapted From

Basic to Brilliant, Y’All

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Serving: 1 cakeCalories: 115 kcalCarbohydrates: 21 gProtein: 4 gFat: 2 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 1 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 16 mgSodium: 204 mgFiber: 3 gSugar: 1 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Virginia Willis. Photo © 2011 Hélène Dujardin. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

What a clever twist on fried okra! This seemed sort of a hybrid between a fried green tomato and traditional fried okra—a Southern delight indeed. The batter was easy to assemble and thick. (I added a little more water to make it “not dry” as described in the recipe.) This made the cakes very easy to flip when it was time to do so. I appreciated the “visuals” in the directions. Sprinkling the finished product with salt and pepper after they came out of the pan is an important step (I also recommend a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce here!) I actually made the Napoleon option with goat cheese and fresh slices of heirloom tomato. It was an impressive addition to our dinner last night of bourbon pork chops and turnip greens. I really liked the flavor and overall presentation of this dish. I could see this being a nice addition to a brunch menu as well.

I love pancakes, especially savory ones. The okra in these cakes retained its firm, earthy appeal while the jalapeño was a delicate surprise. I found the recipe weeknight easy and most of the ingredients are pantry staples. Depending on the circumstances, you will need more or less water than outlined in the recipe (hey, humidity happens.) Also, rather than use all of the oil at once, I oiled the pan as needed throughout the course of the batches. A well-greased pan yielded a crisper, more golden brown pancake. I served the cakes with pulled pork and they were delicious. I have images of all types of meats piled aloft.

The cookbook title says it all—basic to brilliant, y’all. This simple Southern dish is delicious and becomes even better when made into the “Napoleon” variation. I had lots of cherry tomatoes, so I made tiny cakes that would make a perfect appetizer. I also cut my okra a little extra small, just to avoid having my kids pick the pieces out, and it worked. I also did not use much oil, less than a tablespoon at the beginning, and then a little more as needed for subsequent batches. I loved the corncakes and would make them again as a simple side dish. Paired with the cheese and tomato, though, this becomes one of those dishes you can’t wait to make for more people.

A recipe guaranteed to make converts of even the most hardcore okra haters. Very hearty and satisfying, and also easy to make—the most strenuous thing you have to do is smash garlic. It’s also a forgiving recipe. I didn’t have fine cornmeal so instead I used medium-ground cornmeal. I figured it would be way too gritty, but with some added water and time in the skillet, it was fine. The proportions of okra to cornmeal to jalapeno to garlic were perfect. As an added bonus, the cakes aren’t at all greasy. I used about ½ cup more water than the recipe called for because the batter was pretty dry, and added the oil 1 tablespoon at a time, making 3 cakes per batch. I ended up with 14 cakes and ate 2 with a very cheesy omelet, which was an excellent accompaniment. If you still don’t find the cakes spicy enough, I recommend eating these with Sriracha sauce, as I did.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    My hub’s garden is producing SO MUCH OKRA. Really. Making me cry when he brought another batch into the kitchen. Tonight I made these and served them with remoulade sauce. Delicious. I used buttermilk instead of water for the liquid because I’m a Southern girl.

    1. Love your tweak, Lori, and also your gorgeous photo! Many thanks for taking the time to report back. Greatly appreciate it and look forward to hearing which recipe on the site you try next! Oh and we have a new okra recipe publishing soon, so stay tuned!

  2. 5 stars
    I made these tonight but with polenta instead of cornmeal, which I didn’t have. I was a bit apprehensive given the substitution but they were fabulous and the recipe was perfect! Reminded me of a cross between hush puppies and fried okra! I served alongside a dipping sauce of sour cream, Greek yogurt, mayo and Sriracha and spinach in peanut sauce with rice. Next time I’ll try the Napoleon idea. Thank you for the fabulous recipe!

  3. Fine ground flour is the key. Add more dried herbs to the flour mix, such as dried thyme and onion flakes. Do serve with garlic/herb goat cheese and tomato slices. Drizzle with a bit of Tabasco…. Great with a side of grilled shrimp….

    1. Gary, it sounds like you know your way around okra cakes. Love the suggestion of grilled shrimp.