Chattanooga-area cooks share recipes for air-fried okra, homemade pho, Million Dollar Chicken

Staff file photo / Try making okra in an air fryer.

Today begins with a teachable request from Roseann Strazinsky. "Do you think your readers could teach me how to use an avocado? And include some easy healthy recipes? And tell me how to pick the right avocado in the store? Sometimes they look overripe."

Air fryers were the topic du jour of a certain grandmother named Julia, her young professional grandsons and their mothers. "My daughters don't have counter space in their busy kitchens, and they also need the large-size air fryer. So they keep the air fryer, unplugged, in the garage adjacent to their kitchens and bring them out only when needed. They are not very heavy, they say.

"My daughter-in-law is an expert cook. Here's what she wrote me. 'We do use our air fryer. Great for reheating pizza, french fries, onion rings ... all the things we are not supposed to eat. But it is great for pork tenderloin, shrimp, and easy to use.'"

"My grandsons cook almost exclusively in their air fryers — no microwaving, no use of a big oven. And one of those boys tells me the air fryer redeems soggy leftover french fries: 'You can reheat them and they taste like they are fresh.'"


At her home in Dunlap, Tennessee, Linda Green Johnson reads Fare Exchange every Tuesday (when it goes online) "to see if there are questions I want to answer. Here goes from this week."

"About air fryers: My husband likes the air-fry option of our all-in-one toaster oven when reheating some foods, and the air-fryer option works well for lots of veggies and especially ones you buy frozen and ready to cook like fries. Just remember to spray some oil on the rack before adding the food.

(READ MORE: Readers rush to okra's defense)

"One of my favorite foods in the air fryer is okra. It is not like any okra you've ever eaten. Here is the recipe I use."

Air Fryer Okra

1 pound okra, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise

2 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder

2 tablespoons cornstarch or arrowroot powder

Put the okra in a large bowl, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. In a separate small bowl, mix the remaining ingredients. Add this spice mixture, then place onto trays or basket of the air fryer in a single layer. Air fry at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes. Shake the basket halfway through. This is great as an appetizer or a side dish.


Ms. Johnson continued with a tasty variation on the more challenging recipes for pho.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga-area cooks seek advice on pho and the value of air fryers)

"Now about pho. This may be unconventional, but I make a quick pho with a ramen noodles package. For one serving, using the shrimp flavor, I use half the noodles and half the powdered mix and put into a large round bowl. I add a few slivers of mushroom and some onion, and pour boiling water over it. In the meantime, I sauté a few shrimp in a skillet with a little sesame seed oil and sometimes a bit of garlic. When the shrimp are about done, maybe 5 minutes, I pour in the noodle mixture and stir it up. Finally, when I pour into my serving bowl, I add a few sprigs of cilantro. This is a fast and satisfying lunch that can be adjusted to many proteins."


Tim Threadgill, too, wanders through Fare Exchange topics and has much to say from his kitchen expertise. Here he weighs in on making marinara from scratch versus buying quality jarred sauce:

"I encourage making your own marinara sauce while local tomatoes are in season. My current favorite recipe is Ina Garten's. I read a great tip for skinning tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half, and grate them. You will get the meat, pulp and seeds, leaving the skin behind. There are other methods like a food mill or scoring/blanching the tomatoes, but this is so much quicker. Some object to the seeds, but they are small and don't bother us. We've been blessed with pounds of grape/salad tomatoes, and I have been quartering them and cooking down without removing the skins — the pieces are small enough they aren't objectionable to us.

"I also recommend using wine you would drink, not cooking or cheap wine, to make marinara. (Cooking wine is just gross; it includes salt. You are better off using red wine vinegar than it.) Wine you don't finish may be frozen in ice cube trays to use in other sauces, soups and stews.

"Finally, I add a hearty tablespoon of fish sauce to Ina's recipe. Marinara is Italian for (loosely translated) 'of the sea.' A lot of traditional recipes include a couple of anchovy filets minced and sautéed. If one doesn't have fish sauce, I guess Worcestershire could work, since it is fish-based."


This one's from Yeast of the Ridge, in answer to a request for Million Dollar Chicken. "I found it in a magazine called Hungry Girl. I am planning to make this using the full-fat ingredients, not the light ones given here."

(READ MORE: Chattanooga cook wonders: Does Million Dollar Chicken live up to its name?)

Million Dollar Chicken

4 slices center-cut bacon or turkey bacon

1/2 cup light or reduced-fat cream cheese

1/4 cup light mayonnaise

1/2 cup chopped scallions, or more for topping

1 cup shredded reduced-fat Cheddar cheese, divided

4 (5-ounce) raw boneless skinless chicken breast cutlets

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray an 8- by 8-inch pan, or similar size, with nonstick spray.

Cook bacon until crispy in skillet or microwave. Roughly chop.

In a medium bowl, mix cream cheese with mayonnaise. Stir in scallions, chopped bacon and ½ cup Cheddar cheese.

Place chicken in the baking pan, and season with salt and pepper. Top with cheese mixture and remaining ½ cup of Cheddar cheese.

Bake until cooked through, 30 to 35 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.


Here's another recipe that isn't really a recipe, but that may provide all a cook needs. It came from Annie James Products, where local creator Katie Bostrom often writes of all categories of healthfulness.

› Summer salads: "I love a filling, flavor-packed summer salad! Here's my favorite combo: arugula, shredded carrots, farro, sliced strawberries, grilled chicken, sliced almonds and lemon vinaigrette."

As the seasons change, you probably have such a recipe-that-is-not-a-recipe in your repertoire. If you will share it here, it just might turn up in ours.


— Avocados, start to finish


Fare Exchange is a longtime meeting place for people who love to cook and love to eat. We welcome both your recipes and your requests. Be sure to include precise instructions for every recipe you send, and know we cannot test the recipes printed here.

Mailing address: Jane Henegar, 913 Mount Olive Road, Lookout Mountain, GA 30750