Author Virginia Willis is about as happy as a Southern girl can be at farmers market. In addition to all that sweet corn, tomatoes and zucchini, its high season for one of her favorite summer crops.
“I am an okra missionary,” Willis says with characteristic zeal. “I am determined to get people who think they don’t like it to try it.”
To that end, the Atlanta-based chef has written Okra, a new volume in the Savor the South series of single-topic cookbooks published by the University of North Carolina Press. She is traveling in support of the book, doing book signings and cooking okra-themed meals at cooking schools.
Okra is abundant, making it easy to try some of the 50 recipes included in the book. Simple grilled okra is the Number 2 gateway method for folks who are convinced they won’t like the slime factor of a slow simmer.
The No. 1? “Pickled okra,” she says with a sly laugh, “which is best dunked in a vodka martini.”
Fried okra surely ranks high among Southern consumers, but few of us welcome the mess it can make in the kitchen. Willis’ oven-fried okra, which uses organic canola cooking spray, is a tidy and fast-cooking solution. Skip the giant pods and select small ones, ideally about the size of your little finger.
from OKRA: a Savor the South® Cookbook by Virginia Willis. Copyright © 2014 by Virginia Willis. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.