Hello. My name is Kim and I am a cookbook-aholic. I’ve flagged more cookbook recipes than would be humanly possible to make in a single lifetime. Yet my obsession with acquiring new and old cookbooks persists unabated. This month I share my compulsive tendencies via the “21 Days” series, featuring some of my favorite cookbooks from local authors and publishers. Please feel free to join me in finding new cookbooks to feed our passion at any of my favorite Triangle indie book sellers: The Regulator Bookshop in Durham, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh or McIntyre’s Books in Pittsboro’s Fearrington Village.
Earlier this year the Savor the South series from UNC Press released two new cookbooks, one of which is devoted entirely to Okra, that quintessentially Southern vegetable that seems to divide the population into one of two camps: love it or hate it. I used to reside in the haters camp and I blame my mother. She loved okra, especially steamed, slimy okra. As a young child she’d (jokingly) taunt me that she was eating octopus legs, dangling the oozing green pods in my kid face. At the time, I didn’t realize she was purposely dissuading me, hoarding all the okra for herself. Later in life, I dipped my tastebuds in the okra kiddie pool, starting with a heavily battered and deep fried version from a restaurant buffet. That was the launching point to delve further okra depths, beyond fried to roasted and other preparations that let the true vegetable profile shine.
The cookbook author (and revered Southern food writer) Virginia Willis, makes it her mission to convert okra haters. The book contains a plethora of information on okra varieties and history (history that included a rather questionable use of dried okra seeds as makeshift coffee beans) as well as tips for growing your own okra. But this is a cookbook after all, with fifty recipes that prominently feature okra’s versatility and diversity.
The recipes are divided between two sections. The first is strictly Southern okra recipes, from the simplest side dish of Okra with Butter (page 27) to sumptious stews as well as recipes like Okra Gougeres that elevate the ingredient. I’ve enjoyed exploring the Global okra recipes (starting on page 55) the most. That section features okra in dishes of African, Mediterranean, Indian, Caribbean and South American heritage. I’ve enjoyed several bowls of Egyptian Okra and Chickpeas (page 62, pictured above) now that both okra and tomatoes are in season.
If you’ve been a resident of the “hate it” camp I’d suggest picking up a copy of “Okra” from your local indie bookseller’s shelf (or maybe the public library) and read through the introduction and a recipe or two. If you find you’re not completely repulsed, perhaps even slightly intrigued, there are plenty of okra friends waiting to welcome you to the “love it” camp. Come join us.