Okra has an ardent proselytizer in Virginia Willis, the Atlanta-based chef, author and Southern food authority.
“I will cajole, entice, and seduce doubters into becoming believers,” writes Willis in “Okra” ($18), one of the books in the Savor the South Cookbook series published by the University of North Carolina Press.
“I rejoice converting people to the joys of cooking, eating and savoring okra. I’m an okra missionary.”
But then there’s what Willis calls “the proverbial elephant in the room” when talking okra: slime. It’s that famously mucilaginous texture — or the threat thereof — that turns off people to okra, she says.
Fear no more. Willis offers a list of “slime-busting” tips in her book.
With her guidelines in mind, you can dig into the 50 recipes in “Okra.” Just over half are Southern, as one would expect for a vegetable so long associated with that region. The rest girdle the globe, demonstrating how the cooking and appreciation of okra has spread through Africa, Asia and Latin America.
“It was really fun for me,” she says of the book. “I was able to explore this very Southern ingredient in other cuisines.”
For better texture
— Choose small pods.
— Wash and dry okra “very, very thoroughly.”
— Cook whole pods instead of chopped okra. Adjust cooking time, if necessary.
— Wipe the knife clean after each slice when cutting up okra.
— Add tomato, lemon juice, vinegar, wine or some other acid when cooking.
— Don’t overcook.
— Don’t crowd the pan when cooking.
— Cook okra quickly over high heat.
— Don’t cover okra when cooking.
— Cook the okra separately, and add it to the finished dish.
“Traditionally, the okra in this recipe is sliced, fried and stirred into the spicy yogurt sauce. I think it makes an excellent finger-food appetizer fried whole with the sauce served on the side,” writes Virginia Willis in her book “Okra,” one the installments in the Savor the South cookbook series.
She calls for chickpea flour, also known as garbanzo flour. It may be found online or at Indian markets. Willis says Bob’s Red Mill Garbanzo & Fava Bean Flour may also be used.
Indian Fried Okra with Spiced Yogurt
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 17 minutes
- 1-1/2 tablespoons chickpea flour
- 1-1/2 tablespoons cumin seeds, crushed
- 1 cup plain 2 percent Greek-style yogurt
- 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro
- Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 pound okra, stem ends trimmed
- 1 teaspoon curry powder, preferably Madras
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon ground coriander
For the dipping sauce, place the chickpea flour and cumin seeds in a small dry skillet over moderate heat. Cook, stirring constantly to prevent scorching, until toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Add the yogurt and cilantro; season with salt and pepper. Stir until smooth.
Line a large bowl with paper towels. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the okra; fry, stirring often, until crisp and browned, about 15 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon to the prepared bowl. Toss to dry, then remove the paper towels, leaving the okra in the bowl. While the okra is still hot, sprinkle it with the curry powder, cayenne pepper and coriander. Season with salt and pepper; toss to coat. To serve, place the warm spiced okra on a platter with the dipping sauce at the center.