Okra

Okra pods cooked whole, instead of being sliced first, tend to avoid the problem of a slimy texture. (Chicago Tribune / August 8, 2006)

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 latest 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 say 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.

Indian fried okra with spiced yogurt