Cookbooks and cultural conversation starters top our summer reading list

Food, Foodies, Foodways


by Virginia Willis
U. of North Carolina Press, 120 pp., $18

This slender volume is the eighth installment in the Savor the South series of cookbooks put out by UNC Press. Each book is about a single Southern food or beverage, and previous books have focused on buttermilk, bourbon, tomatoes, biscuits, peaches, and pecans. To further sweeten the pot, each book is authored by award-winning food writers and chefs. This volume piqued my curiosity for two reasons: It was written by Virginia Willis, the renowned author of Bon Appétit, Y'all, and also because, like many gardeners who grow okra, I only know a few ways to cook it.

This book takes care of that problem. Recipes for cooking okra are collected here, culled not only from the American South, but from all over the world. Southern-fried okra, okra and tomatoes, seafood gumbo, and corn-and-okra pudding are joined by African chicken stew with okra and peanuts, Moroccan lamb and okra tangine, Jamaican curried shrimp and okra, and Indian okra and potatoes in green masala, to name a few. The recipes are clear and well-researched, never straying into the overly fussy. Willis is a stickler for authenticity, and is respected for her concise, approachable style.

Willis also provides a history of okra, botanical information, descriptions of okra varieties, and gardening tips. Though this book is slender, it packs a curiously large punch: The dross of the unnecessary has been left out, and all the truly useful information remains. It is a tribute to excellent research, writing, and editing. Perhaps the most telling thing I can say is this: I now want to buy all the other books in the series.

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