Side Dish: Okra, pickles featured in cookbooks

“Pickles & Preserves: a Savor the South cookbook”

by Andrea Weigl.

The University of North Carolina Press. $18.

96-page hardcover.

HH

“Okra: a Savor the South cookbook”

by Virginia Willis.

The University of North Carolina Press. $18.

107-page hardcover.

HH

“Okra” by Virgina Willis and “Pickles and Preserves” by Andrea Weigl are the latest additions to the University of North Carolina Press’ terrific “Savor the South” series of little cookbooks (each is 83/4 inches by 51/2 inches) that celebrates the favorite foods and culinary traditions of the American South.

Like the six previous volumes in the planned 24-book series, each book contains about 50 clearly and concisely written, easy-to-follow recipes, but no photographs and no nutritional information.

When the cookbooks arrived, I thought Weigl had the easier job. I wondered how Willis could have found enough culinary uses for the seed-filled pods beyond gumbo, fried or stewed with tomatoes to fill the book’s 50-recipe quota. But, Willis, who describes herself as “an okra missionary,” solved that by included both Southern and global recipes in her book “in order to see what an iconic Southern ingredient like okra might look like in someone else’s skillet.”

In the book’s introduction, she calls okra “a contentious vegetable,” one that is either loved or hated, no middle-of-the-road feelings about it. She explains its Southern connections, gives a brief history and even provides gardening tips. She also includes the top 10 “slime-busting” tips, beginning with “choose small pods.”

Recipes are divided into two sections: Southern and global okra recipes. Among them are Fresh Black-Eyed Peas and Okra, Round Steak and Okra Gumbo, Okra Maque Choux, Okra Gougères, West African Chicken Stew With Okra and Peanuts, Crisp Greek Fried Okra, and Brazilian Chicken and Orka.

Like Willis, Weigl opens her “Pickles and Preserves” book with an introduction which looks at the culinary history of canning and offers basic instructions for canning. She also looks at the science behind canning food safety; explains what not to do, such as don’t process canned goods in a dishwasher or seal jars with paraffin; and what to do if jam or jelly doesn’t set or the jars don’t seal. Her book’s recipes are divided into three sections: Jams, Jellies and Preserves; Pickles; and Relishes, Chutneys and More. They range from Soft Refrigerator Honeysuckle Jelly and Fig Preserves to Green Tomato Pickles and Peach Chutney. Canning enthusiasts will love her recipes.

Next up in the “Savor the South” series are “Sweet Potatoes” and “Southern Holidays.” I can’t wait.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com. Southern Sushi

Makes about 40 rolls. Recipe is from “Okra: a Savor the South cookbook” by Virginia Willis, who says her friend and fellow cookbook author Rebecca Lang shared this recipe for the little cocktail nibble with her.

21 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature

1 tbl. chopped chives

1 tbl. chopped flat-leaf parsley

3 tbls. finely diced sweet onion

1 (16-oz.) jar pickled okra, drained (about 18 okra pods)

1⁄3 lb. thinly sliced Virginia ham (about 8 slices)

2

1. Combine the cream cheese, chives, parsley and onion. Trim both ends off the okra pods. On a large cutting board, lay out each slice of ham. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the cream cheese mixture on each slice of ham, leaving a border of about 1/4 inch.

2. On the long side of each ham slice, lay 2-3 okra pods, end to end, depending on the size of the ham slice, roll the ham around the okra. Cover and chill the rolls for 3 hours, then slice them into 1-inch slices and serve.