March 10, 2014

Savor the South: Okra and Pickles & Preserves

I was excited to get an unexpected package in the mail and even more excited when I opened it to reveal the newest volumes in the SAVOR THE SOUTH Cookbook collection: Okra and Pickles & Preserves. 

The cookbook series, published by The University of North Carolina Press, includes other editions such as Peaches, Pecans, Buttermilk, and Biscuits. These are great little cookbooks that pack a punch with some wonderful recipes and commentary from major southern food writers and experts .

Okra: A Savor the South® Cookbook is written by none other than the fabulous Virginia Willis. She's just great and her insight on the "bright green, heat-loving vegetable" includes slime busting tips, and fifty recipes for how to make it more delicious (26 southern dishes and 24 global dishes). I love fried okra, but I hate standing over a the oven fried version below caught my attention when I was thumbing through the book.

Photo by Scott M. Porush

Oven-Fried Okra
From OKRA: a Savor the South® cookbook by Virginia Willis. Copyright © 2014 by Virginia Willis.  Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

Let’s face it, there’s really nothing like fried okra, but this oven-fried version comes darn close. I prefer to use organic canola cooking spray. It has little flavor, a high smoke point for high-heat cooking, and no aftertaste like some cooking sprays seem to have.

Makes 4–6 servings

·         1 cup fine cornmeal (not self-rising)
·         1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
·         Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
·         1/2 cup buttermilk
·         1 large egg, lightly beaten
·         1 pound okra, stem ends trimmed, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
·         Cooking spray

Place a rimmed baking sheet in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450°.

Combine the cornmeal and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish. Season heartily with salt and pepper.

Whisk together the buttermilk and egg in a large bowl. Add the okra and season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine and set aside to marinate, about 3 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the okra from the buttermilk and add it to the cornmeal mixture. Dredge the okra in the cornmeal mixture. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and spray it with cooking spray. Place the okra on the heated pan and lightly coat it with additional cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes, stirring once. Stir and spray again. Cook an additional 10–12 minutes. Remove from the oven and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Pickles and Preserves: A Savor the South® Cookbook is written by Andrea Weigl, the food writer for the Raleigh News & Observer. It begins with some great how-to information for the novice canner (such as myself). The best part to me were the "Don'ts" because I guess with canning it can go south really fast if you don't do the right thing. This is my year to can y'all...I just feel it!

Until then, here's a refrigerator pickle recipe that I know won't be too hard.

Spicy and Sour Refrigerator Pickles
From PICKLES & PRESERVES: a Savor the South® cookbook by Andrea Weigl. Copyright © 2014 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

I don’t think my husband and I could survive without a jar or two of pickles in the refrigerator to serve with hamburgers, hot dogs, and pulled pork sandwiches. So it really says something that this recipe has become our go-to recipe for cucumber pickles. I’ve even used the same brine to pickle jalapeño slices. 

I first tasted these pickles while judging a cooking contest at Burt’s Bees corporate headquarters in Durham, North Carolina. The recipe is adapted from Beth Ritter’s winning entry. Ritter says it appeared in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram years ago and was attributed to Dock and Opal Everett, who used to own a produce stand in Waco, Texas. I use a mandolin to make quick work of slicing the cucumbers, jalapeño, and onion.

Makes 2 quart jars
·         2 pounds pickling cucumbers, such as Kirby, cut into 1/4-inch slices
·         1 jalapeño, seeded and sliced
·         1 onion, sliced
·         4 cups white vinegar
·         1/4 cup pickling salt
·         3 1/2 cups sugar
·         1 1/2 teaspoons celery seeds
·         1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
·         1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds
·         1 tablespoon black peppercorns

Combine the cucumbers, jalapeño, and onion in a large bowl.

Heat the vinegar, pickling salt, sugar, celery seeds, turmeric, mustard seeds, and peppercorns in a medium stainless-steel saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved, about 10 minutes.

Pack the vegetables evenly into hot, sterilized jars. Ladle the brine over the pickles, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Seal the jars with lids.

Let the pickles sit in the refrigerator for 5 days before eating. These pickles are good for 1 year but best within 3 months.

So there you have it. Two great new cookbooks and tons of new recipes...You should snatch these up! They are available where books are sold. Also, be on the lookout for the next editions in the SAVOR THE SOUTH series, Sweet Potatoes and Southern Holidays.