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Source: Chelsea Green Publishing

Summary

From the publisher:  Chris Smith’s first encounter with okra was of the worst kind: slimy fried okra at a greasy-spoon diner. Despite that dismal introduction, Smith developed a fascination with okra, and as he researched the plant and began to experiment with it in his own kitchen, he discovered an amazing range of delicious ways to cook and eat it, along with ingenious and surprising ways to process the plant from tip-to-tail: pods, leaves, flowers, seeds, and stalks. Smith talked okra with chefs, food historians, university researchers, farmers, homesteaders, and gardeners. The summation of his experimentation and research comes together in The Whole Okra, a lighthearted but information-rich collection of okra history, lore, recipes, craft projects, growing advice, and more.

The Whole Okra includes classic recipes such as fried okra pods as well as unexpected delights including okra seed pancakes and okra flower vodka. Some of the South’s best-known chefs shared okra recipes with Smith: Okra Soup by culinary historian Michael Twitty, Limpin’ Susan by chef BJ Dennis, Bhindi Masala by chef Meherwan Irani, and Okra Fries by chef Vivian Howard.

Okra has practical uses beyond the edible, and Smith also researched the history of okra as a fiber crop for making paper and the uses of okra mucilage (slime) as a preservative, a hydrating face mask, and a primary ingredient in herbalist Katrina Blair’s recipe for Okra Marshmallow Delight.

The Whole Okra is foremost a foodie’s book, but Smith also provides practical tips and techniques for home and market gardeners. He gives directions for saving seed for replanting, for a breeding project, or for a stockpile of seed for making okra oil, okra flour, okra tempeh, and more. Smith has grown over 75 varieties of okra, and he describes the nuanced differences in flavor, texture, and color.

2020 James Beard Award Winner

With recipes for gumbos and stews—plus okra pickles, tofu, marshmallow, paper, and more.
 
Where to get it?
Chelsea Green  
Amazon.com
Sow True Seed  

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The Utopian Seed Project, a non-profit founded by Chris Smith
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I give this book 10 out of 10 acorns.

I had planned to skim most of this book and jump straight to the recipes. Instead, I found myself fascinated by Smith's research and captivated by his okra experiments and writing style. There aren't as many okra recipes as I expected -- usually two to three recipes per chapter -- but the ones included are diverse and interesting and give me a starting point for my own experimentations. There are the usual recipes of gumbo and bhindi masala, alongside the less common or unheard of okra marshmallows, okra seed cornmeal muffins, and okra tofu. There are separate chapters for each part of the plant, including the leaves, flowers, mucilage, pods, seeds, and stalks. He also discusses the history of okra, such as where it came from and how it's been viewed, and provides advice for growing your own.

Okra is one of my favorite summer vegetables, and now I'm even more excited to grow it than usual. I want to at least try infused flower vinegar, okra seed flour, dehydrated okra pod powder (sounds like a great use for woody okra!), and cordage from the stalks.

I recommend this book for anyone who lives in a climate that's suitable for okra. Even if you think you don't like the vegetable, Smith offers ideas to try that you probably haven't thought of or heard about.
 
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