'I love okra. ... I will cajole, entice, and seduce doubters into becoming believers. I rejoice in converting people to the joys of cooking, eating, and savoring okra. I'm an okra missionary," author Virginia Willis writes lovingly about the prickly pods.

Then she delivers a creative collection of 50 recipes to woo unbelievers, with dishes ranging from simple Southern okra and tomatoes to complex Indian spiced okra in yogurt gravy.

"Okra" opens with the 101 about the vegetable grown in countries around the world. If you think you know everything, just a glance at the list of varieties will convince you otherwise.

Okra is plentiful at the farmers markets right now. The following recipe will give you a break from the stove. The University of North Carolina Press. $18.

Reach Marion Sullivan at mbscooks@gmail.com.

Oven-Fried Okra

Makes 4-6 servings

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. - Virginia Willis


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 degrees. 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.

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.