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Okra (Hibiscus esculentus)

A tropical vegetable, as known as bamia, gumbo and ladies' fingers. It requires considerable heat to grow successfully.

The vegetable resembles a pointed pod (generally green but a few types being burgundy in colour); most varieties have a five-sided cross section, and have a overall length of about 8-10 cm. Some types can reach 25cm, but all are better eaten young.

The pods contain seeds and have a mucilaginous (gummy) texture inside which is not appealing to some (see 'Medicinial uses' below), but which can largely be alleviated by cutting the stalk-end off the pod and then either soaking the vegetable in water with a splash of vinegar for an hour, or by salting the pods and allowing the salt to draw out the pods liquid for the same time before rinsing and proceeding with recipe.

Okra was introduced to America along with the slave trade and the Angolan name of "ochinggombo" became shortened over time to gumbo, a name that has stuck for the vegetable and for a style of dish usually containing it.

Once salted or soaked okra can either be added to stews for the last 45 minutes of their cooking or fried in olive oil with onions and cooked with tomatoes - with whom it has a great affinity.

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