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okra

Pronunciation: [OH-kruh]

Ethiopian slaves brought the okra plant to America's South, where it's still popular today. The green okra pods have a ridged skin and a tapered, oblong shape. Although available fresh year-round in the South, the season for the rest of the country is from about May through October. When buying fresh okra look for firm, brightly colored pods under 4 inches long. Larger pods may be tough and fibrous. Avoid those that are dull in color, limp or blemished. Refrigerate okra in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. Canned and frozen okra is also available. These green pods can be prepared in a variety of ways including braising, baking and frying. When cooked, okra gives off a rather viscous substance that serves to thicken any liquid in which it is cooked. Throughout the South, it's a favorite ingredient in many dishes, the best known being gumbo, where it's used both for thickening and for flavor. Fresh okra contains fair amounts of vitamins A and C.