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Definition: okra from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Plant belonging to the Old World hibiscus family. Its red-and-yellow flowers are followed by long, sticky, green fruits known as ladies' fingers or bhindi. The fruits are cooked in soups and stews. (Hibiscus esculentus, family Malvaceae.)

Summary Article: Okra
From The Illustrated Cook's Book of Ingredients

Okra, also known as lady’s fingers or bhindi outside the US, is the pretty pod of an annual grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. It originated in Ethiopia, from where it spread to the rest of Africa and then around the world; it voyaged to the New World on slave ships, with its alternative name, gumbo, which it gave to the local spicy soup—stews. Okra has a mild, sweet, vegetal flavor. When the pod is cut, a sticky juice is released; this helps to thicken cooked dishes in the same way as cornstarch.


Okra is at its best in the heat of high summer. Look for small pods about 3–4in (7.5–10cm) long and appearing freshly picked, with a bright green color. Red okra may be slightly longer at 4–5in (10–12cm). Avoid dry, flaccid pods, as they will have lost their sweetness.


Okra doesn’t keep well, so use the day you buy it, or store for no more than 1–2 days in a cool spot, not in the fridge.


Red okra can be eaten as a crudité or sliced in salads.


Steam, stew, or bake in a sauce; coat in batter or cornmeal and deep-fry; stir-fry; or sauté.


Pickle fresh, sweet, little okra pods.

Flavor pairings

Butter, garlic, chiles, curry spices, coconut, green peppers, tomatoes.

Classic recipes

Gumbo; bil-zeyt; bil-lahmeh.

Red okra

Red okra is similar in texture and flavor to the green type. It reverts to green when cooked.


Known for its slippery texture, okra is tender and sweet tasting, with a mild flavor similar to runner beans.

© 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

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