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Okra drawing

Okra is one of the most elegant of vegetables, its slender, tapering shape earning it the lovely name of ladies' fingers in some countries. But in spite of the charming description, it has its detractors, those who say 'never again' after their initial 'slimy' encounter. It doesn't have to be so.

Okra has a long history as a favourite from Africa, across the Middle East and South Asia to the Caribbean and the southern states of the US. The reason: the cooks there know how to get the best out of this versatile vegetable. The pod's mucilaginous content, the very property that gives rise to the slimy criticism, is valued as a thickener in soups and in vegetable and meat dishes such as gumbo and bamieh. For those who prefer their okra with a bit of crunch, it can be simply sautéed with garlic, oil and diced tomatoes and finished with a little lemon juice, deep-fried in a light tempura batter or added to stir-fries. Fried okra tossed in a mix of crushed coriander and cumin seeds, garam masala and chilli is a favourite in India, where it is known as bhindi and is widely used and appreciated.

Then there are the reported health benefits of okra: low in calories, high in dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, and with high levels of folic acid. So, lots of reasons to learn to love it. It's not always easy to find in greengrocer shops and supermarkets here but worth hunting out. Choose fresh young pods, discarding any that are limp, bruised or have discoloured stem stalks. Make sure they are completely dry when preparing.

Lucille Fisher

Stuffed okra

8-10 okra pods
2 tbsp ground coriander seeds
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp ground cumin seeds
1 tsp finely diced fresh ginger
Okra drawing small
Trim stem ends of pods. Cut a slit along one side of each to form a pocket and gently ease open with a thumb. Mix spices and work as much mixture as possible into the pockets. Shallow fry until brown, first on the uncut side then turned. Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Have as a snack, side dish or with rice for a simple meal.

There are many filling mixes to try. Some include fried minced garlic or seeds such as fennel, fenugreek, nigella and sesame. Coconut, peanuts and mango powder are options too.