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I had a go at making a gumbo last week, and it went really well. The only problem was that the okra proved to be fairly difficult to source (after several supermarkets and groceries, we managed to find a tin of the stuff in a specialist food shop).

Given that the okra is used as a thickening agent, via the mucilage that sweats out when cooking, is there any other vegetable based alternative that would help keep the flavour of the gumbo, and thicken up the soup?

I'm specifically trying to avoid cornstarch or cornflour, since that would likely affect the flavour considerably. I was thinking potato, which is also starch, but that would also probably affect the flavour a fair bit. I realise that any alternative would have some effect, but would like to minimise it.

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    You may be able to find frozen, chopped Okra at your supermarket. All the ones near me carry this, but not fresh/raw Okra. Should work out the same... the only difference is it being frozen and pre-chopped. – SnakeDoc Nov 20 '18 at 18:04
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Strictly speaking most gumbo recipes I am familiar with rely on the use of a roux as the primary thickening agent. Sure the okra contributes somewhat but in my experience using a darkened roux is what is called for.

Please keep in mind that the more you cook the roux the less thickening power it has so you need to use a little more.

  • I'm pretty sure the darkness comes from maillard reactions with the flour in the butter, not from browning the butter first. – baka Jun 19 '12 at 19:39
  • This is pretty much how I cooked my most recent batch, and it came out pretty darn good. – user6150 Apr 22 '13 at 3:36
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Filé powder (ground dried sassafras leaves) would be style-appropriate.

Fresh okra is only just now coming into season in the American south. I'm in Tennessee and most supermarkets carry fresh okra for most of the year (though it often looks quite sickly), and frozen year-round.

If it's something you enjoy, you might look into growing your own, as it tastes excellent when it's fresh picked and handled appropriately.

  • Good answer. Okra loves warm weather. The warmer the better. – Sobachatina Jun 19 '12 at 2:22
  • I'm in Australia - okra is apparently available in India/Asia, but as I said, I had trouble sourcing it. I'm not sure that file would be any easier, unfortunately. – user6150 Jun 19 '12 at 2:31
  • Did you try for frozen okra? That's how we get it year-round in the States. Anyway, second the recommendation for file powder. – FuzzyChef Jun 19 '12 at 3:13
  • @HorusKol: File powder is dry and shelf stable at room temperature, so you could at least mail order it and not have to worry about it losing anything in shipping. – baka Jun 19 '12 at 11:40
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    Frozen okra is perfectly acceptable for a gumbo or stew. It's very unlikely anyone will be able to tell the difference, and yea, even in the south, fresh okra's not that great year round. – Satanicpuppy Jun 22 '12 at 11:40
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I use minute tapioca ~ 1 tablespoon/quart of mix. Taste variation is minimal.

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Xanthan gum has almost no flavour profile and a much smaller amount is needed to thicken than cornflour so might be worth considering. You can usually find it in the 'free from' section of larger supermarkets and grocery stores.

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I ordered ground okra on line and tried it in a gumbo along with a light roux. I am very pleased with the results. Be very careful with dried ground okra as it only takes a little bit to go a long way. Try 1/4 tsp. per pint of fluid. Advise to experiment with a measuring cup of water 'til you get the consistency you like before adding to gumbo. When added directly to gumbo it takes a few minutes to begin to thicken. It does add a bit of a savory flavor to the gumbo almost the same as fresh fried okra.

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