Monday, April 13, 2009

Meatless Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo

First of all, before you read any further...go check out Chris @ Nibble Me This post on 'helping knocking out global warming' (he also has a photography blog). He cooks on a green grenade, and his food looks damn good! I made this before realizing I should have done my part...

My mom spent her teenage years in Athens, Texas after her parents divorced, but she was originally from Louisiana, and was part creole and Cajun. She spent many years growing up on a farm near Lafayette. My younger sister and I would laugh when momma and grandpa spoke to each other in a broken french accent. We would travel to New Orleans at least twice a year to see my grandfather, his new wife, and my aunts and uncle that were the same age as I. Visiting with family, and eating the crayfish grandpa would catch; the colorful city, smells of the foods as well as being able to sip a wine spritzer with our late night meals is a precious memory for me.

Growing up my mom made her own version of gumbo at least once a month for my family. This was not one of my dad's favorite dishes, but her and I loved it! I always added more heat to mine. She added sausage, and crab meat to hers, but I have made mine vegetarian today.

Attending culinary school and learning what a real roux was, I decided I like my mom's version better. Something about the smokiness, brown color, and taste of the burning flour I just do not care for.

There was even a debate in my head on whether my mom mixed her gumbo up with a jambalaya recipe, and made her own fusion combo...who knows. There are gumbo recipes out there that the sauce is as red as a tomato fly's. My favorite recipe retains the reddish color. I was happy to get this recipe early on and was surprised that Worcestershire sauce was an ingredient, but it does make or break the many gumbo recipes I have tasted since.

Virginia's Gumbo Z’Herbes

1/2 cup canola or EVO
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped white onions
1 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
(or Sambar masala *hint* Indian grocery tour bloggers)
5 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
1 cup okra frozen, or fresh cut into crosswise slices
1 cup frozen vegetable medley (cauliflower, flat beans, carrots)
1/3 cup loosely packed, chopped fresh parsley
Louisiana Hot sauce or if adding Sambar it will be spicy!

Make 2 cups rice as per instructions (I used brown)


Saute onions, celery, and bell peppers (mirepoux) until translucent in oil.

Stir the stock, Worcestershire sauce, and bay leaves into the gumbo; bring it to a gentle simmer and cook it, uncovered, for 1 hour.

Most recipes call for adding the okra (vegetables) to the gumbo and continue simmering it for 15-20 minutes, until the okra is tender. I personally add them in the beginning to meld flavors better! Take flour in bowl and add broth to make a slurry to thicken the soup.

Remove the gumbo from the heat. To serve the gumbo; place a scoop of warm rice in the center of a large soup bowl and add a ladle full of hot gumbo. Sprinkle it with a bit of fresh parsley and add hot sauce, as desired.

Oh and if you are wondering if you think you see french lentils on the carrot...well you do. The lentils represent a 'longevity' factor to my gumbo for all my friends!

HISTORY: Gumbo is a full body and flavorful soup or stew, typically though of as a Louisiana food. The modern French word for okra is quite simply “gombo”, and is widely known as Texas is know for its chili. Many slaves and pheasants cooked dishes like this as a cheaper means of using poorer cuts of meats and bones. Gumbo Recipes can and do contain just about any kind of meat you want to add.

Typically the recipes will have a theme based on the region that it is made in. In the gulf states seafood (typically crab and shrimp or crayfish). In the mid west gumbo recipes to be more fowl based (typically duck, quail, chicken), and other meats Standards used as seasoning tend to be sausages of some type based on the taste of the cook. There is also a traditional gumbo recipe made from greens called gumbo herbs; which is a French word for gumbo aux herbs, or Gumbo Z’Herbes, a meatless soup created for Lent that incorporates a wide variety of greens. The greens symbolize different things to different families. Most often the number of greens a person uses represents the number of new friends he or she is supposed to make that year. It is essentially a gumbo of greens thickened with roux. One of the main ingredient of the greens gumbo is okra, and okra is how gumbo got is current name as the word gumbo comes for the West African word for okra. I stuck a lot of different greens and vegetables in mine for all of you!

Although popular gumbo recipes are not beef based, but the thing that sets gumbos apart tend to be the characteristics of the type of stock used and the thickening agent used. So it is well worth your time to make a good rich stock from bones, and vegetables. Many box varieties are available on the shelf now, and I buy the ones with out sugar added.