Y’all, my Granny could cook gumbo. She’d hustle around her hot Louisiana kitchen, stirring the roux, adding vegetables (which she pronounced as veg-uh-TI-bulls) from her garden and whatever clung to the nets of PawPaw’s shrimp boat, plus a little ham or sausage. Hers was, is and will always be the best I’ll ever eat. And, dontcha know, she took that recipe with her to the grave! None of us have ever been able to find so much as a scribbled note on a the back of a grocery list, much less an actual recipe card. She had it all tucked up in her head, knowing the roux by smell and color, and the balance of ingredients by intuition and habit. Over the years, I’ve messed about with a variety of recipes that suffice, but when we changed our family diet to mostly vegan, I found a way to bring the gumbo along with a shortcut recipe that’s big on flavor.
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup flour
- 2 or 3 cloves minced garlic
- 3 cups frozen chopped Holy Trinity vegetable blend, which is1 cup each: chopped white onion, chopped celery and chopped bell pepper
- 3 cups vegetable stock (about 2 cans)
- 1 or 2 cans diced tomatoes (to taste)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tsp Creole seasoning
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 3 cups frozen chopped okra
- 3 cups frozen chopped collard greens
- 2 cans black-eyed peas, drained OR 3 cups frozen black-eyed peas
- Salt & Pepper
- Roux: Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven on a medium-low heat. Gradually whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly until mixture turns the color of melted chocolate.
- Stir in minced garlic and Holy Trinity vegetables.
- Slowly add broth and tomatoes, stirring well.
- Next, add bay leaves and other seasonings.
- Stir in frozen okra, collard greens and black-eyed peas.
- Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.
- Serve with rice.
Roux the Day
Making the roux seems to be the “scary” part of Gumbo 101. Relax, it’s just food, and it’s really not difficult; it just takes a little time and a watchful eye. Try small batches at a time, go slowly and, if it burns, don’t stress out — just wash the pot and start over.
To begin, pour the oil into the pot before turning it on medium-low heat. Let it warm up to a slight bubble, then put in the flour. Now start stirring slowly with a spoon or whisk, cooking these two ingredients together until the mixture turns the color of a melted Hershey Bar. Note: You’ll be tempted to turn the heat up to high to speed things up, but don’t. High heat is the quickest way ruin the roux. My advice? Put on some good music in the kitchen and find that Zen place in your mind while you stir, stir, stir for the 20 – 30 minutes it will take for the flour and oil base to transform into the gorgeous, chocolate brown roux. This is the base to which everything else is added.
Holy Trinity and Sacred Okra
Many Creole and Cajun recipes call for equal amounts of the same three vegetables — onions, celery, and bell pepper — earning the mixture a nickname of “Holy Trinity.” No need for a marathon chopping frenzy; simply check the grocery frozen vegetable section for handy-dandy bags of Holy Trinity mix. While you’re there, pick up some frozen chopped okra, too. Using frozen okra keeps it from getting overcooked in the pot, or “slimy,” yet still thickens the gumbo. (Fun Fact: The word gumbo is actually the African word for the okra plant, so that’s where the name for this stew originates.)
Make It Meaty
Now here’s the thing about this recipe: It doesn’t HAVE to be vegan. Not at all. Instead of the beans and greens, add chicken and sausage, or shrimp and crab, or duck or even alligator meat (though that may be tough to find outside Louisiana or Florida). Switch the stock from vegetable to beef or poultry. Cook bacon and then use the drippings as the oil base for the roux. There are no limits to what kind of concoction can be created in that boiling pot. Here are a few other recipes to investigate:
Serve that gumbo up in a bowl with a scoop of rice on top and keep everybody dancing through Mardi Gras and beyond! Aiyee, chères!