Saturday, May 14, 2011

Daring to do it: Gumbo

Our May hostess, Denise, of There’s a Newf in My Soup!, challenged The Daring Cooks to make Gumbo! She provided us with all the recipes we’d need, from creole spices, homemade stock, and Louisiana white rice, to Drew’s Chicken & Smoked Sausage Gumbo and Seafood Gumbo from My New Orleans: The Cookbook, by John Besh.

Wow... Gumbo... This is a dish I never thought I would make. For one thing, it never occurred to me that there would be a vegetarian alternative for it. (Which, I know, is silly, as there is pretty much a veggie alternative for everything!). Another hindrance was that I have never had okra, and I never really thought I would have it. I had been warned of the sliminess factor enough times to feel that it was not something in which I would be interested... But here was the May challenge, and gumbo it was - okra and all. After thinking it over for a while, and seeing the interesting combinations people were coming up with, I finally decided that I would dive right in. Except for one little problem... This is a BIG recipe. It makes a lot of gumbo. Who was going to eat all of it? And this is how it came down to the wire, the last day of the challenge month, and I just made it. With enough left over to have for at least two more dinners for us, and a large container going home with a friend!

In case you don't know, gumbo is a stew which has roots in many different cultures - from Africa to Native America. There seem to be certain elements which are needed in order to make a real gumbo. (Meat or seafood, I think would normally be included as "needed," but there are others!) First is the roux. I have made "normal" roux before - butter (well, margarine) and flour cooked to thicken a white sauce. Roux for gumbo is different. This is a dark roux combining fat and flour and cooking them together for a long time until it develops a beautiful brown color and a rich flavor base for the gumbo.

The second important element for gumbo is the "Holy Trinity." No, this challenge did not make me change religious beliefs. The trinity here is the three core vegetables of the dish. I am used to the trinity being the traditional mirepoix - onions, celery and carrot. The Creole/Louisiana trinity, though, is slightly different: onion, celery and green pepper.
The third piece of the gumbo is the okra. Okra is used as both a flavor component and a thickener for the gumbo. As far as I can tell, okra is not NECESSARY for gumbo, but it is traditional, and it adds a certain quality which makes gumbo stand out. Another thickener usually used in gumbo is file (pronounced fee-lay) powder. This is an ingredient I had never heard of, and knew I would not use again, even if I make gumbo again (which I think I will!). So I omitted it.
Because I was going to be making a vegetarian gumbo, I felt pretty strongly that I should make my own vegetable stock. Without the added flavors of meat or seafood, I felt it was important to take the extra step, and also to make sure I was adding flavor wherever I could! I then chose to use as many vegetables as I could! To make up for the quantity of "stuff" in the stew which would normally be chicken, sausage or shellfish, I upped the veggie quotient, and loved it! In addition to the trinity vegetables and okra I used carrot, parsnip, zucchini, tomato and garlic. I think that chopping the vegetables was the most labor intensive part of this process! I am glad I did it the night before so it would all be ready and waiting for me! (The term mise en place really took on a new importance with this dish!) I also wanted to be sure to add some sort of protein element to my gumbo, so I used lentils and texturized vegetable protein.

Veggies ready, it was time to start cooking. First and foremost was the roux. One cup of vegetable oil was heated in my biggest pot (which, I must say, is not big enough!), then one cup of all purpose flour is added. Then whisk. And whisk. And whisk some more. Here are a few pictures of the progress from light to dark, which really was a magical transformation!

When the roux was as dark as I could get it I added my diced onions. The smell was amazing-- rich, deep, almost like wine, but in a good way! (Don't forget, I don't drink wine, don't like wine, so this was a surprising smell for me to like so much!) One by one I added in the other vegetables, giving each a good toss in the roux for coating and flavor. I also added my own seasonings, as I don't have Creole spices, nor do I even have all of the components to make my own. Each addition created a new smell sensation which was amazingly intoxicating. Apparently it could be smelled a couple of houses away, too! Last to go in were the okra and the vegetable stock, then it was time to let everything simmer away.

It was recommended to us Daring Cooks to make Louisiana rice to accompany our gumbo. I wasn't up for that challenge, so I made a Basmatti rice blend that I had in the pantry which included some vegetable flavorings of its own. Once dinner time arrived we were all ready to dig in! (Even Little Girl, who for the previous ten minutes had been walking around saying "I like gumbo!" Despite the fact that she had never had it... So cute!)
I have to say, the gumbo was absolutely worth the effort! The roux added a deeper flavor than I am used to in a soup, and the mix of vegetables was delicious! The okra did not "dissolve" the way I had thought it might, but the sliminess factor was not what I had feared - it added texture to the stew and was soft and easy to chew. With the lentils, TVP and rice this was a hearty, warming and filling dinner! The one place where I did not do as well as I would have liked was with the seasonings. I was hesitant to go too strong, not wanting Little Girl to get upset, but I think I went a bit too light. Next time I will be a bit more aggressive. We did balance this somewhat with the nontraditional (I assume) addition of cheese to our individual bowls, but I think more seasonings would go well. All of us really enjoyed the gumbo, even going back for seconds despite feeling somewhat full from firsts...!

Thank you so much, Denise, for challenging us to make this! It was a lot of fun to work with you this month. Your support and enthusiasm were helpful and appreciated!

Take a look here to see what my fellow Daring Cooks created. It really is a treat for the eyes!!


  1. Your roux and final gumbo look great!!

  2. Congrats on your first gumbo Ruth! It really looks terrific. I can imagine the rich flavor that all those yummy veg and lentils brought to the dish.

  3. Great job on the gumbo! I love the option of doing a vegetarian version - will have to try that sometime.

  4. Your gumbo looks heavenly..
    I loved when you said your biggest pot was not big enough...I had the same experience!..
    you did an amazing job with your vegetarian vrsion..I'm really tempted to try it

  5. Love the vegetarian version. Looks beautiful. I may have to try it. Great job!

  6. So YOU are smart enough to realize that this was a large recipe. :) I, on the other hand, didn't realize it until I had ingredients spilling out of my pots and pans! Come and get your free gumbo... Nice job!

  7. I was looking forward to reading your vegetarian adventures, I knew you would do a fabulous job. Your gumbo looks amazing, love the color of the roux! Thanks for your lovely comment on mine, you're so sweet :o)

  8. Wow, I am so impressed that you made your own broth for this! I've done so for veggies 'n dumplings, but thought there was already so much to do for this that I went the pre-made route. Glad you liked the okra, and great work on the challenge! This sounds like a delicious version.

  9. I'm so pleased that all that work was well rewarded with such a delicious gumbo and yes the smell is amazing (and two houses away LOL LOL) while you are making it. Superb work on this challenge. I love the colour of the liquid in the gumbo and the roux looks spot on, well done!

    Cheers from Audax in Sydney Australia.

  10. Wow delicious vegetarian gumbo, next time I'd have to try your recipe-love the addition of lentils!

  11. Wow, your vegetarian gumbo looks absolutely delicious! mm i may have to make this before i try the seafood version.
    i also haven't tried okra and was looking forward to taking it on for this challenge, but i couldn't find any in the store haha. next time!
    you did an amazing job! :)

  12. Oooh..I love the variety of veggies you used - so hearty and I can only imagine delicious. My okra pretty much disintigrated, but probably because I sliced it thin. Like you, thankfully no slime! I'm also with you on file. I bought it years ago for a gumbo, and used it once LOL Didn't really like the flavor it imparted, but I probably used too much. In any event, awesome gumbo and loved reading as usual :)

  13. Love the pic of your roux, it is the perfect color. And very cool you did veggie version. A long process indeed!

  14. Glad you loved it! I agree, it's one of the best-smelling dishes ever! Your adaptations seem to have worked perfectly, so great job on that!