riffin' on gumbo
When it comes to gumbo, I guess I've never been much of a purist. I'll just toss a bunch of stuff into a pot, throw some Cajun-style spices at it, and call it a day. From what I can tell, and with my admittedly limited knowledge of Cajun and Creole cuisines [I enjoy this gentleman's explanation of the differences - being a part-French-Canadian-girl who now lives in the Maritimes, and a bit of a Marxist-romantic when it comes to culinary cultural histories, I find myself drawn to the Cajun lore of the underdog], a traditional gumbo has 4 basic pillars upon which are built a myriad of variations. I've been able to identify these pillars as:
1. roux (flour browned in fat)
2. large quantity & variety of flesh (be it mammalian, fowl, fish, sea-/swamp-food)
3. okra (gumbo, lady's fingers)
4. the Cajun / Creole Vegetable Holy Trinity (onion, celery, green bell pepper)
So with this in mind, I'm fully prepared to admit that this dish -- it ain't gumbo. Since I avoid wheat as much as possible (although I've found that dry-roasting chickpea flour can nicely mimic the toasty flavour of a good roux) and rarely, rarely, consume cooked fats (no, I'm not fat-phobic, I just prefer to get my fats in their purest state as much as possible, as with all my nutrients) ... I don't roux. The animal flesh thing kind of answers itself, what with being a mock-meat hating vegan. But okra / gumbo (growing up I knew it as baamieh) I love, and if I've ever been accused of worshiping anything it's vegetables, so ... If two outta three ain't bad (damn straight), then maybe two outta four ain't terrible?
Except that the results are so terribly, terribly tasty ...
(this ain't real) gumbo
what you need ...
1 large onion, diced
5 large cloves garlic, minced
1 medium jalape ño pepper, seeded and minced
1 medium hot banana pepper, seeded and minced
2 large ribs celery, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1 large orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
2 1/2 c. fresh young okra, sliced 1/2" thick
4 c. (heaping) zucchini, sliced 1/2 " thick
5 medium tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
3 Tbsp. (generous) tomato paste
1 1/2 - 2 c. home-made, salt-free veggie stock (or good quality commercial)
1 large bay leaf
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. salt-free Cajun spice mix (recipe below)
1/2 tsp. dulse flakes * (optional, see note below)
3/4 tsp. liquid smoke
1 tsp. gumbo filé
what you do ...
In a large pot over medium-high heat, steam-fry onion, garlic, banana pepper, jalape ño, and celery until onion is translucent and fragrant. Add bell peppers, okra, zucchini, and a couple Tbsp. of veggie stock and continue cooking about 3 minutes (you want the veggies to cook a bit but maintain most of their texture).
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, remaining veggie stock, Cajun spice, bay leaf, dulse flakes, and salt. Mix well, bring to a boil, then lower heat, and let simmer partially covered for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the veggies -- you want them cooked but not mushy.
Once the 15 minutes are up, add liquid smoke and gumbo filé and stir through.
Serve over rice (I like a mixture of brown basmati and wild) or with a hearty bread for sopping up the juices.
* The dulse flakes add a salty hint of the sea to the gumbo, without adding seafood or extra sodium. Being a person with a salt tooth, and as the only non-vegan thing I ever miss is fish/seafood, I throw dulse at pretty much anything it could possible complement. Feel free to omit if you don't have / like dulse.
For the salt-free Cajun spice mix, I can't honestly remember the genesis of the original. All I know is that over the years my scrawled copy has been amended and messed with and scribbled on to the point where it's finger-printed and love-worn and dirty and suits me perfectly. And doesn't much resemble what it started as. So this is my version -- I make no claims of authenticity, though it does contain all the basics.
salt-free Cajun spice mix
what you need ...
1/2 c. + 2 Tbsp. Spanish paprika (smoked, if possible)
1/4 c. dried, rubbed oregano
1/4 c. dried thyme
3 Tbsp. garlic powder
3 Tbsp. onion powder
3 Tbsp. crushed red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. ground white pepper
2 Tbsp. roasted garlic powder *
2 Tbsp. ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. celery seeds
2 Tbsp. ground, roasted cumin seeds
1 Tbsp. ground chipotle chilis
1 Tbsp. ground cayenne
what you do ...
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well to combine. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar and mix it up well before use - it will settle and may cake up a bit over time. Keep it in the freezer if you plan to use it only occasionally to ensure optimum freshness.
* if you don't have roasted garlic powder just use an extra Tbsp. of regular garlic powder -- the roasted stuff is of course sweeter without sacrificing any of the garlicy-awesomeness.