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Gumbo Party

Three satisfying gumbos that will have your friends and family coming back for seconds and thirds

 

People sometimes ask what kind of cooking I like best. Since I enjoy all types of cooking, as well as baking, the answer doesn’t come easily. But those who ask want an answer, so I usually fall back on a standard reply: one-pot dishes. That covers a wide range of possibilities, everything from soups to stews to gumbos, and it is true that I love that kind of cooking.

Sometimes the second question is, “Why?” Now that I can answer without hesitation, and I probably tell them much more than they really want to know. Regardless of what you’re cooking in the pot, and assuming you’re not following a recipe to the letter, you have a license to experiment. You can’t just willy-nilly start throwing things in the pot, but assuming you have a good grasp of what will work and what won’t, you really can improvise.

Take gumbo as an example. There are more varieties of gumbo than you can count on the fingers of both hands, but within each type there are infinite variations, largely determined by the cook’s preferences. This month I give recipes for three gumbos that evolved from experimentation and improvisation. There is also a recipe for a skillet cornbread with a tasty brown crust, which is a great accompaniment to any of the gumbos.

Two of the gumbos are loaded with smoked meats or sausages, and the third is a gumbo made from greens that is traditionally served on the Thursday before Easter, although it is delicious any time of year. Most recipes for gumbo z’herbes are made with smoked meats, which as all southerners know, do wonders for a pot of greens. But what about a vegetarian or an observant Christian who forgoes meat during Lent? Is it possible to make a delicious green gumbo without using meat? What can you include in the recipe to give the gumbo body and additional flavor if you don’t use smoked meat or a meat stock?

Meat, poultry, fish and vegetables all contain glutamates (naturally occurring amino acids that provide a savory taste), but some ingredients contain particularly high levels of them, and they can be used to compensate for the absence of meat. Glutamate-rich foods include tomatoes and tomato products, mushrooms (particularly shiitakes), dried seafood, fermented or cured products, such as ham and cheese, soy sauce, fish sauce, Worcestershire sauce and anchovies, among others. Nutritional yeast, available in health food stores, can also be used as a flavor enhancer.

In the recipe for gumbo z’herbes, I’ve incorporated dried shiitake mushrooms, nutritional yeast, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce to provide additional flavor. If you like to experiment, try adding other ingredients to boost the flavor even further.

 


 

Four Sausage Gumbo
 

Place ½ pound fresh pork sausage, ½ pound smoked pork sausage, ½ pound smoked pork and venison sausage and ½ pound andouille sausage in gumbo pot, prick with the tip of a small knife, and cook over low heat, turning frequently until browned, about 20 minutes.

Remove sausages and cool. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon fat from pot.

Add 1 medium onion (chopped), 1 bell pepper (seeded and chopped) and 2 cloves garlic (minced) and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 4 cups chicken stock or broth and 4 cups water and bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits that have stuck to the pot.

Add ¼ cup prepared dark roux and whisk to dissolve. Slice sausages and add to pot along with 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Season with coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve over steamed rice and garnish with ¼ cup chopped parsley and ¼ cup chopped green onion tops.

Makes 4 or more servings.

 


 

Skillet Cornbread
 

Place a 12-inch cast-iron skillet in oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

Place 1½ cups cornmeal, preferably stone ground, ½ cup flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar in mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add 2 eggs (lightly beaten) and 1½ cups milk and stir to combine. Add butter to hot skillet. When butter has melted, remove skillet from oven, pour 4 tablespoons butter (melted) into batter and stir to combine. Pour batter into hot skillet and return to oven. Bake until cooked through, about 10-12 minutes.

Makes 4 or more servings.

 


 

Gumbo z’Herbes
 

(Lenten/vegetarian version) Any combination of greens can be used in this recipe, including collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens, beet greens, cabbage leaves, watercress, parsley, carrot tops, radish tops, arugula, kale, celery leaves, green onion tops and bok choy.
9    cups water
1    cup dried, chopped shiitake mushrooms
½    cup prepared dark roux
¼    cup nutritional yeast flakes
1    tablespoon soy sauce
1    tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2    medium onions, roughly chopped
½    head (or more) garlic, peeled
1    bunch mustard greens, roughly chopped
1    bunch turnip greens, roughly chopped
1    bunch collard greens, roughly chopped
1    bunch kale, roughly chopped
1    bunch parsley, roughly chopped
1    bunch green onion tops, roughly chopped
1    bunch cilantro, roughly chopped coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
     cayenne pepper and hot sauce to taste
     steamed rice
     hot pepper vinegar

1. Combine water and mushrooms in a large pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain, reserving broth. Discard mushrooms or save for another use.

2. Return broth to pot, bring to a boil and whisk in roux until dissolved. Add nutritional yeast, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, onions and garlic. Add greens, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour.

3. Puree soup in the pot with an immersion blender or puree in batches in a blender. Season with salt, peppers and hot sauce. Serve with rice and hot pepper vinegar.

Makes 4 or more servings.

 


 

SMOKED MEAT GUMBO
 

Combine 9 cups water, 1 smoked ham hock (about ½ pound), ½ pound smoked pork neck bones and ½ pound tasso in a large pot, bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove ham hock, neck bones and tasso and cool. Add ¼ cup prepared dark roux and whisk to dissolve. Add 1 medium onion (chopped), 1 bell pepper (seeded and chopped), 2 cloves garlic (minced) and 1 bay leaf. Remove meat and rind from ham hock. Discard rind, chop meat and add to pot. Remove meat from neck bones, chop and add to pot. Cut tasso into small pieces and add to pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Season with coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, cayenne pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve with steamed rice and gumbo filé, garnish with ¼ cup chopped parsley and ¼ cup chopped green onion tops.

Makes 4 or more servings.

 

 

 

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