My Grandmother’s Gumbo, Fortified with Okra
Okra often appears at the top of the most hated vegetable list, but it is packed with nutrients and dietary fiber. High in anti-oxidants, this low calorie vegetable is known to help lower cholesterol. This perennial flowering plant, known to West Africans as gumbo, was transported to the United States many years ago and became a staple of Creole cooking in New Orleans. Okra does not always appear in recipes for gumbo, but knowing that gumbo is another word for okra, I am convinced that my mother was correct when she swore that REAL gumbo is made with okra. So, I will pass along my grandmother’s real gumbo recipe, made with fresh okra.
“First you make a roux” were always the first words out of my grandmother’s mouth as she shared the secrets of her native New Orleans kitchen. And gumbo was no exception. But FIRST…BEFORE MAKING THE ROUX . . . it helps to prepare the vegetables.
Dice and set aside in a bowl:
2 large onions
4 stalks celery
1 bunch green onions
1 green bell pepper
1/2 cup oil, butter, or bacon grease
1/2-3/4 cup flour
In a heavy iron skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. When it sizzles, sprinkle on the flour. Now, stir or whisk constantly for 12-15 minutes. The color will turn from cream to caramel to reddish brown and it may smell scorched, but if you stir nonstop it should be just fine. When it reaches a thin-pudding texture, add all of the prepared vegetables except the okra and tomatoes. Continue to stir for about 2 minutes or until veggies are limp. Stir in a cup of hot water and transfer to a large pot.
1 pound fresh okra (crisp and immature pods are best)
3 large tomatoes, diced
1 stick butter
Prepare the okra by wiping each pod with a clean cloth to remove the fuzz. Slice thinly. Melt the butter in an iron skillet and cook the okra, stirring frequently, until it loses its ropy, stringy texture—about 15 or 20 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stir until mixed. Then, add the okra-tomato mixture to the roux pot.
To the combined pot of veggies, add:
3 quarts of water or stock (see below)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon seasoning (see below)
2 bay leaves
Let the mixture come to a boil and simmer for about 3 hours. Add your meat of choice, remove bay leaves and serve over rice.
The following simple stock is good with shrimp, my grandmother’s preference for gumbo:
Heads and peels from 3-4 pounds fresh shrimp
1 fresh lemon, sliced,
3 quarts water
Clean and peel shrimp. Put heads and peels into large pot. Refrigerate shrimp. Boil heads and peels with lemon slices in water for about 30 minutes. When cool, strain and reserve broth.
½ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon thyme
This is a very basic seasoning. Other spices that are commonly added to gumbo include nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and chili powder. You may adjust for heat, adding Tabasco if desired.
3-4 pounds fresh seafood or meat of choice
Gumbo is often prepared with seafood, but any meat may be used. Add raw seafood about 10 minutes before the gumbo is ready to be served. Raw chicken, beef, or pork may be added about an hour before serving.