After two years of intense work, little sleep and a lots of time in small, windowless practice rooms, I have officially finished my MFA thesis at NYU Tisch! Though there are a few classes left and some more presentations to watch, my school work is largely over. For the first time in ages, I am able to sleep, and even more miraculously, I’m able to cook. Though buying affordable, healthy groceries continues to be a struggle in NYC (especially if you are a low-income student), I am slowly but surely getting into cooking again, an old passion that had sadly fallen by the wayside.
There are few things more soul-nourishing than making gumbo. Slow, steady and requiring precision, it’s a wonderful task for a rainy afternoon. I knew I wanted my gumbo to be vegetarian (as I cook pretty much 100% veggie at home), so I immediately though of dumplings, almost like veggie kofta. I had all the base ingredients, plus potatoes and Trader Joe’s soy chorizo (one of my favourite protein sources) for the dumplings, and so I got to work.
Like most of my recipes, this one is not precise. With the exception of the roux, Gumbo really shouldn’t be precise. It’s a dish that is remarkably flexible based on whatever you have in the fridge. Though vegetarian gumbo sans-okra or filé powder, is hardly authentic, this version certainly fits the bill for serving its original purpose: using what ingredients you have to make a delicious, warm and satisfying dish, inspired by the food culture of Louisiana.
Here’s how I made it.
First, assemble your ingredients:
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup butter
- equal parts celery, bell peppers and onion (approximately a cup of each)
- 3 medium sized yellow potatoes
- 2/5 of a package of Trader Joe’s soy chorizo
- a few tablespoons of flour
- dash of baking powder
- salt, pepper, thyme, smoked paprika to taste.
All gumbo begins with roux. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Slowly add in the flour, stirring constantly. The flour will begin to brown and start to smell nutty. If you are a serious gumbo head, will want to wait until your roux turns dark brown (but not burnt!) I let mine turn the colour of dark butterscotch (about 45 minutes), before succumbing to temptation and adding the veggie base.
Celery, bell peppers and onion are known as the holy trinity of Louisiana cooking. Almost all recipes start from these base ingredients. Make sure they are properly chopped (nice medium-size chunks) before adding. Stir frequently, making sure the bottom doesn’t burn (I actually use a flipper, rather than spoon for this purpose.) Turn the heat a bit lower and let them wilt. You can put a lid on the pot to help speed up this process. Add thyme, pepper, paprika and a small amount of salt.
When the veggies are wilted, add water. If you’re non-vegetarian, you could use a fish or chicken stock as well at this point. The water will interact with the roux, making a thick sauce. How much water you use depends on how creamy you want your sauce to be. Add in small amounts so it doesn’t get too watery.
Let the veggies and sauce cook up for a nice long while, until veggies start to melt a bit into the sauce. This takes at least 20 minutes, though I always cook longer for good measure.
While the veggies and sauce are stewing away, get out your potatoes. Wash them and throw them into the microwave for approximately 4 minutes (or until they’re soft and fluffy all the way through). Place in a bowl and mash with a fork (if they’re not super fluffy, throw back in microwave for a bit longer.) Add soy chorizo and a few healthy dashes of salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Sprinkle in a few tablespoons of flour and a dash or two of baking powder. When ingredients are thoroughly mixed (and should be a nice thick dough), form small balls of dough into dumplings and place in simmering gumbo base. Let simmer for approximately 12-15 minutes, until dumplings rise to the top.
Serve with or without rice. The result will be a warm bowl of smoky, smooth and delicious vegetarian gumbo, with enough bite and protein-kick that even your meat-loving friends will enjoy themselves.