Saturday, February 20, 2010

"i never listen to my better judgement"

the food: Soup of the Week! Gumbo Z'herbes
the song: "I Changed My Mind" Lyrics Born

It seems like I am always a little behind on my special occasion meals. Maybe one day I'll get on top of my game enough to actually post suggestions for the upcoming holiday rather than just telling you what I did. But for now...

Tuesday was Mardi Gras, so I made gumbo. This gumbo came about completely by chance. I was searching for soup recipes and came across a recipe from 2007 for Gumbo Z'herbes, a traditional vegan gumbo meant to be served during Lent (when, traditionally, a lot of people give up least on Fridays). I had a ton of beet greens left over from our Valentine's Day dinner, plus Fat Tuesday was right around the corner. This gumbo was meant to be.

As a side note, don't you just love traditions that involve food? For a brief moment on Ash Wednesday, I actually considered giving up something for Lent because of this thread on Serious Eats.

Anyway, back to the gumbo. I have to first say that I will make some changes next time around. In fact, I considered not even posting the recipe and just talking about how cool it was that there is a traditional Louisiana style gumbo that's intended to be vegetarian. I give my gumbo a B. Having said that, I have only myself to blame. I did not follow any one recipe...I just kind of made it up based on a few different ones. I'm sure any one of the recipes would be great had I followed it, but I couldn't resist the urge to tinker (maybe not the best idea, considering I'd never made gumbo before.) My gumbo had great spicy flavor, but it turned out too thick. Next time I'll reduce the roux by half. After testing it out, I added a handful of diced mushrooms quickly sauteed with a big splash red wine. I think this was a good addition that added depth to the flavor, so I've included it in the recipe instead of as an afterthought. I warn you, this picture is possibly the ugliest picture ever posted on a food blog. But it tasted pretty good.

Gumbo Z'herbes
adapted from several recipes: here, here, and here are a few good ones.

Three large bunches of greens, cleaned, stems removed, and chopped  (suggestions include collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, beet tops, cabbage, and turnip tops.)
1/2 cup oil, plus 1 tablespoon for greens (vegetable, corn, olive. I used olive and vegetable.)
1/2 cup flour*
1 medium onion, medium dice
1 bell pepper, medium dice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
6-10 mushrooms, roughly chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning

First, prepare your greens. Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add chopped greens and saute, stirring often, for about 5 minutes until greens are beginning to wilt. Set aside.

In a large heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat. When it is hot, slowly sprinkle in flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk to prevent any lumps. Reduce heat to medium low and cook roux, stirring constantly, until it is a nutty brown color and emits a toasted aroma**, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and garlic into the pot. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes

Add vegetable broth and stir well. Increase heat and bring mixture to a simmer. Stir in salt, Cajun seasoning and bay leaves and simmer, stirring often, until gumbo base is soupy and thick and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, roughly chop your sauteed greens once more***.  Stir in chopped greens and red wine and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve over rice with fresh French bread.
*Next time I'll reduce this to 1/4 cup of oil and 1/4 cup flour. I think this will give it more of a stew like quality and make the texture more appetizing (especially as leftovers. Gumbo leftovers were seriously ugly, but tasted good.)
**I've never made a roux that didn't have butter as the base. When I was making this, the husband peeked over my shoulder, took a whiff, and said "Wow, it smells nutty." He had NOT read the recipes I consulted that described that exact smell. Kudos to Chow for the perfect description of oil based roux.
***Some recipes recommend actually pureeing the greens. It might help with appearance (a pretty, green gumbo sounds appealing), but I didn't do this.

Sorry for all the footnotes. I warned you, this soup needs work. It may not have been the best soup I've made this year. But hey, we had gumbo on Fat Tuesday, and that was really the point. Sometimes the tradition behind a "good meal" can bump it up to the "great meal" category.


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