Happy Mardi Gras! It certainly doesn’t feel too festive today up here in Fairbanks, but I’m having many warm thoughts of New Orleans right now. I realized last year, that, having lived in New Orleans for one Mardi Gras, it wouldn’t be “just another Tuesday” anymore. Not that I’m doing a whole lot to celebrate, but I’ll wear some beads today, and I will be a bit jealous of my friends down south, and I will certainly eat some gumbo!
Mardi Gras last year is when I first made and tasted gumbo. It blew my mind! I knew it would be good, but I didn’t really know what I should expect, and I didn’t know how good it would be! While in New Orleans, we were able to buy a couple free-range chickens from a local farm, and so I made my gumbo with those. Up here, though, I knew gumbo would have to take a different direction. The only meats I’ve got right now are caribou and salmon, and neither of those strike me as great gumbo options.
So, faced with this challenge, I started looking up some other folks’ veg gumbo recipes. This was back in January, mind you. I didn’t want to be caught unprepared! There were plenty of recipes that called for seitan, or vegetarian sausage, or other things like that, but I’m not a real big fan of foods that pretend to be meat. Granted, I’ve never tried them (besides tofu, which didn’t go far in making a good impression), but they make me nervous. Eventually I settled on this version, which is similar to my original recipe, but uses portobello mushrooms to give a “meaty” texture.
Joe had been a bit skeptical about a vegetarian gumbo really tasting like gumbo. I insisted I was sure it could be done, but apparently he’d tried it before, with less than satisfactory results. I was determined nonetheless, and contrived a recipe that I was pretty confident would be successful. It took tasting to convince him! Our joint verdict is that it’s certainly a very different type of gumbo than one with chicken, shrimp and sausage, but it definitely still tastes like gumbo! I will emphatically insist that it is no “lesser” of a gumbo than a meaty version, and doesn’t taste like a compromise.
So with that, eat some gumbo! and have a happy Mardi Gras!
1/2 c plus 1 Tbsp canola oil
heaping 1/2 cup flour (I used whole wheat this time, which I haven’t done before, and which gave my roux an automatically very dark color. Still tasted fine, but made it tricky to tell when the roux was ready.)
2 large onions, chopped
4 celery stalks, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped (could use two, green peppers aren’t really my thing though, so I went with a more minimal amount)
16 oz fresh or frozen okra
3 portobello mushroom caps, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c red wine
1/4 c tomato paste
6-8 c vegetarian broth (goooooood quality! homemade is best.)
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp pepper
cooked brown rice, for serving
tabasco sauce, for serving
Make your roux: if you’ve never done this before, it can take awhile, and demands patience! I like to listen to some good music while I’m stirring away…. Heat the oil over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low, sprinkle in the flour and stir to make a paste. This is your roux. Stir constantly for about 30 minutes, or more if needed, until the mixture is a hazelnut brown. If any black specks appear, the roux has burned, and you need to start again.
Add the onion, celery, green pepper, okra, mushrooms and garlic. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and cook for about 1 more minute. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for 30-50 minutes, until thickened and veggies taste done. Add more liquid if needed, but keep it relatively thick! Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Serve over rice with tabasco sauce.