Exploring Oxymorons: Oil-Free Gumbo

Be wary if your friends start offering you shots of unbelievably buttery espresso pulled from super cool prototype, pressure-profiling La Marzocco Strada EPs at Ultimo Coffee.

You may just decide to do something crazy.  Like make gumbo.  Without oil.  Or flour.  Like I did.

Why?  Because I’m crazy.

I rarely cook with oil.  Heating oil reduces the quantity and quality of good fats in it.  So when I use oil, it is usually raw and in extreme moderation.

I also rarely cook with carbohydrates (especially refined).  When I do use a carbohydrate, it is usually a legume; whole grain such as barley, quinoa, brown rice, or oat; or fruit.

I ALSO rarely cook with meat (aside from fish and other seafood).  When I do, it is typically richer meats in smaller quantities.

So.  How the hell am I supposed make a gumbo without a roux?  If you aren’t familiar with gumbo, its heart lies in the foundation of a good Creole roux.  This dark brown thickening agent is made by slow-toasting flour in oil (as opposed to a traditional French roux, which uses butter).  It is this creamy sludge that gives a gumbo its celebrated richness.  So I guess trying to make one without flour – or oil – is a joke – right?

Tell that to a girl who’s had five shots of espresso.

I thought to myself: “HEY – there’s no reason you can’t toast flour in the oven.  And there’s no reason you can’t toast chickpea flour instead of white flour.  And there’s no reason you can’t brown your holy trinity (the mirepoix of Creole cooking – onion, celery and pepper) with nonstick spray.”

So I went to Ippolito’s (as all Philadelphians should for their seafood), and did.

This is what I learned:

BUT – you can make a really tasty, oil- and gluten-free, “gumbo-inspired” seafood stew.  While there is no way in hell I can call it a gumbo without being struck down by some voodoo god, I discovered a guilt-free and downright delicious seafood stew.  It was flavorful and herbaceous (not to mention the seafood was melt-in-your-mouth tender) but it lacked that rich, dark, fatty intensity that makes a gumbo a gumbo.

So if you’ve got a Creole-craving but can’t muster the gumbo-gumption, try this on for size:

“Gumbo-Inspired” Seafood Stew

Serves 2-3

  • 1/2 pound unpeeled raw shrimp
  • 2 or 3 blue crabs (cleaned)
  • 3-6 inches dried andouille*
  • 1/3 to 1 cup chickpea flour**
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5-20 okra pods
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • dried thyme
  • dried oregano
  • dried basil
  • garlic powder
  • onion power
  • paprika
  • cayenne
  • bay leaves
  • peppercorns (whole)
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • Green onions
  • Fresh parsley

Toast your Flour

  1. Spread flour over baking sheet in thin layer and bake at 400 degrees for 30-60 minutes until browned (can freeze any that you don’t use for later).

Prep your Ingredients

  1. Dice your onion (all if medium, half if very large), celery (2 stalks), and green pepper (half), retaining all food waste.
  2. Finely chop garlic.
  3. Chop okra.
  4. Measure out 2 1/2 tsp thyme, 1 1/2 tsp oregano, 1 tsp basil, 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp paprika, 1-3 tsp cayenne, and 1 bay leaf.
  5. Measure out 1/3 cup of your toasted flour and 3/4 cup of crushed tomatoes.
  6. Chop andouille into pieces.
  7. Chop about 1/2 cup green onions and 1/4 cup parsley (retain half green onions for garnish).
  8. Peel your shrimp, retaining all peels (and heads, if you have em).
  9. Clean blue crabs (if you didn’t have your fishmonger do it for you).

Prepare the Shrimp Stock

  1. Throw the scraps from your onion and celery (plus an extra stalk and any remaining onion you have on hand), the peels (and heads, if you have em) from your shrimp, 1 bay leaf, several peppercorns, a tsp or two of dried thyme, and several sprigs of parsley into a large pot.
  2. Add 9 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer for 10-20 minutes.
  3. Line a strainer with cheesecloth, and strain your stock through.
  4. Squeeze the solids through the cheesecloth to get any liquid goodness out and into your stock, and set aside (any that you do not use can be refrigerated or frozen for another time).

Make your Gumbo

  1. Heat a large pot over medium heat.  When hot, coat with nonstick spray.  Add your “holy trinity” of Creole cooking: the diced onion, celery and green pepper and saute until translucent, about 10 minutes. *IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE RICE TO SERVE WITH YOUR STEW START IT NOW :)*
  2. Add garlic, and saute a minute more until fragrant.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Add crushed tomato and combine.
  5. Slowly add toasted flour, stirring to combine.
  6. Slowly add 4 cups shrimp stock, stirring constantly to combine.
  7. Add okra, spice mix, andouille, and your cleaned blue crabs whole.
  8. Squeeze the juice of 1/2 lemon over your gumbo, bring to boil, reduce to simmer, cover, and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
  9. Uncover, and simmer for another 10-15 minutes.
  10. Add 1/4 cup green onions, 1/4 cup parsley and your shrimp.
  11. Cook for 3-6 minutes more until shrimp are opaque.
  12. Squeeze some good southern hot sauce over your “gumbo” and serve with chopped green onions (optionally over a scoop of buttery rice).

*Due to an ill-timed trip to the Italian Market (99% of butchers there are closed on Mondays), I was forced to use hot dried sausage in place of andouille.  Try to acquire dried andouille (not the fresh ground that you need to brown) if possible.  And while I know there’s fat involved here, I think a small quantity is necessary for flavor.  A small amount does wonders.

**I used chickpea flour, as it is a high fiber, high protein substitute for white flour.  I don’t think it was entirely successful (aka white would have been better), but it was by no means bad.  Make your call.

When Cleaning the Fridge Turns into the Greatest Vegetarian Chili Ever Made

Last Monday I found myself in one of those occasional “food prep frenzies.”  With a fridge (too) full of beautiful produce from Headhouse Farmers’ Market, a huge pile of eggplants from my garden to dispose of, and a daunting week of work ahead, I made the decision to get cooking.

First up for an early dinner was an old favorite: Eggplant Tahini Burgers.  This time served with a raw Rainbow Chard Salad:

Aside from the poor year-old freezer burnt -> toaster burnt potato bun, they were DELICIOUS, as usual.  Maybe I’ll get into the details of these recipes later, although at this point they’re a major “winger.”

After slicing and dicing everything that my shitty refrigerator could have possibly ruined by freezing and thawing several times over (as it tends to do) to make a week’s lunches worth of raw salads, I went to work on turning what was left into a made-ahead dinner that could go for at least two nights. Those were the criteria I was shooting for, at least.  And while I know it’s still summer, I saw a can of beans sitting next to a pile of beat-up hole-ridden beet greens and some of my roof-top eggplants, and I couldn’t resist the thought of a nice chunky chili.  But with a serious lack of ground meat in the house (not that there ever is any ground meat in the house), I had to improvise: home-made ground tofu – whatttt.

After a serious dive into the deep dark world of internet chili-flavor forums and a frightening look into into the depths of my pantry, THIS is the beauty that emerged:

Attempting to recreate the hocus pocus that went into this is going to be a challenge,  so I ask that you bear with me, and take this recipe with a grain of salt.  But here it is:

The Best Vegetarian Chili Ever

Serves 4 or something

  • 3/4 block firm or extra firm tofu
  • 1 small eggplant, diced
  • 1 bunch white beet greens, finely chopped
  • 1 small tomato, diced (juice retained)
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can black beans, drained (save liquid!)
  • 1 can green olives, drained and halved
  • 26-ounce can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
  • tiny bar unsweetened very dark chocolate
  • tamari or soy sauce
  • clam juice
  • ground espresso beans
  • dark brown sugar
  • tomato paste
  • cumin
  • cayenne
  • ancho chili powder
  • oregano
  • star anise
  • clove
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
Prepare Tofu-Crumbles
  1. Cut tofu into strips like playing card decks and stack each strip in between as many layers of towels as you can.  Place something heavy on top and leave this way for anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour or two (the longer the better).  Pressing the liquid out of the tofu will help it maintain its form and texture as you crumble and cook.
  2. When the tofu is relatively dry to the touch, take each piece and crumble it with your fingers into bits – whatever size you imagine you would like in a chili.  Maybe some big, some small!
  3. Heat a frying pan and then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add **approximately** (aka go with your gut) 2 tbs ancho chili powder, 1 tbs cumin, 1/2-1 tbs cayenne pepper, and 1/2 the minced garlic you prepared.  Keep moving for a minute or two, until fragrant.
  4. Add the crumbled tofu (adding a bit more non-stick spray or oil if needed), and mix with toasted spices.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes before moving to allow the tofu to brown.  Then begin to stir regularly until your crumbles are looking crumbly.  Note that they won’t and shouldn’t be crispy or dark brown.  Retaining some of the mush factor is pleasant in the finished product.
  5. Set aside.
Make Chili
  1. Heat a large pot, then add either non-stick spray or a bit of canola oil.  When hot, add diced red onion.  Allow to soften for a few minutes.  Push the onion to one side of your pot, clearing room to toast up **approximately** the same amounts of the same spices you used in your tofu crumble.  This time, also add 1 tbs of ground espresso beans.  Bring up to fragrant levels, and then incorporate with onion.
  2. Add remaining garlic, and cook for another minute or two.
  3. Add eggplant, and cook for another 5 minutes.
  4. Add fresh tomato, and cook for another minute.
  5. Add can of roasted tomatoes, can of halved green olives, small piece (like 1 cm x 1 cm) of unsweetened dark chocolate, 1 tbs tamari, 2 tsp clam juice, 1 tsp dark brown sugar, 1/2 tsp tomato paste, 1/4 cup liquid from canned beans, 2 tsp dried oregano, 2 star anise, and 1 clove.
  6. Bring to boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Cover, and let simmer for an hour.
  7. Add approximately 2 cups finely chopped white beet greens, drained black beans, prepared tofu-crumbles, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Heat for another 10-15 minutes.
  9. Squeeze the juice of about half a lemon into the chili, stir, spoon, top with a dollop of sour cream,* and SERVE.
*can be served with any number of delicious chili toppings: sour cream shredded mexican blend cheese, feta cheese, fresh cilantro, avocado, chopped fresh corn, jalapeño, etc. etc. etc.
Note: I made this two days ahead, and then ate it over the course of two days, and it only got better.

A Word on Kitchens and How they are like Dogs

Before I begin to post tales of my specifically “culinary” adventures, I want to preface with a tidbit from my high-and-mighty library of personal life theories.

In participar, this one: that your kitchen should be like your dog.

A kitchen should be obedient to you, but also your best friend.  Your kitchen is personal.  It follows your rules, whatever they may be.  Tell it to roll over, and it does, even though it looks silly.  But it also makes quiet suggestions.  Flavorless curry?  Try this kosher salt in my left cupboard.  It also consoles.  Feeling down in the dumps?  Try the booze in my fridge.

To supplement, another analogy: cooking is an art.*  It’s like art in that even art that you and everyone else in the world thinks is ugly, is still art.  And one piece of art doesn’t say anything about what the next piece of art you make is going to look like.  You could make the first look like a fart and the second like a grand jeté.  Whatever you want!

Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that I believe that everyone deserves to feel empowered in their own kitchen.  A recipe is just a suggestion.  In fact it could probably be improved.  Please feel free to experiment.  If you don’t have one thing, use another.  Who cares?

You are your kitchen’s master.

*Baking is stupid.

Bellyflop into the Fool Pool

Hello there!  Let me introduce myself:

There I am.

You may be wondering why I’ve started this blog.  Let me tell you why:

  1. I think I’m great.
  2. I think you might be great too.

I hope you enjoy reading my posts about the many half-assed hobbies that I pursue.  Namely, cooking, beer drinking, canning, neatening, gardening, reading, cheese making, cheese eating, listening, fermenting, traveling, dog finding, crosswording, loan paying, yoga-ing, skeet shooting, and talking/typing your ear/eyes off.