Monday, November 22, 2010

Okra Gumbo

Okra seems to be one of those foods that you either love or hate. Most people I know who won't eat it object to the sliminess of the cooked okra. I can see how they would find that unappealing, but I also know it is all in how it is prepared. I like mine pickled, fried or in a gumbo.

Okra Gumbo

Olive oil
One onion, chopped
One green bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes
One bag of frozen sliced okra
1 t. file' powder
1 t. thyme
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. salt
1/8 t. cayenne
2 cans kidney beans, drained

Saute the onion, green pepper, celery and garlic in the olive oil. Add water, tomatoes, okra, file' powder, thyme, salt, black pepper, cayenne and kidney beans, bring to a boil, reduce to simmer 30 minutes. Serve over rice. Add additional seasonings, if you'd like.

I picked up some Magic Swamp Dust while visiting New Orleans earlier this year. My family is fond of using it, go figure, when I make anything remotely Cajunish.

Not sure what I'll do when we run out!

Okra is a member of the Mallow family, related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock. Okra probably originated somewhere around Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Its cultivation spread throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The seed pods were eaten cooked, and the seeds were toasted and ground, used as a coffee substitute (and still is).

Okra came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, probably brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Créoles learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken soups and it is now an essential in Créole Gumbo.

Today okra is popular in Africa, the Middle East, Greece, Turkey, India, the Caribbean, South America and the Southern U.S. It is not a very common vegetable in most European countries, except for Greece and parts of Turkey.

Due to increased interest in American regional foods, these bright green, tender pods have gained more respect as a vegetable in the U.S., aside from its use as a thickener.

Purchase young, tender but firm pods. They should snap easily in half. The best varieties are a rich green color. Avoid pods that are dull and dry looking, blemished or limp. If you grow your own and know someone who does, you want to smaller pods, not the really long ones. Mature okra is used to make rope and paper! (Avoid those old woody pods!).

Store in a paper bag in the warmest part of refrigerator, as temperatures below 45 degrees can damage okra. It does not store well, so use within 2 or 3 days at most.

Do not wash until ready to use, or it will become slimy. When preparing, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become. Aluminum pots will discolor it.

Okra is low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, and high in dietary fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, folate, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, protein, riboflavin, niacin, iron, zinc and copper.

Gumbo is often used interchangeably with okra. The word gumbo is derived from the Bantu word kingumbo, which means “okra.”  There are apparently different types of gumbo: gumbo is typically divided into either "Creole" or "Cajun" varieties. Creole refers to the combinations that were traditionally common in New Orleans and southeastern Louisiana. In these areas, significant portions of the population were descendants of settlers from France or Spain, and were known as Creoles. The Cajun combinations were often found in Southwestern Louisiana, which was populated primarily by Cajuns, descendants of the French-speaking settlers who were expelled from Acadia in the mid-18th century. Creole gumbo most often consists of seafood, tomatoes, and a thickener. This variety is generally not as spicy as Cajun gumbo, as cayenne pepper is used much more sparingly. Before the latter half of the 20th century, celery was rarely used in Creole gumbo, but it is now much more common. Cajun gumbo is usually identified by its dark roux, cooked until it is a color "a few shades from burning". The roux is used with either okra or filé powder. Seafood is popular in Cajun gumbo, but the southwestern areas of the state often use fowl, such as chicken or duck, and sausage. The fowl is generally not deboned, and onions, celery, and bell pepper are not strained out of the dish. Cajun gumbo is usually topped with parsley and green onions.

My okra gumbo defies those labels, made cruelty-free, not made with a roux, but is darned good nonetheless!

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