Saturday, June 28, 2008

Recipe 1.1 - Gumbo z'Herbes

(AKA Gumbo Des Herbes, for you Correct French Grammar Nazis out there.)


A Big Mess Of Greens - Traditionally, you're supposed to find seven different varieties, for good luck, but I could only come up with 6: turnip and radish tops, kale, bok choy, parsley, and basil (shut up, herbs do too count!). However I also threw some bay leaves in, but those are dried and don't go in with the cooked greens, so I'm not sure they count as part of the 7 greens. You can use any greens your little heart desires -- usually I just go with a mix of spinach and whatever's available locally. Sometimes I just use frozen spinach, which works fine. Frozen greens are fine, because you're going to cook the crap out of them, anyway, and flavor them with a ton of other stuff. If you use fresh greens, you should cook them down first by covering with cold salted water and simmering away for half an hour or so. RESERVE THE GREENS WATER.

(I cooked 4 finely chopped turnips with the greens this last time, because they came with the CSA and I didn't know what else to do with them. Will report later on whether this was a good idea or not. You could also probably add okra, if you're so in love with it.)

1/2 cup of flour

1/2 cup of oil - I use olive oil because I'm lazy and we keep it in a little decanter next to the stove, anyway. The "authentic" way is probably rendered duck fat, so not exactly vegan-friendly. Regular old cooking oil is fine, too.

1 medium onion, diced to your preferred texture -- As previously mentioned, I'm pretty bad at chopping things so for a long time my onions were very roughly diced, to no ill effect (though I guess if you're not careful you could end up with some hybrid of gumbo and French onion soup).

1 bell pepper, also diced. I'm a huge fan of red, orange, and yellow peppers, but green is traditional.

4 or 5 garlic cloves, totally smasholated. You can slice, dice, just put em in seriously smashed up (muddled?), whatever. But diced is probably best.

The Greens Water, or if you forgot to reserve it, a thing of vegetable stock (or a couple cans, if your stock comes in cans rather than those weird oversized juice boxes). It's always a good thing to keep extra stock on hand in order to get the consistency right vis a vis the greens. I have a hard time guesstimating how much liquid should go with how much greens, and how much my big mess of greens will cook down. This is where being cucinaphobic is a huge downfall. You could use chicken stock if you are a serious carnivore who can't handle the idea of eating a vegan meal for once in your life.

Various spices, about which I will explain later in the recipe proper.

The Recipe Proper:

First You Make A Roux.* For the non-cajuns out there, I will explain. For a big pot of whatever cajun recipe (gumbo f'rinstance), you'll want about half a cup of flour and half a cup of oil. Add them to a warm pot over LOW heat. I use a 5-quart Le Crueset stock pot, because I am an Official Culinary Equipment Snob (thanks mom!). Anything BIG will do - this is not some kind of dainty two-serving soup appetizer, it's more of a one-pot meal. Keeping the heat low, stir the flour and oil mixture copiously as it starts to brown. Do Not Burn It. If you smell a distinct burning smell, lower the heat even more. Keep stirring and cooking as the roux gets browner and browner. If you get nervous you can stop when you get a nice beige putty color. Intermediate roux-makers should aim for a peanut butter color. I'm trying to achieve the perfect nut brown, but I tend to get impatient and move on somewhere in between peanut butter and milk chocolate.

When you're happy with the state of your roux, add the onion, garlic, and bell pepper and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the onions turn transparent and the peppers get soft.

Now this is where that big BIG pot comes in handy, because now it's time to add the greens, any other vegetables you had your heart set on, and all that greens water you hopefully remembered to hang on to. You can also go ahead and add cayenne pepper, black pepper, maybe some white pepper, salt, bay leaves, and tabasco sauce, to taste, by which I mean come on now, let's remember this is cajun cooking and not some poncey Julia Child thing. TO TASTE, my friends. To Taste. I also like to add a little garam masala, or maybe some cumin, and once I even put in a spoonful of miso paste, which ROCKED. Have fun with it.

Let all this simmer on the stove with the lid on while you make a pot of rice. This is where my total cucinaphobia starts to show itself again, because I Don't Know How To Make Rice Without Fucking It Up. There, see. I told you I didn't know how to cook.

Serve the gumbo over rice. Add filé to taste, if you have it on hand. It's hard to come by outside Louisiana, so leaving it out is acceptable. Do Not under any circumstances add filé if you have already included okra. That's right naff, innit? (sorry, the Cockney Geezer in me sneaked out for a second there...)

Gumbo z'Herbes. Yeah. The only thing I already knew how to cook.

*Every cajun recipe starts with this sentence. Except for cajun recipes that don't incorporate a roux, like for instance red beans and rice.

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