I recently woke up with a taste for Louisiana in my mouth, a taste I got very familiar with back in the summer of 1988. I was fresh out of high school and, for the very first time, I got on a plane. My destination, Lutcher, Louisiana.
I was an engineering major set to co-op at Dupont in LaPlace, a city about 30 minutes from Lutcher, a small town of five, maybe ten, stop lights, one grocery store, and one post office. My lovely, generous hosts were the Clark family, Ronald, Diane, Tiayya and Dexter. Their home was a new one on a street with other new houses. Having no sidewalk was the only thing that their street had in common with the surrounding streets, which were lined with homes that were older and, for the most part, smaller, than the Clarkes’. I remember that families in Lutcher seemed close. Diane’s older sister Jackie and her family lived less than five houses away, and their baby sister, Cynthia, and her family lived on the other side of the street but a little further down. Their elderly parents, Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, lived one street over from their three daughters.
That summer was marked by Jesse Jackson’s run for president, a crush I had on a handsome, chocolate boy named Corey, and a soundtrack mostly by Al B. Sure, Keith Sweat, and Bobby Brown, whom the 17 year-old music critic in me considered the best male vocalists of all time.
I gained some weight that summer, too, because of all the good eatin’ I did. Diane prepared dinner for us almost everyday, which meant I didn’t exactly learn to prepare the food that I grew to love, delicious fare like shrimp po’ boy sandwiches, crab boils, crawfish etoufee, jambalaya, and gumbo.
In memory of the Clarkes and the summer of 1988, I came up with a vegan gumbo recipe. I recently made a pot, and my family devoured the whole thing in one day. The ultimate compliment! I made another pot a few days later and shared it with my colleagues, family friends who just happened to be in the neighborhood, and with the crew of Healthy Food Happy You at the conclusion of a recent taping I was a part of. Days later, Keri, a member of the crew, requested the recipe so here it is.
Vita’s Vegan Gumbo
- 3 Tablespoons of olive oil
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow, red, or green bell pepper
- 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
- 1 dried chipotle pepper
- 3 bay leaves
- 1-3 teaspoons of agave or raw sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 8 – 12 springs fresh thyme
- 2 carrots, cut in half long ways and then sliced
- 1 15oz can garbanzo beans
- 1 package of Tofurky Sausage (Sweet Italian with Tomato and Basil) sliced 1/4 inch thick
- 2 ½ to 3 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups okra, sliced ¼ inch thick
- 16 oz package of brown rice
- Follow directions on the package
First, get the rice going according to package instructions.
Roux, a mixture of fat, usually butter, and flour, is the foundation of many French, and by extension, Cajun and Creole dishes. For my vegan version of gumbo, I use olive oil. While the ratio of fat to flour is usually 1 to 1 in traditional roux, I used a little less fat than flour.
In a large pot that has a tight fitting lid, gently heat the oil; then, add the flour. Thoroughly stir the flour into the oil. Heat for 5 minutes.
Add coarsely chopped onion, garlic, paprika, and salt. While constantly stirring, heat for another 5 minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, agave nectar, crumbled chipotle pepper, thyme, and bay leaves. Stir to make sure there are no lumps of flour. Cover the pot with the lid and cook the mixture for 8 to 10 minutes until mixture thickens. Add bell pepper, beans, carrots and sliced tofurky sausage. Heat for another 5 minutes. Slowly add 2 ½ cups of water and continue stirring to avoid clumping. Once everything is thoroughly mixed, cover with lid, bring to a boil, and simmer for 25 minutes. If the mixture is too thick, add more water. If it is too thin, let it cook longer with the lid off. When mixture is “done,” stir in the sliced okra, replace the lid, turn off the heat, let sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. By adding the okra to the end of a dish, you prevent the okra from becoming slimy. The okra will also retain more of its color and tenderness. If desired, add more salt to taste.
Serving Suggestion: In a large bowl, put a scoop of rice and top it with the desired amount of gumbo.