My dad is someone who loves a good meal. He loves that Mom loves to cook a great meal.
And if you ever wanted to find that place where you discovered at sixteen what gumbo was, he’d be able to tell you not only the name of the restaurant you ordered it in but he would find the place forty years later. The seafood joint with the wavy floors on the wharf in Seattle, the barbecue joint in Florida where they’d sanded down picnic tables till they felt like velvet (and then trusted people with kids with barbecue sauce to sit at them!) I’ve seen him do it.
This one was somewhere in the deep South, a humble spot with fabulous food (there was an old jukebox, too, right, Dad? Or was that a different spot?) I remember blinking when he said traditional gumbo was made with squirrel meat as I looked at the chicken in mine, shrimp having been the other choice.
I confess to the occasional moment when my fruit has been stolen off my trees where I’ve thought at the bushytails, Just don’t you tempt me. I’ve always been curious to know.
My CSA delivered straight-off-the-farm okra today.
Now there are two responses to okra: there’s my Mom, serving it battered and fried and telling her squeamish kids, “It tastes just like” (or as my older sister would tease her later with a grin, Just! Like!) “popcorn!”
Maybe a better take on it might have been, This imposter thinks it’s just like popcorn but we know better–popcorn doesn’t taste better with ketchup, here, pass the Heinz, wouldja? (Then she would have had six kids asking for maple syrup instead and who knows, it might have won us over.)
Actually, my daughter reminded me that we had an okra dish in an Indian restaurant we took her to in Ann Arbor when she graduated with her Master’s there, and that it was very good. Alright, then, three.
So. Okra. It came. And me somehow fresh out of file’ (fee-LAY) powder. But all week I’d been remembering marveling over that gumbo soup of long ago, so I went over to Penzey’s spices where I absolutely knew I could find file’ powder. Gumbo File’, said the label for those not from the South; their Seafood Base, I already had that.
And I have finally, after all these years, actually made a gumbo. Bacon drippings, andouille sausage–there are a lot of variations out there; this one’s mine.
8 oz fresh okra, chopped
1 large chopped bell pepper (mine was orange)
1 small head of celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped (mine was purple)
the corn from one fresh cob but more would have been fine
32 oz chicken broth and 1 c water
1 tsp file’ (sassafras) powder (yes they make root beer out of sassafras. No this doesn’t taste like root beer.)
1 tbl Penzeys Seafood Base
chopped chicken and/or shrimp
about 1/3 c flour, and
about 1/3 c California organic extra virgin olive oil.
Note that all other types of EVOO are suspect: Federal law allows lesser varieties to be so named and even other oils to be in the bottle without their being labeled. Yes it’s a scandal. California’s law precedes the Federal one, has been challenged and has stood, so, only by buying EVOO labeled California organic EVOO can you know that it actually is extra virgin olive oil. Which is great if you’re a California grower, and I buy from these guys. Good stuff.
So. You put the flour and olive oil in your pot, stir hard, get it up to bubbling and keep bubbling stirring hard for fifteen minutes: you want it to turn brown, really brown, without letting it burn. Then the recipe I started from said to cook the veggies a few minutes in that but at that point my arms said no, so, I just threw everything in all at once–except for the chicken or shrimp.
Simmer for at least an hour, stirring often. Add whichever meat you want till it’s cooked. Serve.
It doesn’t taste like popcorn. But maybe kids would eat more bites if they were still looking for that root beer flavor in there somewhere.
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