Fall Gumbo

Hello everyone! I have a million and one things I want to post now, including updates on the ongoing Fat Bear venture, but I owe you guys a new recipe. For those of you who don’t think you can be satisfied by a vegetarian meal, this dish may surprise you. The heartiness of roasted squash and mushrooms, combined with the dense and filling wild rice is practically enough on its own, but add a nice hunk of cornbread and this fall stew will fill you just fine.

As usual, I had the challenge of cooking a meatless dinner (thanks wifey) that would be equally satisfying to our guests and my carnivorous self. Generally we go with some sort of seafood , but every once in a while I manage to come up with something to satiate all our palates without resorting to either surf or turf (In case you missed it, click here for my seafood gumbo). You’ll have to forgive me if I’m not too exact in the recipe below as I made this dish a few months ago.

The key to any gumbo is the roux that will thicken and flavor it as it cooks. It’s also important to have a good broth or stock, as water just won’t do. For this dish, I prefer a simple mushroom broth that can be made in a matter of 15 minutes while you cut and prepare the veg. Simply combine mushroom stems, a couple of bay leaves, some fresh thyme with salt and black  pepper in a small pot. Cover with water and let it simmer while you get the rest of your ingredients ready. If you have some dried mushrooms, you can add them to the broth for an extra punch of mushroom flavor.

I’ll be honest here, and say that the cornbread was a bit of an afterthought, but in hindsight was really essential to the dish. I was already cooking away when I thought of it, but thankfully my brother ran to the store and bought some for us. It would’ve been amazing if it was homemade, but we can’t all be perfect. I chose a wild red rice for the dish, but feel free to use whatever type of wild rice is available in your area and cook according to the package instructions. Depending on your speed with a knife this dish should take anywhere between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours to make from start to finish.

Ingredients (makes 4-6 portions):

  • Wild Rice- 1 Cup (uncooked)- prepare according to package directions
  • Cornbread- 1-2 squares per person
  • Watercress- A few sprigs per portion

For the Gumbo:

  • 1/2 cup butter or oil
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • About 6 cups Mushroom or vegetable stock
  • 1 ea. Butternut Squash (or similar)- diced small
  • 1 lb. Mushrooms- I used cremini (chestnut), but feel free use a mix of whatever hearty mushrooms you prefer (reserve stems for stock if needed)
  • Fresh Okra (about 1 lb./about .5 kg)- Sliced in rounds
  •  2 ea. medium yellow onions- diced
  • 2 ea. celery ribs- diced
  • 1 ea. green bell pepper
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic- minced
  • Fresh thyme- chopped (reserve stems for stock)
  • Fresh Sage- chopped (reserve stems for stock)
  • 1 Tbsp. Cajun Seasoning
  • Crystal or Louisiana hot sauce (use red Tabasco if you must)
  • Worcester sauce
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper- to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to around 200° C (375° F) so you can roast the squash and mushroom. If you don’t have a stock already, combine the mushroom and herb stems with a couple of bay leaves, some black peppercorns and a little salt (if you have dried mushrooms, add a few as well). Cover with at least 8 cups water and simmer on low while you go through the next couple of steps.
  2. Toss the diced squash with a little olive oil or butter (not included in ingredient list above), salt, pepper and some of the fresh chopped herbs. Spread the squash evenly on a baking tray (use foil to make clean-up easier). Repeat with the mushrooms and place both trays in the oven for about 15 minutes, or when the veg starts to brown. Set aside and move on to the next step to prepare your roux. (leave the oven on if you wish to heat the cornbread before serving)
  3. To form a roux, heat the butter or oil over medium-low heat in  heavy bottomed wide pot that is deep enough to hold all the veg and liquid. Once hot, add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well incorporated. Continue to cook the roux, stirring frequently and making sure to get all the bits that settle in the corners. The amount of time you need to cook the roux depends on many factor, but you can judge its doneness by color and smell. I could write a whole post on roux (and maybe I will one day), but for this application, take the roux to the point where it starts to take on a color reminiscent of peanut butter, with a distinctly nutty aroma. This will thicken the gumbo nicely and add a rich depth of flavor as well. WARNINGIf you happen to burn the roux, don’t be a hero; it can’t be saved. Scrap it and start again.
  4.  Once the roux is where you want it, add the garlic, jalapeño and holy trinity (onions, celery, pepper) and fold into the roux. Cook the veggies in the roux for about 3-5 minutes or until you can smell the aroma of the cooking vegetables.
  5. Add the okra, mushrooms and squash to the mix and season the pot with salt, pepper, Cajun seasoning and a few dashes of hot sauce and Worcestershire. Cook another 3-5 minutes before going to the next step.
  6. Next, you are going to begin to add the stock, a couple ladles full at a time. It is best if the stock is already warm or hot, which will prevent it from cooling everything down when added. Stir the gumbo and allow it to come to a simmer before each new addition of stock, the trick is to allow the roux to thicken with each addition. (If you’ve been making a quick broth alongside your gumbo, use a mesh strainer to keep out any large bits of herb, mushroom or peppercorn)
  7. Once you’ve added all the stock, let the gumbo simmer on low heat while you prepare the rice according to package instructions.
  8. Taste the gumbo for proper seasoning and add additional salt, pepper, Worcestershire and hot sauce if needed.
  9. Dress the watercress with a little salt, pepper, olive oil and cider vinegar and set aside.
  10. Fill each bowl with gumbo, top with a mound of rice, the dressed greens and a nice warm hunk of cornbread. Enjoy!!!
  11. Gumbo actually gets better after a day in the fridge, so don’t worry if you have any leftovers.

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