We always get a little sentimental for Louisiana this time of year because at this time of year in Louisiana, it’s Mardi Gras season. While we have nothing to do here but hibernate with our Christmas hangovers until St. Patrick’s Day, they’re about to laissez les bons temps rouller over there. In fact, they’ve probably already started in on the weekly green, purple, and gold sugar-topped king cakes. We’ll just be having a few pancakes on Shrove Tuesday while they’ll have already been celebrating for a week with parades and beads and music. Hands down, it was my favourite thing about living in Louisiana and by far, the best public holiday I’ve ever experienced. Unlike any other festive time of year (I’m talking to you, Christmas), this one is pure fun, as in you don’t have to do anything except have fun. It’s the antithesis of New Year’s resolutions, a wild mix of family-friendly entertainment, hardcore drinking, and striptease. I really, really miss it.
Of course, tied up in all of this nostalgia is food. Gumbo, crawfish etouffée, red beans and rice—I loved it all but none of it, I’m sad to say, is vegan. Not even a tiny little bit. But it being our sentimental season and all, Joseph had the idea to try and make a vegan gumbo. (Hush! I can hear y’all groaning from over here!) I don’t usually go in for veganising meat-heavy dishes but it was cold outside and we had a hankering for that strong, earthy okra flavour. I liken okra to pathchouli; they’re both “earthy” in the sense that they both have a distinct flavour of “dirt” and there’s something repugnant but gorgeous about them at the same time. Personally, I love this about okra and the slimy gumminess of it and how when cooked, the little seeds go pink.
So one recent Saturday morning, we set out to get us some okra. The only place we can get okra here is at Asia Market and it’s not exactly like the okra we used to get in Louisiana, mainly because it’s not entirely ripe. We would have loved to have gotten our hands on parboiled rice and filé but neither of those is to be had here. We did, however, buy some “white birch” mushrooms. We can’t be sure (because we never can be sure when it comes to Asia Market), but we think they were oyster mushrooms. We also managed to get some seitan in the health food shop, along with brown lentils, which I had suggested would add heft to the dish. When we got home, Joseph got cooking.
The result was something truly special. And it just got better with each serving.
Seitan and oyster mushroom gumbo (vegan)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 heaping tablespoons plain or spelt flour
2 medium to large onions, chopped
4 teaspoons sea salt
6 medium sized celery stalks, chopped
2–3 large garlic cloves (to taste), minced
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, roughly chopped (2–3 cups)
1/2 pound seitan, roughly chopped or shredded, marinade or stock retained
1/4 cup red wine
1 tablespoon feshly ground black pepper
1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
3 1/2 quarts of water
1/2 pound okra, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
parsley or green onions, chopped and/or filé for garnish
1. Warm a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, then the flour, stirring vigorously until the the flour has thinned. Stir continuously with a flat wooden spatula, roux spoon, or whisk, for 10 minutes. Hold the saucepan above the heat and keep the roux in constant motion by rolling it from side to side.
2. After 10 minutes, the roux will turn a characteristic chestnut colour and have a slightly nutty aroma. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, for another 5 minutes until the roux is the colour of chocolate.
3. Heat a large heavy-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Transfer the roux to the pot. Add the onions and 2 teaspoons of salt. Sauté the onions for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the celery and sauté for another 8 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
4. Add the garlic, bay leaves, and cayenne pepper and sauté for 5 minutes. If needed, add 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water to prevent sticking. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 10 minutes, again adding water as needed.
5. Stir in the seitan and add 1/2 cup of its liquid. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the wine, black pepper, and lentils and cook, stirring frequently for 5 minutes.
6. Add the okra, 10 cups of water, and 2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. If the gumbo becomes too thick or “stewey,” add 2 to 3 cups of water. Season with additional salt to taste.
7. Serve the gumbo over American parboiled or plain white rice and garnish with parsley, green onions and/or filé.
Poiesis: Alex and the “Lirette Legacy” (http://lirette.me/legacy/category/gumbo/)
Techne: Peter Berley (particularly, The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen)