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Potluck Staples 4: Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Do you like dishes that are spicy and packed with flavour? If you said “yes”, you might really like this gumbo. If you said “no” to the spice bit – don’t worry, you can always adjust the chilli levels in this recipe!

Some of you who don’t hail from North America may also be wondering what the hell “gumbo” actually is. Gumbo is a stew that originated in Louisiana in the 18th century. It’s thick and hearty and flavoursome after simmering for ages in a big pot of awesomeness – and it’s actually the perfect kind of dish for a large gathering. You can throw almost any ingredients in a gumbo, and there are different traditional types (Cajun vs Creole) — or, you can be a bit non-traditional, like this one. I’ll leave you to research more of the cultural and culinary history of gumbo if you want, but I really just want to help you make and eat it.

Like my last “potluck staples” series recipe for mushroom pho, this one is vegan. You may wonder why I have so many vegan sharing-friendly dishes up my sleeve. In 2014, right after my April Veg Challenge month, I decided to organise a multi-course vegan dinner for friends and acquaintances, for several reasons – to showcase how delicious food with no animal products in it can be, to raise some money for a deserving animal welfare organisation, and, you know, to just have a fun night filled with food, drink and laughter.

Everyone had such a good time, we decided we had to do it all again (and again, and again); but since just three of us made all four courses for over 20 people, and it was exhausting, we thought it might be a lot better to turn it into an everyone bring-a-plate affair for future events. It would mean moooore food, more variety, and everyone would get to share their favourite dishes! (And we still gave some people the option to not bring anything and just donating more to our chosen charity instead, as cooking’s not everyone’s cup of tea).

A couple more dinners later, with friends-of-friends joining in, we’re pretty much an established club now – in fact, we actually have a Facebook group! And we’d love to grow even more – so join us, if you’re interested? You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian – everyone is more than welcome, you just have to like food and not be a horrible person. The next event is on Saturday, August 29th, 2015. If you want to come feast with us, book here and join the Facebook event!

/shamelesspromotion *ahem*

Right. Gumbo.

Smoky Vegan Gumbo

Serves: A lot of people
Prep and cooking time: 1 – 1.5 hours
Note: Gumbo is usually served with rice. The recipe below is only for the stew itself, so just cook rice as you normally would! In the photo above, I’ve served the gumbo with wild purple rice, and it worked a treat!

The Shopping List

½ cup plain white flour
½ cup canola oil
1 large or 1 ½ medium onion
7 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery
mixed chillies (habanero, poblano, jalapenos etc – quantity depending on your preferred spice level)
1 large or 2 small carrots
2 zucchinis (ie. courgettes)
8 cherry tomatoes
10 okra
1 litre vegetable stock
200mL craft beer (preferably dark ale)
2 cups tomato passata
1 tub tomato paste
chipotle sauce
Mexican-style chilli sauces – eg. habanero, jalapeno
liquid smoke (optional – available from gourmet food stores, eg. The Essential Ingredient in Prahran Market, Melbourne)
1 medium pack of medium-firm tofu
200g vegan sausage (optional)
1 bunch fresh thyme

dried spices
smoked paprika (good quality)
ground cumin
dried oregano flakes

Make the thing

  1. Make a roux with a 1:1 ratio of the flour and canola oil.
  2. When roux turns beige or very light brown,
  3. Add:
    onions (diced)
    garlic (minced)
    celery (chopped to 1cm sections)
    finely chopped chillies
    1 litre vege stock
    ^ Stir constantly, cooking for 5 minutes

  4. Then add:
  5. carrot (chopped chunky)
    zucchini (sliced to 1cm sections approx)
    roasted cherry tomatoes (pre-roast these in the oven until caramelised before adding)
    okra (chopped 1cm sections)
    1-2 cups tomato passata, to your preference
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  6. Then add spices:
  7. smoked paprika
    ground cumin
    dried oregano flakes
    thyme (preferably fresh, chopped)

  8. Add sauces:
  9. tomato paste to taste
    chipotle sauce, if you have some, otherwise one of those mexican chilli sauces like habanero, jalapeno etc. Chipotle is the best as it gives off a really smoky flavour
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 minutes

  10. Theeeen add:
  11. More vege stock IF required
    A nice craft beer (optional – but a deep, dark ale will give this an amazing flavour)
    Medium-firm tofu in 2-3cm cubes
    Sliced vegan sausage (optional)
    ^ Stir and cook for 10 mins

  12. Then (last bit) add:
  13. A dozen or so drops of liquid smoke

  14. Keep cooking for another 5 mins or so or until the gumbo has been going for at least 40 minutes in total, excluding the roux-making time at the start.

Tiny Taste of LA

At the beginning of our recent trip to Mexico, we spent an aimless day bouncing around various parts of central Los Angeles during a long layover. Airport time excluded, we had about 8 hours to kill. I’d done some research but had became overwhelmed by the logistics of where to go when faced with all the factors of trying not to spend hundreds of dollars on taxi fares, fitting in at least a few different things, considering the geographical relationships between the various areas, not understanding the traffic situation of the city and trying to get back to the airport in time for our connecting flight.

In retrospect, we could have just spent the entire day in one area, like Santa Monica, instead of stressing and trying to do too much… but you know, then I wouldn’t be me!

The Grove and The Farmers Market Trolley

The Grove and The Farmers Market “Trolley”

After some unexpected dramas trying to get rid of our luggage for the day (as LAX no longer had lockers or any on site baggage storage since 9/11), we set off for the city later than expected. It turned out that in a mere day we took a taxi, experienced the LA metro, the public bus system and a private airport operated bus – basically, all the transport options. I was also a genius and decided that to get to the Griffith Observatory cheaply, all we had to do was take the metro to the station closest to it and then a cab the rest of the way. Little did I know that we would emerge from the underground at Vermont/Sunset station and then fail to find a single passing taxi in half an hour… but at least we got to check out a random neighbourhood.

So we never made it to Santa Monica in the end and spent the most time around Fairfax, West Hollywood and Hollywood being tourists and doing a bit of shopping.

Fountain at The Grove

Fountain at The Grove

We went to The Grove, a beautiful outdoor shopping and entertainment complex with a “trolley” (which we’d probably call a “tram” in Melbourne!) which took you on a little ride down to the “Farmers Market“, which used to be an actual farmers market but is now more of a food vendor paradise along with some produce merchants, bakeries and other shops. The most interesting thing we saw there was a big store which sold nothing but hundreds of types of hot sauces from all over the world! With names such as “Dr. Assburn’s” and “Ass Reaper”, I don’t know whether I should regret not buying any.

I had some spicy Jambalaya, which was satisfying but wasn’t the best gumbo I’ve ever had (is it even a gumbo or just a cousin to gumbo?) yet it was so cheap considering I was in an upscale shopping centre in a nice neighbourhood! Damn you, Australia, and your overpriced food.

Spicy Jambalaya at the Farmers Market

Spicy Jambalaya, corn bread and potato salad at the Farmers Market

We also chanced upon an Umami Burger, which I’d heard about on the blogosphere years back, and I wanted to see if it was worth the hype. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it was a fairly tasty burger – just nothing particularly special! The meat was good, and cooked to medium rare as promised, but it just lacked flavour punch all up (especially for a place naming itself “umami“), and I was a bit disappointed by the truffle cheese in the Truffle Burger.

Truffle burger from Umami Burger

Truffle burger from Umami Burger

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

It felt odd to finally be in the States for the first time, after having grown up with so much US-centric pop culture – television and books like the Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High, *ahem*, I mean all that Ernest Hemingway.

I was probably unreasonably excited to encounter such mundane things as my first In-N-Out Burger, IHOP (International House of Pancakes, HELLO!!?) and yes, even the 99c Store. Because what you can buy for 99 cents in California looks like the equivalent of what you can get at a $2-$3 shop in Australia – with the dollar almost identical, how is this fair? You know what else? They had huuuuuge pharmacies. More like supermarkets. Super pharmacies!

Spent a bit of touristy-time on Hollywood Boulevard trying to spot the names of stars we recognised. It was surprisingly difficult (!) and then when we did, I forgot to take photos. I marveled at how un-Chinese the Chinese Theatre really is, and ooh’d and aah’d over a soda fountain, and how cute the little external Box Office at El Capitan was.

Hollywood Boulevard and El Capitan

Hollywood Boulevard and El Capitan

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held

The TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards are held

Next up was shopping, but before I could buy anything, I found Jelly Bean Heaven! And then Lingerie Heaven! KP bought us both sunnies, then we both went on to lose them during the later stages of the trip.

Los Angeles

So ok, we didn’t have the most rewarding day in LA, but we got a good taste of Cali, confirmed first-hand that the Los Angeles public transport system is shit, and I satisfied my inexplicable desire to see American fast food and discount store chains in the flesh. And then there’s this: a vending machine in the middle of a shitty LAX terminal that sold iPhones and iPads and other not-exactly-cheap gadgets. Yes, folks, a vending machine for Apple products. And it was Best Buy, so that’s another chain crossed off my list!

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

While I didn’t not like LA, I didn’t really get a great vibe from it overall. You know how sometimes you spend just a few hours in a city and you get this great feeling – like falling in love the first time I set foot in Melbourne – and you just know you have to return again? I so did not get that from the City of Angels. And really for summer… it was kinda cold and damp! Now I know what they were singing about in “The Lady is a Tramp“!
We were more than ready to move on to Mexico.

You can see the set of full-sized photos on Flickr.

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