Mardi Gras recipe: Shrimp and okra gumbo

Celebrate Mardi Gras Cajun-style with this delicious shrimp stew thickened with browned okra.

A Palatable Pastime
Celebrate Mardi Gras with this shrimp and okra gumbo flavored with hot sauce.

I first had gumbo when I was a child, when my Uncle Curtis and Aunt Eudocia came to visit us from Texas. Aunt Dochie was from the gulf area and had a culinary history of both Cajun and Mexican food. Among other things, I got to watch her make gumbo, make flour tortillas from scratch, and learned by her hand how to catch and clean crab for stuffed crab and other things (including gumbo). I also got to watch my uncle deviously slip past the soup pot, and when he saw he was spotted, put a slender finder to his lips to ensure secrecy as he dropped one of the hot chillies he so loved in there with a wry smile.

I didn’t mind. We have the same chili-loving palate.

But my parents would howl about how spicy it was.

You don’t have to put chillies in your gumbo if you don’t want. In  fact, you don’t have to even add the Louisiana pepper sauce. I don’t really think that sauce is all that hot, but you know, it does vary by brand. And since I make a lot of my own hot sauces from scratch, the kind of sauce I shake in there might not be from your usual garden variety pepper.

I know my uncle would approve, although I don’t think he partakes of it as much in his golden years.

I do hope you enjoy this. I doubt it compares to my auntie’s version of gumbo, but it most certainly reminds. I thought of her when I tasted it. She was greatly loved, and so was her delicious cooking.

Shrimp and okra gumbo

1 pound fresh okra pods, trimmed and sliced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup  chopped celery
1 cup diced green  pepper
2 fresh bay leaves
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon Cajun spice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
salt (to taste; add the Cajun spice before you  taste)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 tablespoons  tomato paste
1/4 cup light roux
6 cups vegetable broth
1 pound small raw peeled and deveined shrimp
2 teaspoons Louisiana hot sauce
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
2 scallions, sliced
gumbo file (optional garnish)

1. Saute okra in a large skillet until browned; stir in the onion, celery, green pepper, bay leaves, garlic  and thyme and cook until vegetables soften,  adding the garlic the last minute so that it does not burn.

2. Place vegetable mixture in a heavy bottomed pot large enough to hold 2-1/2 quarts.

3. Whisk the roux into the vegetables. We are using light roux here, and  you may use homemade or use a purchased type, whichever you prefer. Generally, roux is half flour, half oil, cooked and stirred over low heat until it is the color of peanut butter.

4. When  roux is mixed into the vegetable, stir in the broth.

5. Bring  mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer over low heat for about an hour.

6. Stir shrimp, hot sauce, parsley and scallions into gumbo and cook just until they brighten and begin to curl; do not overcook.

7. Serve gumbo with steamed white rice, garnished with extra parsley or scallion and gumbo file if desired.

Related post on A Palatable Pastime: Mardi Gras King's Cake

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