The Occasion: We made this for our holiday open house, and now it has earned a permanent place in my repertoire. This is a great meatless/vegan meal (but not gluten free, there’s flour in the roux) that puts the South in your mouth. Great flavors, a nice kick of heat, and you won’t even miss the meat.
Fun Fact: Do you know the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking? There are many historical and cultural factors, but one easy tell is – tomatoes. This dish has ‘em which makes it a Creole style gumbo.
Why This Works: Many Southern foods feature meat, seafood, and the “trinity” of aromatic veggies – bell peppers, celery, and onions. If we’re going to eliminate the meat, we’d better be ready to amp up the umami in other ways. (Umami refers to the savory, ‘meaty’ taste present in some foods.) In this case it means developing a deep, dark roux (pronounced roo) as the foundation and adding beans, mushrooms, liquid smoke, and vegan worcestershire sauce to the other more traditional ingredients.
A roux may be used in many different cuisines but it is essential to Creole/Cajun cooking. In this case the recipe calls for the roux to reach the color of a tarnished old penny. You will be stirring for a looong time – at least 45 minutes. It’s worth it.
The Playlist: Rather than spinning a classic Cajun tune I’d like to tickle your eardrums with The Gumbo Variations from Frank Zappa’s prog rock/jazz fusion album Hot Rats, released in 1969. This bad boy holds up – trust. It’s got a whole lot of stuff thrown in there and is crazy good – just like this veggie gumbo.
Click on the photos to enlarge them and read the captions.
Recipe source: Spicy Southern Kitchen
Serves: 8 servings
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 medium tomato, chopped
- 1½ cups chopped onion
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon vegetarian Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons Creole mustard – Note: If you can’t find it use a hearty brown mustard
- 1½ teaspoons liquid smoke
- 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- ½ teaspoon hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 quart vegetable stock or broth
- 4 cups sliced okra – Note: I used frozen okra and sliced it (carefully) before it thawed
- 1 (16-ounce) can red beans, drained and rinsed
- 8 cremini mushrooms, quartered
- 1½ cups diced zucchini (1 medium)
- 1½ cups diced green pepper (1 large)
- 1½ cups diced red bell pepper (1 large)
- 1 cup thinly sliced celery
- 4 cups cooked jasmine rice
- ½ cup sliced green onions
- Place vegetable oil and flour in a Dutch Oven with a heavy bottom. Turn the heat on medium and whisk continuously until mixture becomes fragrant. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Turn heat to low or medium-low depending on the size and heat your burner gives off. Continue to whisk continuously (it's alright to stop for a few seconds here and there, but not for any length of time) until roux becomes a dark caramel color, like the color of an old penny. This could take anywhere between 20 and 50 minutes. Be patient.
- Remove Dutch oven from heat.
- In a food processor, process tomato, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, liquid smoke, vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce, thyme, red pepper flakes, paprika, nutmeg, and oregano until mixture is smooth.
- Place Dutch oven with roux over medium-high heat and add tomato/onion puree. Stir to mix together. Continue to cook until most of liquid has evaporated.
- Add vegetable stock and stir. Bring to a simmer.
- Add beans, mushrooms, zucchini, green and red pepper, and celery and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Serve with rice and green onions.