Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Crescent City-Inspired Quasi-Gumbo

I am freshly returned from this year's Shakespeare Association of America meeting, which was held in that most splendid, strange, and wonderful of cities, New Orleans. While there, I took many long walks along the river and through the French Quarter, ate some fabulous food, participated in a great seminar - two whole hours on Arden of Faversham! - heard terrific papers, had any number of stimulating conversations with friends old and new, and am now suffering that heady mix of intellectual overstimulation and physical exhaustion that follows any conference. And of course it's always a treat to be in New Orleans, which is unlike any other place else on this entire earth. (The ginormous Shakespeare head borrowed from a local Krewe's Mardi Gras float and the jazz funeral to honor the quatercentenary of Big Willie's passing added a certain mad je ne sais quoi to the whole enterprise.) 

But now I'm home, this business is well ended, and to expostulate what scholarship should be, what Shakespeare is, why day is day, night night, and time is time, were nothing but to waste night, day, and time. Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief and get to today’s recipe, which is my homage to that great Crescent City on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. And while I make no claim to authenticity - I realize that proper gumbo starts with a brown roux, which I could not be arsed to make - I will say that this flavorful stew conjured up a nice, warm Louisiana vibe on a chilly New England afternoon.

Crescent City-Inspired Quasi-Gumbo
~ 3 tbsp. olive oil, divided
~ 1 large sweet potato, diced
~ 1 medium onion, diced
~ 1 medium green bell pepper, diced
~ 3 stalks celery, diced
~ 2 cups frozen okra
~ 1-2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1-2 tsp. Tony Chachere's salt-free Creole seasoning
~ 2 tsp. dried parsley
~ 1 tsp. each: thyme, smoked paprika
~ ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
~ A few generous grinds black pepper
~ 2 bay leaves
~ 1 package TJ's vegan chorizo, crumbled (I find this quite salty, so haven't added extra salt to this recipe, but your mileage may vary with another type of sausage)
~ 1 14 oz. black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
~ 2 cups water
~ 2 cups no chicken broth
~ 1 tbsp. each: vegan Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce
~ 1 tsp. Liquid Smoke
~ 2-3 cups chopped greens (spinach, kale, collards, mustard greens, or a combination) 
~ 2 tsp. gumbo filé powder
~ ½ cup chopped fresh parsley

~ Preheat the oven to 400 degrees fahrenheit and coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.
~ Toss the diced sweet potato with 1 tbsp. of the olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Arrange in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for 20-25 minutes, turning once at the midway point. Remove from oven and set aside.
~ In a large, deep pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp. oil and sauté the onions, celery, and bell pepper over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened. 
~ Add the okra, garlic, and dry seasonings, stir to coat, and continue cooking about 5 minutes more.
~ Stir in the crumbled sausage and black-eyed peas, mix well, and then pour in the water, broth, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, and Liquid Smoke. Cover the pot, bring the whole business to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Crack the lid just a little and cook for an hour, stirring occasionally.
~ Add the cooked sweet potato, the leafy greens, and the filé powder. Mix well and cook another 10-15 minutes.
~ Taste for seasoning (see my note above in re: salt) and serve hot over white rice, topped with fresh parsley.