Go-To Gumbo

Okra is one of those vegetables that doesn’t get a lot of respect from people who live north of the Mason-Dixon line. “Slimy” is how some people describe it.

But when you combine these lovely little pods with something like tomatoes, that effect is diminished, and okra’s seedy yet soft texture shines.

I’ve been growing okra for a more than a half-dozen years and never have regretted it. I just love sauteeing okra with other fresh garden veggies. But perhaps my favorite dish that takes advantage of okra is gumbo, a Louisiana and New Orleans mainstay.

I just finished putting together my first pot of gumbo in more than a year and can’t wait to give it a try. Besides the okra, it contains onions, peppers and tomatoes from my garden as well as shrimp and andouille sausage.

I can’t think of a better way to dress up a bowl of rice.

Go-To Gumbo
1 pound medium shrimp in their shells
5 cups water
1 small yellow onion, quartered
2 sprigs parsley
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 large, sweet onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
1 green pepper, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup flour
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes in tomato puree, drained, liquid reserved, and tomatoes coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 pound smoked andouille sausage, cut into chunks
½ pound okra, fresh or frozen, cut into ½-inch lengths
Hot pepper sauce
2 cups cooked white rice
Working under cold running water, strip shells off shrimp and reserve. Devein shrimp, rinse, drain and refrigerate.
Boil: Tumble shrimp shells into a medium saucepan. Add the water, yellow onion, parsley, thyme sprigs and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, partially cover and simmer until flavorful, about 45 minutes. Strain out and discard solids. Keep shrimp stock warm. (You should have about 3 cups.)
Pile up the chopped onion, celery, green pepper and garlic in a bowl. Keep these supplies at the ready.
Melt butter in a large Dutch oven. Add flour and cook, whisking, over medium-low heat until peanut-butter colored, about 10 to 20 minutes. Making roux takes patience.
Tumble in the chopped vegetables, cooling the roux. Cook, stirring, over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes. Stir in tomatoes along with 1/3 cup of the reserved tomato puree. Stir in hot shrimp stock. Season with salt, oregano, thyme leaves and red pepper. Add sausage and simmer for 20 minutes. Add okra and simmer another 10 minutes. Add shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, 3 minutes.
Scoop hot rice into each bowl. Inundate with gumbo. Splash with pepper sauce, if you like it hot.
Yield: Serves 6.