Saturday, September 25, 2010

When I unpacked my kitchen this week, I was happy to rediscover my Cajun spices bought in New Orleans during past trips.  All I could think of was the city’s seductive, distinctive cuisine, especially the gumbo.

To me, gumbo defines the city. The variations are infinite, just like the southern accents you hear on the streets. We’ve eaten gumbo with alligator, duck, shrimp, oysters, chicken, crawfish, andouille sausage and Tasso. Some are as thick as swamp water; while others have a thin, but smooth finish.

The New Orleans trio of red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo at the Chartres House in NOLA.
We have visited New Orleans three times – one for our wedding in March. So this southern city holds a special place in my heart.  Now, I live 6,200 miles away, and I am craving a big bowl of gumbo.

During the past few days, the weather suddenly turned damp and a bit chilly. I thought ‘perfect weather to make gumbo!’

I’ve made gumbo a couple times with chicken, shrimp and/or andouille sausage.  But how does one make gumbo in Turkey without andouille sausage? I decided to find out.

When you don’t have certain ingredients, you must be creative and improvise. I don’t exactly follow savory recipes anyway. I follow my own intuition and adjust ingredients here and there to my liking.

Gumbo requires a few key ingredients: a dark roux made from flour and fat, the “holy trinity” of green bell pepper, celery and onion and of course, patience. For the meat, I decided to use chicken and “sucuk”  – a spicy sausage similar to chorizo.  To replace the smokiness from the andouille sausage, I found a package of sliced “fume et 100% dana” – meaning smoked meat 100% veal.

When cooking the sucuk, a local friend suggested turning on my oven’s hood and opening as many windows as possible. It is very garlicky and heavily seasoned with allspice, cumin, red and black pepper and salt. The different smells permeate the air.  In the states, I normally would add a few chopped cloves of garlic when sautéing the onions, but my Turkish gumbo did not need it. In fact, I added very little salt and pepper while the gumbo was cooking because both meats seemed a little salty.

Local bamya
I also wanted to use okra, or “bamya,” in my gumbo.  The okra is beautiful here, with most being about the size of my pinky or smaller.  I’ve only used okra when making gumbo, but the “slimy” pods are used in various Turkish stews. If you can’t find fresh okra, I have used frozen during the winter months back in the states.

At the grocery store, I found imported red and green bell peppers from California for about 3 times the price as local peppers. Instead, I chose a local, pale green pepper called “biber dolma.” The labels next to most of the local produce said they were grown in Antalya, a region of southwestern Turkey bordering the Mediterranean Sea.

Finally, I had my ingredients. I went home and started the time consuming task of making my gumbo. By the time my husband came home from work, the gumbo was simmering gently on the stove. He said he immediately could smell the fragrance of gumbo wafting from the kitchen. That was certainly a good sign.

The end result was a tasty, slightly smoky gumbo bejeweled with chunks of okra, chicken, sucuk and veal. A little taste of New Orleans made with my own style.

We garnished our brown, velveteen gumbo with a dusting of ground file’ powder and a few drops of Tabasco on top.

Afiyet Olsun!

Total cooking and prep time: about 2 ½  hours
Serves about 8
(In the states, I’d recommend using a total weight of 1 ½ pounds of chicken and andouille sausage for the meats below.)
½             c.             All-purpose flour
½             c.             fat (I used 2 oz. butter and 2 oz. canola oil)
2              qts.        water or chicken stock
9              oz.          sucuk, chopped small
4              oz.          fume et, chopped small
12           oz.          chicken, chopped small
5              oz.          onion, diced small (approx. 2/3 cup)
5              oz.          green bell pepper, diced small (approx. 2/3 cup)
5              oz.          celery, diced small (approx.  2/3 cup)
6              oz.          okra, sliced ¼-inch thick
2              tsp.        Cajun spice such as “Slap Ya Mama”
1              T.            Worcestershire sauce
¼             c.             parsley, chopped finely
To taste                salt and black pepper

Optional: ¼         tsp.        ground file’ powder (Sprinkle this spice on top at the very end after removing the pot from the burner. File’ is made from ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree and is used as a thickener.)

1.  Start with the roux, which is a mixture of flour and fat that, after slowly cooked is used to thicken sauces and soups such as this gumbo. Plan on at least 1 hour for this. Do not walk too far away from the stove. (I was nervous about burning the roux so I did it slow and steady. I chopped all my other ingredients during this time. However, if you use a heavy, cast iron skillet or Dutch oven and stir constantly over medium high heat, the roux may take you only 20 minutes to make, according to other recipes I researched.)

2. Melt the fat over low heat. When warm and fluid, sprinkle the flour in a little at a time, stirring often with a wooden spoon.  The roux will change colors - from a blond to a peanut butter colored roux - as it cooks. About halfway through, I turned up the burner’s heat to medium high. I kept stirring mine until I developed a dark brown roux that had a nutty aroma.

3. Immediately, pour the roux into a shallow bowl and let cool to room temperature.

4. Next, sauté the sucuk about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and blot off extra grease with paper towels.
Here is the sucuk cooking.
5. Then, sauté the chicken and fume et together about 10 minutes, just to cook the chicken a bit. Then set aside for later.

6. Meanwhile, heat the chicken stock or water until hot. Slowly, whisk in the roux you made earlier. Leave this pot on low heat until you are ready for it in a few steps.

7. Sauté the okra for 3 to 5 minutes. (This is supposed to help reduce some of the Nickelodeon sliminess that okra exudes.) Set aside in a bowl.

Here is the "holy trinity."
8. Heat about 1 tablespoon of canola oil in an 8-quart stock pot. Add the celery, green pepper and onions together. Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Sweat the vegetables just to soften them. Do not brown. Stir with a wooden spoon or spatula. Reserve for later.

9. To the stock pot, add the meats, okra, Worcestershire sauce, Cajun spices, parsley and cover with the reserved stock or water. Place a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil. Then, turn down the heat and let the gumbo simmer for 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

10. Serve the gumbo over cooked white rice and with crusty bread, which you can use to soak up the juices.  Tableside, season with your favorite hot sauce and sprinkle with ground file if you so desire.

Gumbo even tastes better the next day.

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