Shrimp and Okra Gumbo
Okra is delicious and doesn’t have to be slimy! We had a whole summer of okra abundance, cooking it up at least twice a week in different guises. Harris always plants okra, but until we got married, I never cooked or ate much of this vegetable. Like most okra-shy people, even the idea of slime was off-putting, but the challenge didn’t deter me. With so many pods flourishing in the garden, we didn’t want waste any. And who doesn’t think the flower is gorgeous? Related to hibiscus, most of this year’s okra is red that turns green when it’s cooked.
The flavor of okra is mild with a taste that reminds me of asparagus. If you object to the gooey texture like I do, it is easily eliminated by cooking the sliced pods in ghee, lard or coconut oil without any liquid. Then it can be added to whatever recipe you like: goo-be-gone! You can pull off this trick with frozen okra, too. The okra will become very soft, and it sort of melts into the other ingredients. If you’re an okra devotee, this probably won’t bother you.
When I decided that I’d like to come up with my version of the South Louisiana staple, Shrimp and Okra Gumbo, I consulted my darling husband first. He likes the viscous texture of boiled okra. And he rejected the inclusion of tomatoes and sausage— it’s not the way his mama made it. So I thought I’d experiment and make the gumbo his way and mine. I love tomatoes with okra; they’re kissing cousins, and something porky in the mix can’t be beat. I wasn’t going to eliminate either. And I thought that dashi would make an excellent broth instead of the water that most recipes use.
Dashi is the easiest of all the stocks to make. It’s rich with minerals from kombu (a type of seaweed) and has a lovely smoky edge from the bonito (smoked, fermented, dried and flaked tuna). One of the original Iron Chefs, Michiba, started nearly every battle making a fresh batch of this “broth of vigor.” And unlike bone broths, dashi take less than 20 minutes to make, so Michiba could wallop the competition in record time. Dashi is packed with nutrients that most Americans miss out on since we’re not inclined to eat many sea vegetables. I love the flavor and use it as my go-to seafood stock. It’s gently reminiscent of the ocean and can be used in non-seafood dishes without seeming out of place. Make extra and freeze it in ice cubes trays so you’ll have some when you want to boost the umami of a dish.
By now my gumbo was all kinds of wrong in Harris’s estimation. But I asked him to keep an open mind. When he got home from “school,” (he’s a technical instructor), he was super hungry as he doesn’t eat breakfast during the week and had to skip lunch for a meeting. He looked at the pots of gumbo on the stove and opted right away for my version. He didn’t even try the gloopy one sans tomatoes and sausage. We serve gumbo over rice, but you can keep it paleo by eliminating it or using cauliflower “rice.” Harris has decided he loves my recipe and gives it his ultimate compliment: “You can make this anytime. I could eat it every day.”
On to dessert. I’ve wanted to tackle a paleo banana pudding for a while and come up with a recipe that used no added sugars. After checking in at Cook’s Illustrated, I decided to follow their technique of roasting some of the bananas which concentrates the flavor and then double the impact with fresh bananas. I also wanted to add pineapple since it would play well with the coconut milk base. To ramp up the pineapple’s flavor and bring out more of the sweetness, I sautéed it in butter. For a final tropical twist, there are toasted macadamia nuts. Whipped cream is optional, but it’s also delicious. Or you could whip up the coconut cream that rises to the top of a chilled can of coconut milk (use regular coconut milk, not lite).
Since this is a quintessential Southern meal, I thought some Southern rock would be in order. I found a list of “best unknown Southern rock tunes” compiled by Brion McClanahan. He did an awesome job, so I’ll share his treasure trove. Bon appétit!
- 4 cups dashi (recipe follows)
- 1 tbsp lard, ghee, or coconut oil
- 2 cups fresh okra sliced
- 1 slice bacon chopped
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 small green bell or poblano pepper chopped
- 2 cloves garlic or shallot
- Cajun or Creole seasoning to taste (or use salt, pepper and caynne)
- 2 tbsp lard or ghee
- 1/8 cup rice flour (omit for paleo version)
- 1 can tomatoes and chilies (such as Ro*tel)
- 1 lb shrimp peeled and de-veined
- 4 oz smoked sausage cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup parsley minced
- 2 green onions minced
- 2 cups cooked rice (or cauliflower "rice" for paleo version)
Make the dashi and set aside.
In a skillet large enough to hold the okra in a single layer, melt lard or ghee over medium heat. Add okra and cook, stirring occasionally for 10-12 minutes, until fully cooked and vegetable shows no sign of stickiness. Remove from heat and set aside.
In a Dutch oven or other large pot, sauté bacon over medium heat until partially rendered, about 2 minutes. Add onion and sauté 5 minutes. Add celery, green pepper, garlic and seasoning. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove vegetables to a bowl and heat lard or ghee over medium to medium-high heat. Add rice flour and stir constantly with wooden spoon, being very careful not to splash yourself with mixture (it gets extremely hot) until roux is the color of peanut butter about 7-8 minutes. Lower heat if necessary, and do not walk away from pan as roux will burn. It will continue to cook and darken. (Omit this step for paleo version.)
Lower heat to medium, add vegetables and quickly mix together to stop the roux from over cooking.
Add tomatoes, 3 cups of dashi, okra and sausage. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add shrimp and cook just until shrimp turns pink, about 3-4 minutes. Add additional dashi to thin if necessary. Taste and correct for seasoning.
Place 1/2 cup of rice in gumbo or other bowl. Ladle gumbo over rice, garnish with parsley and green onions.
- 1 4-inch piece kombu wiped with damp paper towel
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup dried bonito flakes
Place water in saucepan. Add kombu. Set over medium heat and allow to come to a slow simmer, about 10 minutes.
Remove from heat, remove and discard kombu. Add bonito flakes to pan. Allow to settle and steep, 10 minutes.
Strain through fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or coffee filter. Discard bonito flakes.
- 6 bananas a bit under ripe, divided
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 1/2 cups pineapple cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 can coconut milk divided, (not lite)
- 1 envelope gelatin
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 oz macadamia nuts toasted
- 1 cup whipped cream optional
Preheat oven to 325. Place 3 bananas on cookie sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Skins will be black. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
Meanwhile add butter to large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Add pineapple and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat if pineapple begins to get too brown.
While fruits are cooking, add 1/4 cup or so of coconut milk to large bowl. Add gelatin, vanilla and salt. Allow gelatin to soften.
In a separate bowl, add remaining 3 bananas, sliced. Sprinkle with lemon juice and mix gently. The lemon juice will help keep the bananas from browning.
Remove roasted bananas from skins and add to gelatin mixture. Mash and mix well. Add remaining coconut milk and stir. Fold in uncooked bananas and pineapple. Mix thoroughly, but gently.
Spoon into individual serving bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Top with toasted macadamias and whipped cream, if desired.