February is heart health month and to kick it off, I give you … (Mardi Gras snare drum drumroll) … gumbo. Who’s with me?
If you haven’t heard it through the grapevine, gumbo is a thick and tangy stew seasoned with creole herbs. In fact, gumbo is so delicious it has been made Louisiana’s official dish. There are as many twists on gumbo out there as there are galaxies (translation: many), with different varieties featuring ingredients such as sausage, chicken, shrimp, roasted potatoes, cajun seasonings, etc. But of course, I went all out and made it vegan. 😉 This particular gumbo has been thickened with a toasty roux and okra is its superstar.
I must say it’s ironic when you think of how much Southern cuisine has been permeated by the dietary customs and traditions of the slaves. Many of the one-pot meals, such as gumbo, came to these Americans from the slaves. This is because many Africans who arrived on the North American shores came with their own food: eggplant, sweet potatoes, watermelon, several types of rice and black-eyed peas. Nowadays, all of these foods are considered “southern cuisine”.
On the topic of heart-health month, let’s talk about okra. Okra is a gourmet staple found in Cajun, Creole and African cuisines. More importantly though, okra is beautiful on the inside and out. As you’ll chop it, you’ll notice some clear “aloe-vera-ish stuff” oozing out of this slimy vegetable. This is due to its soluble fiber content. Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that binds cholesterol in your intestines and happily chaperones it out of your body. Foods that contain soluble fiber often have a soft and gummy texture. Some examples include chickpeas, oats, passion fruit, avocado, dried figs, flaxseeds, chia seeds and psyllium husks (for the latter two, think of their texture when they are hydrated), and of course, okra!
Although every single ingredient in the following recipe is a friend to your heart, I’d like to say a word about the humble tomato. The tomato is an excellent source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant which helps protect thy heart. Lycopene helps your love organ by reducing LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), which tends to leave cholesterol deposits along the insides of your arteries (thanks for nothing, LDL!). People often think that raw vegetables are superior to cooked vegetables. This may sometimes hold true but when it comes to the tomato specifically, it is important to know that cooking tomatoes doubles their beneficial lycopene content. Moreover, the presence of oil (ahem – as is the case in this olive-oil-containing recipe) renders the lycopene more easy to absorb (five thumbs up).
Southern food = soul food.
More-or-Less-Traditional Gumbo 😉
- 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup unbleached organic flour
- 1 medium onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 organic red bell pepper
- 2 pints of organic cherry tomatoes
- 1 tsp. salt
- Fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tsp. paprika
- 10 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 1/2 cups organic vegetable broth
- 2 cups okra, sliced
- 1 can of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1 can of red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- Cooked brown rice, for serving (cook each cup of rice in double its volume in water and a touch of salt)
- Prepare your roux by adding olive oil and flour to a skillet and heating on medium-low heat, stirring all the while. After about 5 minutes, add the salt and the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.
- Next, add the red pepper and fresh tomatoes (you can add them in whole or halved) and cook for around 10 minutes.
- Pour vegetable broth into the skillet, add the legumes and okra and add in the cracked black pepper, bay leaves, paprika and thyme. Mix well before bringing to a boil.
- Once this concoction is over 100 degrees Celsius (a.k.a boiling), lower the heat to “low” and cook for about 40 minutes, stirring every so often. Add lemon juice and add salt to your tastes.
- Fish out the bay leaves and voilà! Dinner is served.
Paula Deen’s got nothing on this gumbo! 🙂
Perfect for Mardi Gras, or just any day of the week. 😉
For other heart-health tips, read the following blog post. 🙂