Monday, September 3, 2012

West Coast Gumbo

This year I decided to plant okra. Having no room in my raised beds, I had the brilliant idea to use old black plastic 5 gallon pots that were laying around the farm. I love okra but have read that it is difficult to germinate because the seed is so hard. Once you get it to sprout, though, it is supposed to be a fast-growing plant that doesn't need much watering or care other than the occasional shot of organic fertilizer. I followed all the rules - soaking the seeds 24 hours before planting them and making sure they were in a nice sunny location. And ALL SEVENTEEN of my okra plants sprouted! I was elated, then started to get a bit panicky. What on earth was I going to do with 17 bushes worth of okra?

Well, as usual, my daydreams of drowning in unnecessary vegetables were unfounded: the plants grew a few inches, made about three leaves each, then stopped growing. They stayed exactly as they were all summer long: green, beautiful, and tiny. I tried fertilizing, I tried letting the soil dry out between waterings, but nothing I did made them grow. Last week I gave up on them and dumped them out of their black plastic pots. And lo-and-behold, the soil in the bottom of the pots was water-logged. Okra is a tropical plant that likes well-draining soil, and too much water will stunt its growth. Even though the top few inches of soil was drying out, the pots were holding in too much moisture to let the plants grow. Oh well, I guess I can try again next year.

Luckily, the farmer's market is full of stalls selling freshly-picked okra. You must have the fresh stuff - it really doesn't taste like much of anything even two days after it is picked, and goes slimy and gross a few days after that. My favorite way to eat okra is in soup. When it cooks, okra releases a gelatinous slime that makes it pretty unappetizing to eat on its own. In a soup or stew, though, it thickens up the broth perfectly. This summer we bought okra often enough that I came up with my own version of gumbo - I call it west-coast gumbo because I've actually only had "real" gumbo once in my life and am not sure what the requirements are. This is not a soup that you just whip up half an hour before dinner - it definitely takes time to follow all the steps and develop the flavors. But it is worth the work!


Secret Sauce Ingredients
3 dried entero chili pods, stems and seeds removed
1/3 cup sun dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 large shallot, sliced
2 t olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 t sesame oil
1 t cumin
1/2 t thyme

Soup Ingredients
3 T olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 t dry thyme
2 1/2 t smoked paprika
1.5 lbs okra, stems removed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 C cooked shredded chicken*
1/2 t ground pepper
1 heaping Tbsp. granulated garlic
6 C broth

First you will need to make your secret sauce. This is used to add flavor to the soup and thicken the broth. Do not skip the secret sauce!!!

1.) Place chili pods and sun dried tomatoes in a small sauce pot. Add water till covered by 3-4 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered for up to an hour until the chilis are very tender, adding more water as needed. When the chilis and tomatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, remove from heat, strain out the excess water, and set aside.

2.) Meanwhile, heat 2t olive oil in a pan. Add diced shallot and caramelize over low-med. heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is fragrant. Add the shallot to the chili mixture.

3.) Stir in remaining ingredients and blend with immersion blender till mostly smooth. It should look something like this at first:

And when it is all mixed up, it should look like this:

Cover your secret sauce and put in the fridge to allow the flavors to marry while you make the rest of the soup.

1.) In large pot heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook, stirring, till onion is translucent.

2.) Stir in the thyme and paprika and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3.) Add the chopped okra and 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir to combine everything together. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until okra begins to get tender and slimy.

4.) Add cooked chicken and secret sauce and stir well. Stir in ground pepper and garlic. Allow to heat up, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5.) Add your broth, stirring well. Turn heat to high and bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer until soup is thick and bubbly - the longer the better. You can't really cook this soup for too long - the longer it cooks, the better it seems to taste.

6.) Season with salt and pepper if needed and serve over brown rice.

* When I make this soup I usually use chicken we have left-over from a whole cooked chicken the night before, so the meat is seasoned and ready to go. If you are starting from scratch, I recommend seasoning your meat with a dry rub of equal parts granulated garlic and smoked paprika, and a bit of salt. Cook on the stove top then shred.


  1. This looks so good! Okra is one of my new favorite things, so this is totally up my alley. :-)

    1. Kristy, coming from you that is an absolute honor! You could easily veganize the whole thing by leaving out the chicken and using vegetable stock