Small Space Cuisine: Gumbo

I’m fascinated by small spaces―especially tiny kitchens.  Nothing is more challenging than creating great food under peculiar conditions.

Maybe that’s why I loved my time cooking on the water and making the best of whatever came my way:  on sailboats, dive boats, mega yachts―even private tropical islands, where crucial resources such as power and water are often limited.

Smaller spaces tend to make for greater efficiency since everything is within arm’s reach.  However, planning ahead is key since success depends radically on optimizing all that is readily available.

In a limited setting one-pot cuisine is a natural solution for enticing,well-balanced meals.  It might be necessary to make a few concessions along the way, but it will still be amazing.  For example, depending on equipment and space constraints, you might want to re-consider when and where to include a starch.  Perhaps it will make more sense to add it directly to the pot rather than cooking it separately.

Nothing beats gumbo when it comes to meal-time flexibility. Gumbo

By its very nature, gumbo lends itself to tons of variation, too.  Here, nutritional value is easily bumped up by the addition of hearty greens, and full-flavored black-eyed peas, precooked or canned, become a handy, satisfying support component.

For an authentic gumbo flavor, be sure to include the roux process.  Although it is time consuming, this is not a step to skip, and can be done well ahead.  Begin by slowly browning the oil and flour; when you’ve developed a rich, deep mahogany color add the vegetables to the roux.  Include protein such as ham, sausage, or chicken plus some handy dried herbs like thyme and bay; you can even add rice for toasting at this point.   Dilute it all with a good chicken stock, throw in your greens if desired, and let it all simmer 20-30 minutes, until the greens are tender.

If serving rice separately, consider one of the easy microwaveable pouches of basmati― ready in less than two minutes.  Here’s a basic recipe which allows for plenty of adaptation.

Gumbo with Black-eyed Peas and Ham

Ingredients
2-3 Tbsp. oil
¼ cup flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 cups smoked ham, cubed
2 cups sausage, andouille, polish, or garlic sausage of choice, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 -2 jalapeno peppers, seeded minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, seeded and chopped, or 8 oz can diced tomatoes
1 qt chicken stock, or more
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste
14 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1-2 lbs tender greens, kale, collard or spinach cleaned, stemmed, cup up
2 tsp file powder, optional
Add-ons:
2 cups cooked basmati rice, 1/2 cup chopped green onions, hot sauce

Directions

  1. In a soup pot over medium, heat the oil; add the flour and stir occasionally for 20-30 minutes until it reaches a deep mahogany color.
  2. Add the onion and garlic to the roux, stirring until aromatic and the onion has softened.  Add the jalapeno pepper, the dried herbs, the ham and sausage, and cook briefly to combine.
  3. Add the tomato and slowly stir in the stock, season with salt, pepper and cayenne; add the black-eyed peas and the greens if using, and cook until they are tender 20-30 minutes.  Stir in spinach just before serving.
  4. To thicken gumbo further file powder can be added just before serving, allow it to briefly simmer until it thickens.  Adjust seasoning and serve hot topped with hot rice, green onions and hot sauce.  Serves 4 or more.
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