Vegetarian Gumbo

Vegetarian Gumbo Recipe


Good vegetarian gumbo exists. My neighbor Kim makes it for us, but only once a year. Kim is one of those 25th generation gumbo makers from the south, who (years ago) told me about a vegetarian gumbo her mom used to make during Lent, or during times when meat wasn't readily available or affordable. The gumbo was served over rice, and just before serving eggs were poached in the simmering gravy. I eventually asked Kim if she would teach me to make this type of gumbo, and Friday night (after multiple lessons, and plenty of phone calls) I made a big pot of it to share with our friends and neighbors who swing by on Halloween.

Vegetarian Gumbo

A bit of context - Wayne and I live on a street that dead-ends into a park. On Halloween hundreds of kids (and adults) parade by our front door as they trick-or-treat or make their way toward the Castro Halloween festivities. Neighbors on our block sit on the steps in front of their houses and give out candy, chat with each other, and people-watch. This has been going on for years. And every year, on our stretch of street, Kim would have a pot of gumbo bubbling away upstairs in her apartment. She'd offer up a bowl to any friends who stopped by. Now people stop by just to enjoy Kim's gumbo. Kim usually does a sausage gumbo, but an increasing number people who come over are vegetarian (this being San Francisco and all ;) - and she wanted to share with them as well. To make a long story short, Kim started making a separate pot of vegetarian gumbo and I loved it. Over the past year she taught me to make it, and put me on vegetarian gumbo duty this year for Halloween.

Vegetarian Gumbo

The recipe that follows is the gumbo I served on Halloween. Over the past few months Kim and I have tried a few variations to see what really makes veg gumbo great - I'll note some of our findings in the head note of the recipe, in case you are wondering about substitutions.

If you're after a "quick and easy" gumbo recipe this isn't it. While seemingly simple - you make the roux, then you make the gumbo - it takes the better part of a morning or afternoon. More importantly, it takes patience, and focus, and attention to little details. I suspect gumbo-making is one of those things where you get better with each notch on your wooden gumbo spoon. More than any other food I've cooked, it's all about watching, and smelling, listening, and tasting.

 
 
 
 

Vegetarian Gumbo

Please be very, very careful when you're making the roux. It is hot oil, and you don't want to be burned by it. Keep a very close eye on it the entire time it cooks, making sure it sits at a temperature that allows the flour to brown over time, but not hot enough that the clarified butter (or oil) smokes or burns.

Kim has a special gumbo/roux spoon with a hole in it (you can see in the photo) - highly recommended. And for those of you curious about substitutions, Kim typically uses canola oil or some other high smoking point oil for her roux. We did a beautiful version at one point with olive oil, but it's really too difficult to keep the olive oil below its smoking point and still get a nice dark brown roux out of it. The smoke point on various olive oils varies greatly, so I can't recommend it. Clarified butter (or ghee) worked great! It is a rich-tasting cooking fat I love to use, so that is what I settled on for last night. For those of you not wanting to use a white flour, we had success with a 1/2 & 1/2 blend of whole wheat pastry flour and unbleached all-purpose white flour. The batch we did with ALL whole wheat pastry flour left the roux with lots of little freckles (the germ I suspect)...but it still tasted quite good.

The choice of broth in this recipe is important! You want one that isn't too celery-tasting, not too herby, not swampy colored. I did a blend of 2 parts Pacific Natural Foods Organic Vegetable Broth, to 1 part Rapunzel brand (from bouillon). Kim says she likes the Wolfgang Puck's Organic vegetable stock as well. Whatever broth/stock you use, taste it before adding it to your gumbo pot. Would you like to drink a warm bowl of it? If your answer is no, keep working with it - add salt, or dilute it, etc. It's hard to get that balance right once the stock is in the pot.

1 cup clarified butter (or ghee)
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

5 cups yellow onion, chopped into 1/3-inch dice
3/4 cup green bell pepper, chopped into 1/3-inch dice
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
1/4 cup garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 dried bay leaves
3-4 quarts of a great tasting vegetable broth (see head notes!)
Gumbo file'
1 bunch green onions, chopped green ends only
6-8 eggs
5- 6 cups cooked long grain white or brown basmati rice

To make the roux:

In a large cast-iron or enameled cast iron pot, heat the clarified butter. When it is melted stir in the flour. Continue stirring until smooth and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir EVERY 10-15 seconds with a bone dry wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pot clean each time for about an hour and a half, or until the roux is a deep, deep brown - roughly the shade of a Hershey's Chocolate Bar. The amount of time this takes can vary wildly. The roux will likely bubble quite a bit more at the beginning than it does at the end. Throughout the cooking process my roux temperature bounces around in the 300F - 330F range, but use your nose and eyes (particularly if you don't have a thermometer). The key is to keep the roux hot, but not so hot that it puts off smoke or other acrid smells. The consistency as it is cooking should be that of a thick, creamy hair conditioner. If after thirty minutes of cooking, your roux is too thin (or has visible pools of butter on top), add one or two more handfuls of flour, stirring until incorporated. When the roux is finished cooking, let it cool a bit before carefully transferring to a glass Mason jar or Pyrex container. This will make enough roux for two big pots of gumbo. Leftover roux can be kept in your refrigerator for a couple weeks.

To make the gumbo:

Scoop 1/2 cup of roux into a cold thick-bottomed pot. Alternately, you can just leave about 1/2 cup of the roux in the base of the pot you made your roux in originally, if it is large enough. Stir in the onion, green bell pepper, and salt. You want just enough roux to coat the onions/peppers (see photo) - too much roux and you end up with a muddy gumbo. Cook over medium high heat until onions aren't translucent, roughly 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for another minute or so. Now stir in 6 cups of stock, and the bay leaves. Bring to bubbling boil. Boil, boil, boil (see photo) and when it thickens add more stock a cup at a time. Keep adding stock and boiling for two hours - the gumbo should be thicker than a heavy cream, but thinner than a heavy gravy. Imagine it ladled over rice. I taste along the way, but here is where I make final adjustments - does your gumbo need more salt? Don't under salt or the gumbo will taste flat. Maybe it needs a bit more acidity? You can stir in white vinegar (1/4 teaspoon at a time) to get the right balance on this front. A couple pinches of smoked paprika adds depth, but maybe you need a touch of sweetness, a pinch or two of sugar will do. If you aren't excited about how it tastes, keep at it, one tiny adjustment at a time - remembering that you can always add, but never take away. Cover towards the end, dial down the heat and simmer. Remove bay leaves.

Ten minutes before you are ready to serve the gumbo, poach the eggs. Gently crack one egg into a ramekin, lower the ramekin down into the barely simmering gumbo and let the egg slip out. Let it simmer there for a few minutes, past the point when the whites have become thoroughly opaque. If you like a loose yolk, cook for less time. Repeat with three more eggs (I poach the eggs in batches of 3 or 4).

To serve, place a scoop of rice in each bowl, top with one egg, and a ladle of gravy, the rice shouldn't be totally submerged in the gravy, it should peak up above it in places. Finish with a small pinch of file' and about a tablespoon of the chopped green onions. Repeat with the remaining 3-4 eggs.

Serves 6 - 8.

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Your Comments


Sophie
November 2, 2008

Heidi, that sounds like quite an honour and a reponsibility to be put in charge of the vegetarian gumbo!

It's quite an intriguing recipe, with the gumbo file and roux

 

Fit Bottomed Girls
November 2, 2008

It sounds delightful. I love how it's a Halloween tradition. And who'dathunk that you could make it vegetarian. I love it.

 

Keron
November 2, 2008

This sounds wonderful. Thanks for posting it! I like to use smoked tofu in veg gumbo. It adds a nice flavor and just the right bite texture to play off the vegetables.

 

Sounds wonderful! And you're right, it does sound like a lot of work too, but it might just be worth it. Especially on a cold, fall day...

 

Frank
November 2, 2008

I'd recommend Alton Brown's method for making the roux:

Put the roux mixture, uncovered, in a 350F oven for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. This eliminates the problem of burning.

HS: Hi Frank, Kim actually tested out an oven-roux version for one of her pots this year, but after two hours ended up finishing it on the stove top. Not to say it doesn't work...but I think it takes some mastering to get it right. Do you do your roux in the oven using his method with success? If so, I'll take a closer look - use the same oil, etc.

 

Kaylee
November 2, 2008

Wow, that roux-making is a labor of love (my soups never need more than a couple tablespoons of roux). My only question is, where's the okra? Where's the guest-of-honor, in all of it's wonderful slime? Isn't that one of the great charateristics of a gumbo, and one that would be perfectly at home in a veggie-gumbo?

 

Erin
November 2, 2008

Ohh. . .this looks wonderful. I am a nut for gumbo and I am pleased to see such a creative alternative.

 

Darren
November 2, 2008

Big, BIG Gumbo fan. Can't wait to try this recipe, it looks wonderful.

 

Babeth
November 2, 2008

Thanks Heidi for this yummy post about veg gumbo. You make me wanting to try :-)

 

Kristin
November 2, 2008

Wow.. my dad grew up in southeast texas and this looks a lot like his duck and sausage gumbo minus the duck and sausage (and celery) :) I have learned over the years that making a deep dark roux the way we like over the stove can be quite dangerous ( I saw someone mentioned the oven method). Although my dad sticks his nose up at this method, my grandmother and I swear that the microwave method is the way to go to minimize cleanup and grease burns. I also find that it gives you more control over the color of the roux. The formula for this would be 1 part grease to 1 part flour (about a cup of each is the norm). Then microwave it for a couple of minutes in a heat proof bowl to get it going, and then stop every minute or so to stir until the roux is sufficiently brown.

 

Kristin
November 2, 2008

p.s. to Kaylee- I believe I recall reading in a previous post on nopales that Heidi doesn't care for okra, so that probably would explain its absence here. And just for the record, I love okra, but we never put it in our gumbo.

 

Haley W.
November 2, 2008

This looks really interesting - I'd never considered vegetarian gumbo before.

I love to include okra when I make gumbo; I love the sweetness they add.

 

Nirvana
November 2, 2008

This looks beyond amazing!!! I cannot wait to try it.

 

Ny
November 2, 2008

Sounds delicious. I'm from a cajun family down in Texas and remember my mom sometimes using a store-bought roux when she was crunched for time and still wanted to make gumbo. To this day, I can' t tell the difference. It's called Kary's Roux and it can be ordered online (as I guess it's probably only sold in stores regionally.) And it can be used for other foods, too. For those that still have meat eaters in the family, using roux is great in smothered chicken and pork chops.

 

Tara
November 2, 2008

Sounds yummy, but I can never understand why anyone would buy broth. It's all "flavor enhanced" in some form or other (read: clever wording on the ingredient list).

I have a huge pot of broth simmering on the stove right now. It's full of squash trimmings from supper, onion ends and skins, garlic, carrot tops and bottoms, a whole head of cabbage that got a little frozen in our fridge, celery ends and tops, a few different types of seaweeds, fresh herbs, and some chicken bones from our lovely dinner. When it's all said and done we'll have jars and jars of frozen stock, loaded with vitamins and minerals, that supplements any recipe.

 

VeggieGirl
November 2, 2008

Comforting!!

 

Culinary Cory
November 2, 2008

I love gumbo. It's so hearty and comforting on a breezy fall day.

 

Jan
November 2, 2008

Is clarified butter (ghee) vegetarian? I would have thought it is an animal product. Just wondering....

HS: Hi Jan, it is considered vegetarian (where I live), but not vegan - vegan being free of any animal product.

 

BajanVeg
November 2, 2008

To Kaylee and Kristin
Heidi is using Gumbo File' which is used by many gumbo purists instead of okra.
File is dried and ground sassafras leaf used as a seasoning and thickener.


 

Gypsytrill
November 2, 2008

Heidi--I love getting your emails with all the yummy recipes. I am a Cajun from Louisiana but have lived in five time zones in the last ten years.
I frequently make vegetarian (and sometimes vegan) gumbo for friends, and my "secret" ingredient is smoked paprika. As someone with a traditional southerner's palate, I find that smoked paprika is the only decent substitute for smoke pork fat--which flavors so many southern dishes. Without using smoked or andouille sausage, my veggie gumbos tasted a little "hollow' until I found the smoked paprika. Bingo! Also, while living on the Mexican border in El Paso, I added hominy/pozole to the gumbo and it was great.
Happy Cooking!

HS: Yes! Thanks for the reminder, I was going to add that as a note - the smoked paprika is a nice way to balance the flavors in the pot, and add that smokey depth.

 

Tamara
November 2, 2008

Hi, I just made a veg. gumbo the other day and added Trader Joe's vegetarian chorizo - it was so good! It had this great smokey flavor that really added to the gumbo. Thanks for this recipe - I will try it next week! I also love the idea of smoked paprika! I didn't even know that existed. Thanks!

 

g shields
November 2, 2008

i was brought up in the big easy; and in response to the question about the absence of okra in gumbo, i always thought that if a roux is used then the okra is omitted. my mother made her gumbo without roux, and okra as the thickener.

 

Stephanie
November 2, 2008

I go to New Orleans twice a year and love gumbo, but I find the idea of a pouched egg in my gumbo disturbing. But hey, it could work; I guess....

 

Stephanie
November 2, 2008

In response to g shields, gumbo is thickened by the roux but the roux really gives gumbo it's color and some flavor. Gumbo is thickened by either okra or file or both. If you don't have okra, you use file powder. It's just that you should put file powder in at the end or else you get a stringy consistency.

 

John
November 2, 2008

Nice to finally see a vegetarian gumbo recipe without Okra.

Okra = KY Jelly. Bleck!

 

karen
November 2, 2008

As far as a roux goes, Mark Bittman's method works really well and is extremely fast compared to the gumbo-roux. Maybe it's the sheer amount of butter and flour you're working with here? A quick digression to say thanks to for recommending MBs "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" a few months back. It is my cooking *Bible* and I reference it probably 4-5 times a week.

 

Maeve
November 3, 2008

Does anyone have any recommendations for a wheat-flour substitute for use in a roux? I've tried both rice and amaranth flours, with no success. I know I can use cornstarch for thickening, later in the cooking, but it still doesn't give it the same rich flavor as a roux. I can't use spelt flour, either (though I have no idea if it would be good, anyhow).

 

Knitter
November 3, 2008

Roux can easily and quickly be made in a microwave! I put my ingredients in a Pyrex bowl. I stop the microwave every 15-30 seconds to stir it. In about 10 minutes, or less, I have perfect chocolate brown roux.

Now I just have to figure out how to make a gluten free roux. :(

 

Ro
November 3, 2008

I recently made a roux using Bob's Red Mill all purpose NON GLUTEN flour. Thickens up nicely, no problems, normal color.

 

David in San Antonio
November 3, 2008

I used the traditional method to make my roux until I learned a much faster technique from one of Paul Prudhomme's books. You just get the fat really hot, then add the flour and stir like crazy until it gets to the color you want. Now I make it either that way or in the microwave, depending on whim.

 

Maeve
November 3, 2008

Ro -

Great idea. I'd only recently seen the stuff and it hadn't quite made it into my mental pantry yet.

 

Debbie Schnell
November 3, 2008

To the okra haters out there...... fry it first! Give okra another shot, it won't be slimy at all if you fry it down real good before adding it to your gumbo (or smothered okra with tomatoes, yum.) Just start with a bit of fat; ghee, bacon grease, canola oil, whatever you like in a heavy enameled cast-iron pot, and add in sliced okra. Smother it down until it gets pretty browned all over and looses its slime. Voila! It has a completely different character prepared like this. Okra also shines if coated in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried!

A side note about gluten-free roux..... As a born and raised New Orleanian who also happens to be a Celiac, I have tried many flours/starches/powders to make the perfect roux and for gumbo, I have found sorghum as my favorite. I don't like it in a more delicate dish, for a lighter roux I use potato flour, but that can get gummy if over done. Rice flour is just too gritty and bean flours have too strong a taste. I have heard teff is a good alternative, but I have never had the opportunity to try it for myself.

 

Maeve
November 3, 2008

Re: Gluten-Free Roux

I had a friend just suggest barley flour or millet flour. Thoughts?

Debbie Schnell -

I'll have to pick up some sorghum flour and potato flour.

I'm acquiring so many flours, due to this diet change (dear gods, I'm off wheat, sugar and dairy), I'm gonna have to find more pantry space!

PS - GF folks, I have found a wonderful resource in my local Asian market for cheaper rice (and other alternative) flours. Far better prices than Whole Paycheck and both my local natural-ish food markets. Plus, I've discovered fun stuff like rice noodle macaroni and ramen-like stuff made with glass thread noodles.

 

brandon
November 3, 2008

Any idea what could be used in place of eggs? I'm allergic :(

 

Maeve
November 3, 2008

Brandon -

Logically, any kind of protein could be substituted. Tofu, tempeh, chicken, fish, whatever. Seems to me the addition of eggs was mainly to get some protein in the mix, as well as an innovative way of doing so. Cooking methods would depend on what you're adding, of course.

 

Pirouette
November 3, 2008

As a Creole woman in a long line of gumbo cooks who is looking forward to some long holiday cooking days, I can say that vegetarian gumbo sounds like a bit of an oxymoron. However, this sounds really good!

One day, I will have to make a little pot for myself. My family would never let me get away with it. :)

 

Patrick
November 3, 2008

What's wrong with whole wheat freckles in the roux? By the way, it's the bran, not the germ.

 

lisaiscooking
November 3, 2008

What a great coincidence! I just posted about gumbo as well. The whole time I was making it, I was wondering about a vegetarian version.

 

Alice
November 3, 2008

Wonderful! It reminds me of my year in Alabama as an exchange student. I'm gald to have a good vegetarian recipe now. Thanks!

 

E-mama
November 3, 2008

Why the spoon with the hole in the middle?
I'm intrigued.

 

kini
November 4, 2008

i'll try making this great gumbo,sounds good heidi!

 

Cat
November 4, 2008

Ever heard of Gumbo Z'Herbe? My mom used to make it for me when I was in high school and was still a veggie. Basically, make the roux that you describe above, and the rest of the ingredients minus the green onions (though they would work), and add a boatload of different greens. Traditionally, it would've been eaten on Good Friday in order to stay vegetarian, or for all of Lent, but for my family, it was just a nice alternative to seafood (only!) gumbo, which is expensive and full of hard to find fresh ingredients in a land-locked county.

Down south, we'd use mustard, kale, collard, and dandelion, but this recipe: http://www.gumbopages.com/food/soups/gumboz.html uses as many as possible, including those greens that we all have around, but don't always end up utilizing (beet green tops, carrot tops, radish tops) and parsley, spinach, turnip greens. Make sure and stir in extra file and cayenne at the table!

 

Pat Blackmon
November 4, 2008

Has anyone tried this with rice flour? I am a celiac who has also become allergic to meat protein. I long for gumbo & still have my old roux paddle ready to stir!

 

Pat Blackmon
November 4, 2008

Good Grief! I should have read the other posts before asking about the rice flour. Thank you all so much that had already posted for celiacs. I'm just always so ready to start altering recipes that I didn't realize the wheel had already been invented on this one. Thanks again.

 

A born-and-bred Westerner, I have to admit that I don't think I've ever even *had* gumbo. I know, shame and alarm. I may find it in me to be inspired by this gumbo, though, since I have a couple of need-to-be-used bell peppers looking at me. I'd probably add turkey sausage, since I'm not *quite* vegetarian (though most people think I am!).

I second E-Mama's query about what purpose the spoon-with-hole serves. I haven't come up with one on my own...

Thanks again, Heidi, for an innovative recipe. I come here for the unusual!

 

David G.
November 4, 2008

I'm a S. Louisiana Cook and I can share a secret with all of you.. you can make your roux in the oven so you don't have to sit an stir so much. Mix your oil/ roux together using a whisk and then place it in your (preheated) cast iron pot in the oven at 370 for 2.5 hours. No stirring required.. other added benefit is you can drain off the oil from the top and keep only the roux.

 

goodlite
November 4, 2008

that spoon with a hole in it is haunting--it reminds me of an old fashioned discipline device, yikes!

 

dave
November 4, 2008

To me the real question is :
Does anyone make a vegetarian ANDOUILLE sausage ???? or TASSO ?
If that could be procured, a vegie gumbo would be so easy for me...

Agreed that the cooking of the roux is the most important and difficult part and it takes practice....you need to know what a good roux tastes and feels like to attempt it. Advice ; head down to SW louisiana and try some gumbo.....I remember that they sold some pretty okay roux pre-made in supermarkets down there.

 

nancy
November 5, 2008

Wow, this looks delish. I think it may make it onto my table for Thanksgiving dinner!

 

Karen
November 5, 2008

I learned how to make gumbo from Poppy Tooker, who leads the New Orleans convivium of Slow Food. The secret to her roux, which she doesn't cook for nearly as long as an hour but gets to a lovely dark chocolate color, is to heat the oil and flour until it starts to take on a peanut color. Then add finely chopped onions ALL AT ONCE. The sugar in the onions cook in the hot fat and caramelize, causing the roux to turn dark brown almost "instamatically." The rest of the vegetables follow. The flavor you get using this method makes her gumbo one of the most well-known in Nola. As the ultimate compliment, Bobby Flay recently challenged her to a gumbo throwdown.

That being said, I've only made her gumbo once because I can't stand the thought of a full cup of oil in my food. Instead, I use a trick learned from Epicurious, where 1/4 cup of flour is toasted in the pot over low heat until it's a golden brown color. The flour is taken out and the vegetables and herbs are sauteed along with any meat you might use, before adding the browned flour to make a gummy roux. You then add your liquids slowly. It gives the gumbo a nice nutty flavor without all the calories from the oil.

 

judy
November 5, 2008

Sounds fabulous, I can't wait to try it. But where is the Okra?

 

s
November 6, 2008

i love how well-worn the roux spoon looks in the pictures. tell me though, what is the advantage of the hole in the spoon?

 

Band Geek 23
November 6, 2008

yummy! I loves me the gumbo!

 

Revati
November 6, 2008

I have a receipe for gumbo alot like this one, I like tomatoes, orka,celery and temph,instead of the eggs, in my gumbo. I don't eat eggs.
You can make any meat dish into veggies delightful...or vegan heaven....guilt..free...lol!!! Peace

 

Angelmaria
November 8, 2008

Wow! it's nice to See "real" people trying and testin "real" recipies..Thanks I'm paying close attention (*_*) I love to cook

 

hm
November 8, 2008

As a Louisiana native who confounded family and friends by becoming vegetarian at a very young age (more than 25 years ago), I can also recommend using mushrooms (fresh wild blends are great) to add an earthy depth and richness. Won't be at all like seafood gumbo, but comes closer to the duck or sausage gumbo i knew as a child.

 

Anonymous
November 9, 2008

Your website and recipes/stories like these remind me how excited I am to finally move back to San Francisco.

 

Dee
November 9, 2008

Your website and recipes/stories like these remind me how excited I am to finally move back to San Francisco.

 

Bee
November 10, 2008

I hesitate to mention this because of how blasphemous it might seem. I make gumbo often (and am quite famous for it amongst my circle of friends and colleagues). One ingredient I added to try to increase the vegetable content was cubes of squash. They're so beautiful in there (especially since I also use barbequed red peppers instead of green peppers - I hate the bitter flavour!) and it adds such an awesome contrasting sweetness. My husband loves it, and my friends don't even realize it shouldn't be in there!

 

Jessica Desormeaux
November 10, 2008

This sounds fantastic--can't wait to try it. While the poached egg is certainly a big departure from traditional gumbo, it sounds delicious! Do you know if there's a good substitute for the file if I can't find it at my local store?

 

Oli
November 11, 2008

Not entirely sure what the hole in the spoon does, but the Itaians have the same deal for risotto. Something about it better bringing out the starch in the rice - no idea how or why though.

 

Make Roux
November 16, 2008

I'm from Cajun/Bayou country and we do actually have vegetarian gumbo. It's called gumbo verte and it's made with all sorts of yummy greens. We ate it quite often growing up, but we're also meat eaters and ate our share of meat- and seafood-based gumbo. BTW, we also occasionally crack eggs into gumbo, or put boiled eggs in.

 

Jeani in Hampton
November 20, 2008

I noticed everyone commented on how the gumbo looked, smelled or cooking questions. No one actually said anything about how it taste. HOW DOES IT TASTE?