Gluten Free Southern Vegetarian Menu: Southern Greens and Vegetarian Gumbo Recipe

gumboblue.jpgAs you may know, I’m a northwestern girl through and through, being born in Seattle and having gone to college in Portland. I love the Northwest for its own rich culinary cuisine, enriched by its agriculture and local fisheries, not to mention espresso. But I’ve always been curious about the cuisine on the other side of the country in the South, although it seemed like it might be too based on meat dishes (barbecued ribs, southern fried chicken, jell-o salads and the like) for a vegetarian diet. And of course, gluten tainted biscuits, breads, cakes, and sauces play starring roles in Southern cuisine, further complicating the matter.
However, as I learned from some vegetarian southern friends long ago, many foundational Southern comfort dishes like biscuits or slow cooked greens are easily divested of any meat based ingredients with absolutely scrumptious results. Further, many gluten free cookbooks have offerings for Gluten Free Biscuit recipes and pies. One of my favorites is the recipe for bisquik like gluten free biscuits in Bette Hagman’s The Gluten-Free Gourmet Cooks Fast and Healthy: Wheat-Free and Gluten-Free with Less Fuss and Less Fat.I also own a unique cookbook specializing in gluten free southern recipes, although I tend to rely on Bette Hagman or Carol Fenster’s recipes for basic breads. If making biscuits from scratch seems like too much, you can find a biscuit mix from Allergy Grocer or The Gluten-Free Pantry Quick Mix.

ezfriedokra2.jpgI was recently inspired by a new (non GF) cookbook,Cookin’ Southern Vegetarian Styleto begin experimenting with the classic cornerstone of southern (especially Cajun) cuisine, roux. I first used a gluten free roux recipe to add flavor and depth to my dairy free, soy free spinach pie recipe. There was so much roux left that I decided to make a gluten free variation of a vegetarian gumbo recipe found in the above book, using heirloom tomatoes and chickpeas for additional protein and flavor. I had more okra than the recipe required, so after I cut them into chunks, coated them in cornmeal and fried them in sesame oil, I put three quarters of them in the gumbo, but served the remainder as an easy fried okra appetizer. I served the gumbo with a tasty spicy onion corn muffin recipe by Bette Hagman- it was just as good as I remembered, and it perfectly complimented the gumbo. Rice would also be tasty with gumbo, if you’d prefer. It’s the most traditional accompaniment to gumbo anyway.

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Although I’ve been disappointed with some recipes from the Cookin’ Southern Vegetarian cookbook (like the Big Bubba Tofu), my most recent experiment with slow cooked southern style greens was a huge success. DH has always balked at most greens- spinach and kale are two of his least favorite vegetables. However, when he took his first (reluctant) bite of these slow-cooked peanut greens, he looked surprised and mentioned how they “melted in the mouth.” Then he took another bite. Success! I had always been skeptical of southern greens and their lengthy cooking times. To me it seemed as though all the vitamins and flavor would surely be cooked out as the green disintegrated. But in contrary, these slowly cooked and seasoned greens seemed even more flavorful than my typical sauteed greens, and the melty buttery texture made the time investment well worth the effort. Like many of the author’s recipes, it is somewhat lacking in subtlety, so over the next few weeks I plan to tweak the recipe to be a bit healthier and more delicately seasoned. But, for now, here’s a recipe for slow cooked greens in yummy peanut sauce that I think even the most committed greens hater will enjoy.

Oh yes, and since Naomi of the Accidental Vegetarian and I are eerily in sync with our culinary inspiration, check out her alternate recipe for Not Quite Gumbo

Gluten Free Vegetarian Gumbo Recipe
Ingredients
Southern Roux:
1/4 cup sorghum flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup olive oil, less 2 tablespoons
2 tbsp sesame oil

1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 tsp. fresh thyme
3 crushed garlic cloves, chopped
1 1/2 lb okra, chopped
1-2 tbsp. corn meal
6 cups GF vegetable broth from bullion (or from scratch)
3-4 cups chopped heirloom tomatoes (if in season)- or more, to taste
2-3 cups slow cooked chickpeas
1 package firm tofu, cubed (optional- I think I would leave it out next time, unless you want extra protein)
1/2 bunch chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp. pic-a-peppa sauce (confirm GF status)
1 tbsp GF tamari
1 tsp paprika
salt, to taste

Rice or corn muffins, for serving

Goat Cheese (COMPLETELY OPTIONAL)
Hot Sauce
Coarsely Ground black pepper

Directions
How to Prepare Roux:
Either use previously prepared roux (like that from the dairy free spinach pie recipe) or make new roux. Take equal parts flour and oil and slowly heat them in a cast iron pan on medium low for 10-45 minutes, stirring constantly. Heat the flour and oil for 30 minutes, stirring constantly. Dont let the flour burn- the slower the whole process goes, the better, as turning up the heat if you get impatient is just likely to result in burned roux.

How to Make Gumbo:
Take the pre-made roux and heat it on low in a large pot, about the size of a pot for spaghetti. Throw in the first seven ingredients and cook them for half an hour or so, making sure the roux is thoroughly combined with the vegetables. You want this mixture to be pretty dry but not to burn, so add water if you must. (The low temperature will help avoid burning.)

Take your okra. I took 2 lbs of okra, cleaned and sliced, and then mixed the slices with corn meal and fried them in a little sesame oil (less than a tablespoon) in a nonstick pan. I took about 1/2 lb of those fried okra slices and added a little salt and served them as lazy fried okra. The rest I threw into the gumbo pot (after the 30 minutes are up) along with the tomatoes, chickpeas, parsley and bay leaves and all other seasonings. I poured in the vegetarian vegetable broth, mixed it, and added the tofu carefully. I brought the mixture to a boil and then lowered the heat to a simmer for a couple hours. (At least two hours is best). Taste periodically and add more seasoning to taste- hot sauce or cayenne pepper is a good addition.

Notes
Although I’m sure it is hideously untraditional, I added chickpeas to the gumbo and really liked the texture, flavor, and extra protein they added to the meal. I served the gumbo with some goats cheese sprinkled on top (I’m sure generations of southern grandmothers are spinning in their graves as we speak, but they were probably never going to approve of my vegetarian gumbo anyway. ;) ) and generous doses of coarsely ground black pepper. A little vietnamese hot sauce took it up a notch for my plate while DH enjoyed his without.
Southern Style Vegetarian Greens Recipe
Ingredients
1 bunch of greens (I like red chard, but anything will work)
3 cups water

Sauce:
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame oil (I prefer Japanese)
3 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp GF tamari (or less, to taste)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sugar
1 large clove garlic
Juice of one lemon or lime (if desired)

Directions
Cut spine out of your greens, and wash the leaves. Cut them into bite size strips.

Bring your water to a boil in a pot and then put your greens in the pot, in stages if necessary. They will all fit, though! You don’t have to worry about being careful- just smoosh your greens in there. Then cover your greens and lower the temperature to a simmer for 45 minutes up to 2 hours. (No, i’m not kidding.) 45 minutes is probably fine for chard- the really tough greens like mustard greens or collards take a long time to get the desired buttery melty texture.

While your greens are simmering, combine sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor and process into a sauce.

When greens are done, drain them and put them in a pretty serving dish. Pour your sauce over them and serve.

There may be extra sauce, that’s ok, you can get greedy with it or reserve some for another snack- say, a small package of rice noodles with peanut sauce and fresh chopped veggies?)

Notes
The key here is in the long simmer. I’ve always had my greens either crunchy (baked in oven as “chips”) or somewhat chewy, but this is the first time I’ve had them prepared Southern style and while I was initially skeptical the texture is amazing.

The author says if you add a small handful of chopped dried dulse (seaweed) to the greens early on, it will add a salt “pork” type flavor. I don’t know if it’s true, but you can try it.

The sauce is very tasty, but like many of this author’s recipes, not especially subtle. I think I will probably work on tweaking it over the next month or so, but even the original is well worth a try.


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