If you’re looking around for a healthy gumbo recipe, your search ends here. Although this recipe may not be traditional, it is faster and still captures that delicious flavor. Don’t believe us? See for yourself!
What Is Gumbo?
Gumbo is a type of Cajun Creole stew or soup that originated in the state of Louisiana, and is famously one of the state’s signature dishes.
The name of the dish is derived from the African word ‘ki ngombo’, which means ‘okra’, suggesting that okra was originally one of its main ingredients. In the Native American Choctaw language, the word ‘kombo’, pronounced similarly to the name of the dish, translates to ‘filé’. Interestingly enough, filé powder is one of the ingredients used to make gumbo as well. In other words, with all the linguistic possibilities, the dish could have been named after its ingredients.
Now, as we all know, Louisiana cooking is strongly influenced by French cuisine, and gumbo is part of that. Many gumbo recipes call for a ‘roux’ which is a mixture of fat and flour acting as a thickening agent in sauces.
To sum up: Gumbo is the result of many different cultures coming together, even though its actual origin still sparks debate among gastronomers. But origin aside, we can all agree that gumbo is among one of the most delicious and popular foods in the Deep South.
Now you might be wondering what makes gumbo so special. The answer to that can be found in the ingredients themselves.
What Are The Ingredients in A Gumbo Recipe?
The beauty of gumbo is that you can make it with whatever ingredients you have on hand, which is why no gumbo recipe is the same. There are a few basic ingredients that really make a gumbo, and they are:
- The ‘Holy Trinity’ of vegetables: If the French have their ‘mirepoix’ (a veggie combo of carrot, onion, and celery), then the Louisianans have the ‘Holy Trinity’— consisting of onion, celery, and green bell pepper. These vegetables will give your gumbo a hint of sweetness and lots of powerful flavors. You can add jalapeño pepper instead of bell pepper for extra heat as well.
- Thickener: as mentioned, there are 3 main thickeners that you can choose to put in your gumbo: roux, filé powder, or okra. But we’ll go into detail about them later.
- The protein: from poultry, to seafood, to sausages, to even beef, you can put whatever you like into the gumbo. The possibilities are endless! Here’s a few examples:
- Poultry: chicken, duck, turkey, quail, pigeon, pheasant.
- Seafood: crab, shrimp, oysters, mussels, scallops.
- Cattle: beef, venison, veal.
- Sausages: any type of sausages will work just fine, but smoked sausages are the ones that give gumbo an added wow factor.
- Vegetarian alternatives: peas, beans, and mushrooms are good plant-based protein sources. If you want to make a vegetarian gumbo, we recommend using button mushrooms and red kidney beans instead of chicken and smoked sausages. You should sauté the mushrooms before adding them to the stew. Caramelized mushrooms have an interesting, meat-like texture and deeper flavor that will elevate the stew.
- Spices and herbs: dried thyme, dried oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika.
- Rice: gumbo can be served over a bed of rice, or cooked rice can be mixed into the gumbo to make the dish more wholesome.
The Combinations in a Gumbo Recipe
If that’s too many options and you’re not sure how to mix and match the ingredients, here are some popular gumbo combinations: chicken and sausage okra gumbo, seafood gumbo, duck and sausage gumbo, etc.
Gumbo is a versatile dish that you can make however you want, with whatever ingredients you have. That being said, there is one thing you have to make up your mind about before you start: the thickener.
What Can You Use To Thicken Gumbo?
Some say it’s the thickener that breathes the soul into a gumbo recipe, and we couldn’t agree more. As mentioned, the most commonly used thickeners for gumbo are a roux, okra, and filé powder. Let’s get to know them.
Roux is a French cooking technique where you cook flour in a kind of fat: such as oil, butter (most common), or lard, to form a paste. Dissolve that paste in liquid and you’ll get a thick sauce. There are 3 types of roux: white, blond, and brown. All roux start out as white roux, then depending on what you’re cooking, you adjust the cooking time to achieve your desired roux color. To make gumbo, you’ll need a brown roux as its flavor is more intense in comparison to the white or blond alternatives. Dark brown roux also gives body to the gumbo, along with a rich and hearty mouthfeel.
Okra is another thickening agent that gives gumbo its signature flavor. It’s a type of flowering plant that produces edible seed pods. The plant originated in Africa, but is now widely available in the U.S.. Some people may not enjoy okra very much, as it can be slimy. Whether you like it or not, those slimy seed pods are actually healthy, and consequently help thicken the gumbo. Compared to the rich roux, okra won’t thicken your gumbo as much, but it will brighten up your soup with a refreshing taste.
To many people, filé powder is the only acceptable thickener of a gumbo. This spicy powder is finely ground from the dried leaves of sassafras, a type of North American tree that is distinctively known for its aromatic properties. As a thickening agent, filé powder can be substituted for okra when okra’s out of season. Adding this powder to the gumbo will not only give the soup a thicker texture, but also a unique flavor with a hint of herby earthiness.
You can use any of the techniques to make a thick gumbo. For example, some people even combine the techniques by making a roux and also adding okra. There is no real set recipe, so just do whatever works for you.
What to Serve With Gumbo
For today’s meal, we’re having gumbo with a side of zucchini fries. These fries are simply the best appetizer and finger food as they are easy to make, delicious, and healthy! Their crispy exterior adds a nice textural contrast to the thick, rich soup.
Below are the nutritional details of today’s meal:
- 6 oz skinless boneless chicken thigh 4 medium
- 1 1/2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1/4 tsp salt divided
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper divided
- 5 oz okra cut into ½-inch slices
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1.5 oz yellow onions diced
- 1 oz celery diced
- 1.4 oz bell pepper red and green, diced
- 4 oz tomatoes finely chopped
- 2 tsp garlic minced
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 1/4 tsp dried basil
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp Cajun seasoning
- 4 cups unsalted chicken broth
- 4.8 oz smoked sausage 2 links
- 1 dried bay leaf
- 3 cups cooked medium-grain rice
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley finely chopped
- Heat up 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken, 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Sear for 8 minutes, flipping halfway. Transfer the chicken to a plate and cover it with aluminum foil. Allow it to cool slightly.
- In the same pot, add okra and cook for 3 minutes over medium heat. Once the okra is lightly browned, transfer it to a plate and set aside.
- Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil, butter, and flour. Cook for 5 minutes over medium heat or until the roux has reached a dark golden brown hue; stir occasionally. Meanwhile shred the cooked chicken with a pair of forks and set aside.
- Add chopped onions, celery, and bell peppers to the pot. Sauté for 3 minutes over medium heat or until tender. Add chopped tomatoes and garlic. Raise the heat to high and cook for 1 minute.
- Return okra to the pot, along with dried basil, thyme, cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, 1/8 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper. Cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add unsalted chicken broth, shredded chicken, smoked sausages, and bay leaf. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered.
- Taste and check for seasoning if needed. Remove the pot from the heat. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley and serve with rice.