I’ve talked a bit before about how I wasn’t introduced to many of my favourite vegetables until late in my teens. As kids, my sister and I ate veggies in the form of mixed peas, carrots and beans, broccoli (boiled and coated in cheese sauce), romaine and iceberg lettuce (coated in caesar and ranch dressing respectively), potatoes (mashed, tater tots, or in French fried form), and that was about it. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a great big wide world of wonderful produce out there, just waiting to be discovered!
This discovery happened in the last couple of years that I lived in Bahrain, which also happened to be the years that I was on my journey to lose a whole bunch of weight I’d gained in the process of moving there and eating my feelings. As I’ve explained in the past, I joined a Weight Watchers-like group where I learned about what a calorie is and how to cook in such a way that decreased calorie density but still kept me feeling full. The main tool in this toolbox: vegetables.
While lots of Bahrain’s produce is imported, there’s surprisingly a lot that is locally grown (or grown across the bridge in Saudi Arabia) as well. One of my favourite discoveries was butternut squash, but I’m going to save my stories about that for another week. A second vegetable that I quickly grew fond of was okra.
You might know okra as that funny looking star-shaped green vegetable that goes into Creole stews and gumbos (which is what I’ve used it in for today’s recipe) but I really had no idea what it’s usual applications were. I’d toss it into Asian-inspired stir fry dinners with a bunch of other veggies and thought it was fabulous because it provided a thick, sort of gooey factor once cooked. It sounds gross, but trust me, it’s a good thing.
Another great thing about okra: It’s low maintenance. No peeling, no seeding, no nearly cutting your fingers off – simply give it a little wash and chop it up, leaving the stem behind. Inside the pods are these cute little white seeds that are responsible for creating that gooeyness, and they only take a few minutes to cook.
This weekend, with plenty of years of stir fry experience behind me, I put a bag of fresh okra to (a more traditional) use in a gumbo. I did a bit of research on what exactly constitutes a gumbo prior to creating my recipe, and according to the almighty Wikipedia, it’s:
“a dish that originated in southern Louisiana from the Louisiana Creole people during the 18th century. It typically consists primarily of a strongly flavored stock, okra, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and seasoning vegetables.”
So really, it’s a stew by many people’s standards.
A gumbo is supposed to have a gravy-like consistency, typically achieved by a thickening agent like flour whisked with oil over heat, which is known as a roux. Sounds heavy, right? Don’t worry – I’ve kept heaviness to a minimum in my version while still maintaining the gumbo-like satisfaction factor. Instead of a large quantity of oil and flour, I used a little bit of coconut oil with a couple tablespoons of gluten-free oat flour, then tossed in a ton of veggies to make it a very nutrient-dense meal.
As far as protein sources go, the types traditionally used in gumbos vary widely. There are meat, seafood and sausage combinations, as well as recipes made with alligator, rabbits and squirrels. I consider myself an adventurous eater but there was no way I was throwing any of those 3 species into a pot over the weekend (or ever), so I stuck with tried-and-true chicken.
Now if you’re a time-conscious cook, you’ll like this final note: Apparently gumbo is typically left to simmer all day. But let’s be honest here: who really has time for that? Not I. You’ll be happy to know that my take on Spicy Chicken and Okra Gumbo only requires 40 minutes and if you make a big enough batch, that’ll be many more minutes saved when you’re enjoying your leftovers in the weeks to come. Thank me later (when you invite me over for dinner.) 😉
Spicy Chicken and Okra Gumbo
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 40 mins
Ingredients (5 servings, 2 cups each)
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp coconut oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced and divided
- 2 cups chopped uncooked skinless chicken breasts
- 2 tbsp oat flour (gluten free if necessary)
- 2 cup chopped onion
- 2 cup chopped diced celery
- 2 cup chopped diced carrots
- 2 cup chopped bell peppers
- 2 cup chopped okra
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- 1 ½ tsp Cajun seasoning
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
- 2 large bay leaves
- 3 ½ cups diced tomatoes (a 28 fl oz can)
- 2 ½ cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
Chop up all vegetables, placing the onion, carrots, and celery in one bowl, and the peppers, okra, and seasonings in another. This will make for a much easier cooking process.
Melt 1 tsp of the coconut oil in a large pot. Sautee 1 clove of garlic (minced) for 1 minute, then add in the chicken. Cook until chicken is golden on all sides, about 4 minutes. (Add a little broth to the pot if it gets too dry.)
Remove the chicken from the pot and set it aside on a plate. Reduce heat to very low. Once the burner has cooled off, melt the remaining coconut oil and whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.
Add the remaining cloves of garlic, onion, celery, carrots, and ¼ cup of broth. Cook for 3 more minutes, by which time the onion should start to look translucent.
Add the peppers, okra, oregano, paprika, Cajun seasoning and cayenne, stirring to coat all the vegetables in seasonings for 2 minutes.
Finally, pour in the tomatoes, broth, the bay leaves and the cooked chicken. Give the pot one more stir, then put a lid on top. Reduce heat to low and let the gumbo simmer for 25 minutes.
Taste and adjust spices if needed. (A little Tabasco will help to spice things up if that’s the way you like it!) Discard the bay leaf and ladle into bowls, or on top of rice if desired.
Now, I’d love to hear from you…
- What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever eaten?
- Is there a particular fruit or vegetable that you didn’t even know about as a kid but eat regularly now?
Note: Wondering why there’s no Try Something New Tuesday Recap today? Read this post!