Today is Mardi gras, or Carnaval, as it’s called in French (even though “mardi gras” is French . . . ? I can’t explain that one). The Mardi gras festivities here are nothing to report on—it’s sort of like a candy-less Halloween, but quieter—so I’m looking to New Orleans for inspiration, and I’m celebrating with a big ole pot of shrimp gumbo, Louisiana Creole style, and a sweet potato pie.
Gumbo is a literal melting pot of cuisines, originating in New Orleans in the 18th century, but taking elements of French, Spanish, Native American, West African, and Italian cuisines. The original idea was taken from the southern French seafood stew bouillabaisse, the vegetables were imported from the Spanish, filé powder (used in place of roux to thicken the soup) from the Native Americans, okra (also used as a thickener) from West Africa, and tomatoes from the Italian population in New Orleans.
There are as many variations of an authentic gumbo recipe as there are native New Orleans willing to fight over it, but basically what makes a gumbo is a roux (or okra, or file powder), a combination of spicy meats or shellfish, and three required vegetables: celery, green bell pepper, and onion. We add in stock and tomatoes for the sauce, and good dose of cayenne for the spice. Serve over rice. If adding meat (for non-vegetarians: do this), the best choice would be a spicy andouille sausage.
½ cup flour
½ cup butter
1 cup vegetable or seafood stock
green bell pepper
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
1. Over medium heat, melt the butter and whisk in the flour. Using a wooden spoon, continue stirring, lowering the heat if necessary to avoid burning, for about 10 minutes, or until the roux is a medium brown color.
2. Add the chopped celery, green pepper, and onion. Cook in the roux for a couple minutes, then add the canned tomatoes and stock. Throw in the bay leaves, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste.
3. When the celery and green pepper are just about soft, add the shrimp and cook 1-2 minutes, just until pink.
4. Serve immediately over rice.
This is the second-best orange-colored pie I know, but it's a close second. It's a cinch to make and not too sweet, retaining the flavor and texture of the sweet potatoes.