Soul Food in a Bowl

Zyedco-Gumbo-WebImagine a steamy bowl of soup in front of you, warming your nose, tempting your tastebuds.  Your spoon is in hand; ready to scoop up that first mouthful. Can you think of anything else that will satisfy a hunger and soothe the soul like soup? For me, soup is much more than comfort food in a bowl – it is soul food! 

I am sure everyone has a stand-by favorite, but I want to share a recipe for a soup that’s just as famous as the classic French Onion soup, but has endless variety and lots of soul!  I’m talking about one of the oldest dishes in Louisiana and one that can be found at restaurants, special events, and homes throughout the state.

Gumbo is a long time staple and source of culinary pride in Louisiana.  In fact, it’s become as synonymous to Louisiana as jazz or the bayou. Generally, gumbo is defined as a thick, dark soup with rice, vegetables, and meat or seafood.  According to Mark Huntsman, “Most gumbos fall into one of three categories:  seafood gumbo, containing some combination of oysters, shrimp, crawfish, and/or crabs, and more often made with okra than filé; poultry and sausage gumbo, which uses either chicken or turkey in combination with pieces of Andouille or other smoked sausage, and more often made with filé than okra; and the increasingly rare Gumbo Z’Herbes, a meatless soup created for Lent that incorporates a wide variety of greens.”

Cajun or Creole, the origin of gumbo is a bit of a myth.  In Mark Huntsman’s account of the history of gumbo the first mention is from 1803 when the French explorer C.C. Robin ate gumbo at a soiree on the Acadian coast.  Despite the myth, he says writers as early as 1885 recognized gumbo as the culinary legacy of the African/American community. In fact, the modern soup is quite West African in character and resembles many okra-based soups in contemporary Senegal.

Wherever you hail from, whatever your roots, gumbo is the kind of soup that holds something for everyone.  And while you can eat gumbo anytime, February is full of special events that beg to be celebrated with a bowl or two or three.  I’m thinking Super Bowl, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday is February 12th) and Valentine’s Day are just a few.  My recipe, Zydeco Gumbo, calls for chicken and shrimp, but feel free change up the protein to suit your taste, just do me a favor and enjoy it thoroughly. It’s good for the soul!

 Zydeco Gumbo

1-1/4    pounds boneless chicken, cubed

2            medium onions, cut into wedges

1            green pepper, cut into narrow strips

1            can whole tomatoes (1 pound 13 ounces)

1/4        cup Worcestershire sauce

2            tablespoons prepared mustard

2            tablespoons minced garlic

1            teaspoon thyme

1            teaspoon rosemary

1/2        teaspoon black pepper

1/2        pound shrimp meat

3            cups hot cooked rice

Directions: Combine all ingredients except shrimp and rice in large saucepan.  Cover and bring to boil.  Simmer 45 minutes or until chicken is tender and flavors mellow together.  Add shrimp and heat 1 minute.  Serve with scoops of rice in wide soup bowls. 

Make 6 servings.

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