Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bom Apetite!

In honor of Carnaval in Brazil this past weekend, I decided to make a Brazilian dish. It was a lot harder to find Brazilian recipes than I thought it would be! Too far south for us here in the US, I guess. But I did manage to find something that is both Brazilian and involves a vegetable that I have been curious about since I worked the frozen aisle at Harding's Marketplace in the mid 00s: shrimp and okra gumbo.

I really thought gumbo would be easier to find, considering I stocked it a couple times a week at Harding's, but I had almost given up the search at Meijer (there are no Harding's in A2) when I finally found a private label one pound bag for $1.29. I did abandon the searches for manioc meal and fish stock, though, because I could not find them, and I really didn't have the money to buy specialty ingredients.

I was going to try the peanuts alternative to manioc meal, but I really didn't have the money for peanuts in my food budget either after buying shrimp, so I ended up substituting these with the almond meal I had left over from the Swedish meatless balls. In place of fish stock, I just used the water that I boiled the okra in, which.... was interesting.

Slimy fingers.... Slimy fingers...
Fun fact: okra is the seed pod of a flowering plant that comes to us from West Africa. Both “okra” (from Igbo) and “gumbo” (from Bantu) are common names in the United States for it, so the title of this recipe, shrimp and okra gumbo, amuses me. Another name is “Lady's fingers,” which is just creepy.

Now, I did not know this about okra, so I think it only fair to warn others who may also be unfamiliar with the plant. When you boil okra, IT GETS SLIMY. “Ropey” is not a word I ever thought I would use to describe food. This slime is called mucilage, and Wikipedia offers some suggestions on minimizing it in cooking. Since I was using the leftover water for stock, and I hadn't read Wikipedia yet, I just dealt with the mucilage, which later helped to thicken the gumbo.

This looks good already!
Since I could not find any shrimp at Meijer with the tails already off, I dumped the frozen peeled and cooked shrimp I bought on sale into a bowl, which I then filled with hot water to quickly soften the shrimp. Then I plucked off all of their nasty little tails. I love shrimp, but really hate shrimp tails, or really any part of the shrimp that is not meat. I once ordered shrimp okonomiyaki in Japan and it came with an entire shrimp inside, claws and all. Rarely have I lost my appetite so quickly.

Obligatory criticism of the shrimp industry located here.

Waaay more onion.
I actually used more onion than I normally do (which is still less than recipes call for), and I am glad that I did. Oh, and I used garlic powder rather than real garlic. I know, it isn't the same, but I am poor and I prefer to use non-perishables that I already have on hand. I never claimed to be a chef.

After I put it all together, the mixture became even more watery, so I stirred a few tablespoons of corn starch in a little dish with some cold water and broth from the gumbo until it formed a creamy thin paste, then added that to the dish to help it thicken a little. (It helped some.)

Aside from needing a little more salt, I think this turned out pretty delicious! The okra is quite tasty, though the broth is a bit slimy as a result. Next time, I think I will try to de-slime it a bit using one of the techniques from Wikipedia. It'll be a while before I make this again, though, considering this batch made so much I feel the need to freeze at least half for future use.


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