Make Lemon Gumbo

When life gives you okra, make lemon gumbo. Life didn’t give me lemons last week, but it gave me some HUGE okra pods. A mere two days away from the garden and tiny pods grew so big my grandmother would have disinherited me for not picking them sooner.

The pods weren’t really hard or dry, but they were large and slightly tougher than anything I would want to fry. After the planting, weeding, and watering, I don’t like to throw away anything I’ve grown unless I must. I decided to use the pods in a stew.

Actually, I decided to use the pods in a stew made from ingredients I had on hand. That turned out to be a lemon, some boneless/skinless chicken breasts, chicken stock, brown rice, and seasonings.

While gumbo may technically be a stew thickened with okra, no one I know would call a dish gumbo unless it began with a roux. This did not. Maybe I should call it Coulda-Been-Gumbo.

Anyway, I began with a 32 oz box of ImagineR Organic Free Range Chicken Broth and 2 quarts of water. Into that, I squeezed one fresh lemon.

I removed the ends of each okra pod and sliced them about 1/8” thick. I added the slices to the stock along with one shishito pepper with the non-stem end removed. Then I chopped a small carrot and threw it in. While this mixture was heating, I sprinkled salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper over the mixture.  

I wanted to add a little more flavor to the broth, so I dug around in the spice cabinet opening jars and smelling spices. I like to do this while standing close enough to the boiling pot that I can smell the spice jar and the broth in the same breath. Then I pick the best combination of aromas.

This time, I chose a blend from Penzeys Spices called Ruth Ann’s Muskego Ave Seasoning. The aroma reminds me a little of the chicken bullion cubes my mother used. It’s a blend of salt, black pepper, garlic, lemon peel, and onion. I sprinkled in about a half teaspoon.

Unlike when I test recipes, when I cook like this I rarely measure. That means I can’t tell you precisely how much I added. I can tell you it smelled right after I stirred everything together.

By now, the mixture was boiling. I reduced the heat and allowed it to simmer for 30 minutes. Then I removed the pepper.

Turning the heat back up, I added a cup of parboiled brown rice and 4 thin sliced chicken breasts. I sprinkled the chicken breasts and rice with salt, pepper, garlic powder and onion powder. I put on a lid, reduced the heat to medium low, and set a timer for 25 minutes.

Once the timer alerted me, I turned off the heat and allowed the gumbo to sit for about 5 minutes before I spooned some into a bowl. After a little cooling, I was ready to sample.

The flavors were scrumptious and the texture was pleasing. The lemon juice prevented the okra from making the broth slimy. The extra cooking time caused the slices to break apart into tender pieces of green pod and loose seeds. The chicken was moist and tender.

I was pleased enough that I want to try this again. Perhaps next time, I’ll use tilapia instead of chicken. And maybe I’ll add some lemongrass for added citrus zing.

I’m pretty sure the opportunity will present itself soon. Okra grows FAST!

Soup’s On!

Cooler weather is finally here, so soup’s on – literally! When that first blast of cold air hits each fall, everyone I know starts to clamor for soup. From chili to chowder, hot thick soup fills and warms your tummy and is the perfect antidote for a chill.
tomato soup
Soup preference is often determined by the base of the soup. Some prefer broth or stock, some tomato, and some cream. This is reflected in the top five soups sold in America – chicken noodle, tomato, clam chowder, potato, and minestrone.

Of course the choices don’t stop there. There’s tortilla soup, French onion soup, chicken and rice, chicken chili, split pea, lentil, butternut squash, corn chowder, beef stew, ham and bean, lobster bisque, gumbo, vegetable, Thai chicken coconut soup, and phở. The possible combinations are seemingly endless.

My grandmother made her own chicken stock and canned her own tomato juice. These became the base for soup at her house. Most of us don’t feel like we can spend 2-3 hours in the kitchen prepping the base for a soup. That doesn’t mean the only way to have a delicious soup for dinner is to pop open a can or have some delivered.

A great soup can begin with ingredients you usually discard. Vegetable broth from fresh green beans, black beans, butternut squash, cabbage, greens, and even sour kraut can serve as a flavorful base.

You can also boil potato skins, and asparagus, mushroom, broccoli, and cauliflower stems that would normally go in the trash or composter in a separate pot at the same time you prepare those vegetables. You’re using veggie pieces that result from prep you’re already doing and you’re cooking during a time you’ll already be around the kitchen. That makes for a time friendly, budget friendly practice.

Put the resulting broth in a large glass jar in the refrigerator and save it for soup. You can add broth from multiple vegetables over several days to deepen the flavor and nutritional value.

Your broth can also include chicken skin, hearts, livers, and gizzards, or fat trimmed from beef, pork, or chicken. If you prefer, you can place these in a slow cooker with some water, onion, seasonings and vegetables to create broth while you’re at work. You’re going to discard everything but the liquid so don’t worry that the ingredients are ugly things you wouldn’t eat on their own.

When I am too taxed to have the capacity for planning soup in advance, I use prepared items from the grocery to get me started. My favorites are Pomi Tomatoes, Imagine Free Range Organic Chicken Broth, and milk. I always have these items around.

pomiPomi Strained Tomatoes are just that. Tomatoes. There’s nothing added – no water, no salt, no preservatives. For a healthy soup base with a long shelf life and no prep time, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Imagine Free Range Organic Chicken Broth is available from any store at which I shop. It comes in a low sodium version. The ingredients are: organic chicken broth (filtered water, organic chicken), organic onions, organic celery, organic carrots, natural chicken flavor, organic spices, sea salt. The only thing suspect here is “natural chicken flavor”, but there’s no MSG, no sugar, no yeast extract and the natural chicken flavor isn’t at the top of the list of ingredients. Truthfully, I don’t always buy the low sodium version.

I don’t always have cream on hand, but with a 2-year-old around I consistently have whole milk. It may not be quite as rich as cream, but it gets the job done in potato soup or corn chowder.

I also keep rice in the pantry, curry in the spice rack, onions and garlic on the counter, and herbs growing in pots on the back porch or in the house. All of these can be used to flavor or enhance soup.

The temperature in my house has dropped 10 degrees in the last hour, but I’m in luck. I have chicken breasts in the refrigerator, chicken broth and rice in the pantry, an onion and fresh garlic, some English peas and some rosemary. With those and some salt and pepper, I can make soup for dinner.

It won’t be long before soup’s on!

https://solesoups.com/2017/02/17/top-five-bestselling-soups-america/

https://www.pomi.us.com/en-us/products/#strained-tomatoes

https://www.fooducate.com/app#!page=product&id=9EBAF56C-E113-11DF-A102-FEFD45A4D471

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/why-did-your-grandma-make-chicken-soup/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/dump-soup-perfect-for-a-lazy-day/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/travel-tip-12-cold-soups-vary-different-countries/

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”