Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Green Gumbo

This week we have so many leftovers that I think every night might wind up as leftover night. We've got a little bit of beef, marinara, a wee bit of alfredo sauce, a few ounces of ricotta, lettuces, salsa, chips, nubs of cheeses, and greens. Lots and lots of greens. Apparently, I was a little delusional the last time I went to the store (maybe I have a second personality who actually believes people other than me in my family will eat greens) and went a little nutso in the greens section. And yesterday, when I was making our leftover meal, that second personality must have taken over again because greens were what called to me. I have to admit that in some ways this isn't the perfect leftover meal. It takes time to prepare. It calls for a Cajun spice blend. It's not a slap together in 12 minutes kind of meal. Yet it can be the vehicle to use up lots of leftover meats, vegetables, and greens, greens, greens.

Which is why I think this dish might be really helpful to you, dear readers. Because sometimes at this time of year (and definitely in the fall) CSA baskets start to overflow with greens--weird types of greens that none of us who spent our childhoods in the '80s (motto: iceberg iceberg rah rah rah) have any idea what to do with. Well, here's an idea. And it's a really really good one.

Besides being a really great idea, this meal is totally cheap. It uses water, not broth and the fat you use for the roux can be peanut oil or any old cheap fat you've got hanging around. In fact, it's the type of meal that your grandmother would be proud of because it's one of those meals you can just start throwing things into (hamhock, sure; bacon grease, perfect; random bits of meat from random leftover meals; what could be better).

Of course the other thing I love about this meal is that it allows any yankee white chicks among us to pretend we're from the deep south, cooking from the garden out back, using the resources given to us, and even scouring the bounteous earth for any wild greens we might have found along the way. As we posers sit in our cool houses using greens from a bag.

Unfortunately, there is one thing I dislike about it: It takes a bit of time. There's the chopping and a slightly time-intensive roux and a long cook time. I still think it's worth it, especially when I stop to consider how many cups of greens I've eaten in the last couple of days.

Green Gumbo
from Simply Recipes
Makes: A Whole Heck of a Lot--probably 14-16 servings (I halved it--it's my lunch for the week)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 1.5 hours
Cost: $5.00 (or about $.30/serving)
oil: .20, flour: .10, sausage: 1.00, onion: .20, pepper: .40, celery: .10, greens: 3.00 or less depending on how resourceful you are

Note on oil: You can use any old oil, but I got the best results when I used the fat from the sausage and some bacon (I also made this once with canola oil, which was still good, but not quite as good). Simply Recipes says that peanut oil or lard are traditional and give a great flavor.

Note on greens: You can seriously use whatever you have. Simply Recipes says that traditionally you always add an odd number of greens and that for every green you add, you'll make a new friend. I used collard greens, Swiss chard, parsley, spinach, and kale. You could use dandelion greens, the tops of carrots, beet greens, arugula, mustard greens, the tops of turnips. Seriously, this is a greens gone wild kind of a recipe. And if you've been a little hesitant to try some of these, this is a really friendly way to introduce them because the broth is super flavorful and the greens don't have a chance at staying bitter and because it has sausage.

1 C oil or fat
1 C flour
2 C chopped onion (about 2 medium small onions)
1 C chopped green pepper--1 small pepper or 1/2 large pepper (I used red)
1 C chopped celery (2-3 stalks)
4 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (recipe below for more than you'll need in this recipe)
1 ham hock (optional)
10 C hot water (you can simmer it as you prepare the roux or just use really hot tap water)
3 pounds greens (about 14 C--that's what I'm talking about)
1 pound sausage (I used smoked sausage, cut into rounds; I bet that any sausage would do)

Cajun Spice Blend

1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp celery seed
1 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp sweet paprika (I used smoked)

Prepare your Cajun Spice Blend unless you've got one from the store.

Next you probably want to chop all your vegetables. Unless you are a very good multi-tasker and can chop and stir a roux at the same time. I'm not that good.

Add your oil to the pot. Whisk in the flour. Cook this on medium. And here comes the trickiest part of this recipe. Normally for a roux you cook it for about a minute. Not here. Here you're going to cook it until the flour becomes the color of chocolate. Simply Recipes says the darker, the better, but the darker is also the riskier. I tended to go with a mild chocolate color because I was afraid to go anywhere darker. Oh--and I forgot to take a picture so I'm going to refer you to the pictures in the Simply Recipes post. (Yeah, I know that's lame, but it's what I've got.) So keep stirring that roux until it's nice and brown. You might get a little nervous. I know I did. It might even start to smell a little almost-burny. The first time I made this I thought I'd burned it and was going to have to throw it out, but have faith because...

Once it's nice and milk-chocolate colored you'll throw in the onion, peppers, and celery. And then the best smell in the universe will suddenly burst from the pot and you'll know that all will be well in the world.

Stir the onions, peppers, and celery until they begin to get tender. Then add the chopped garlic and stir it for a couple minutes.

Add the Cajun seasoning and bay leaf and stir. Add the water and hamhock (if using). If the water makes it seize up (i.e. get lumpy), just keep mixing until it's nice and smooth.

Add those lovely greens.

Stir it all up. Put the lid on and simmer for a good hour. (When I halved the recipe, I got away with simmering this for less time, but the fuller your pot, the longer you'll want to simmer.)

About 20 minutes before it's done, cook your sausage in a pan. (Bacon is also good.) 15 minutes before you want to eat this add your sausage.

When done, taste for seasoning. (If you haven't used a hamhock, you're going to need some salt.)


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