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Plenty of Peppers? Make Gumbo

I’ve heard many kitchen gardeners ask, “I have a lot of peppers this year. Any ideas for how to use them?” One of my favorite uses for peppers is to cook them up in gumbo.

My small kitchen garden produced a lot of peppers this year. Mostly, I harvested Hungarian banana peppers, but I also enjoyed a variety of bell peppers and a handful of jalapeno peppers. Apparently, a lot of other kitchen gardeners enjoyed similar successes because one question I’ve heard often is, “What should I do with all my peppers?”

Make Gumbo, is my favorite reply. Making a vat of gumbo won’t put a noticeable dent in a surplus of peppers, but it will make for some great eating. Gumbo is a vegetable-laden, thick broth, usually including some type of meat such as chicken, sausage, or seafood. Common in the southern United States and nearly non-existent in the northern states, Gumbo comes in two distinct varieties… though there may be as many recipes as there are people cooking the stuff.

Gumbo with okra

Overgrown Okra

I don’t grow okra because, sadly, I gag when I try to eat it. Fortunately, I found a lovely photo of okra pods on When you cut these pods into sections and cook them in your soup, the pods soften up, become slimy, and thicken the broth.

This is a bit of a guess, but I imagine most people make gumbo using okra as the thickener. Okra is a plant with big leaves and gorgeous flowers, and it produces fruits that look vaguely like pods of a milkweed plant.

When you cut Okra pods into sections and boil them in water or stock, they break down into what most people describe as slime. The slime, of course, is thicker than water, so by using okra in soup, you make the soup thicken.

I’ve had okra-thickened gumbo several times, and, sadly, each time I had a very powerful gag response to its consistency. I can’t even comment on its flavor because I was so focused on the gag response that I recall little else about it.

Gumbo with roux

About when I experienced gumbo made with okra, I also happened to have visited New Orleans and eaten at K-Paul’s. The flavors of my meal at K-Paul’s were unique and exciting and I became a fan of Paul Prudhomme, the restaurant’s founder and namesake.

Happily, I got a copy of his cookbook, and read large chunks of it to gain an understanding of Louisiana- and Cajun-style cooking. That cookbook explained how to make gumbo using roux rather than okra as a thickener.

It’s been a long time since I’ve followed Prudhomme’s recipe to make gumbo, but the method I use strongly resembles what I learned from Prudhomme’s cookbook. It’s a big job, so when I make any, I make a vat of it. We eat gumbo for many dinners and lunches over the course of a week or two.

The Secret to Great Gumbo

Gumbo: Chunks of chicken and sausage in a thick broth churning with vegetables and served over rice. Use up some peppers from your small kitchen garden; make gumbo.

I’m convinced that the most important component of great gumbo is the roux. At its simplest, roux is a mixture of oil and flour—usually a one-to-one mix. When you combine white flour and vegetable oil, you produce a white or slightly yellow roux. Cook the roux, and the flour browns… the longer you cook it, the darker brown it becomes. As the roux cooks, you’ll see it gradually turn from white to tan to peanut butter brown. After that, it darkens to the color of milk chocolate and it even begins to redden a bit. Cook it too long, and it’ll burn, turning black. If you’re careless, some will burn to the bottom of the pan and produce black specks which altogether ruin the flavor.

A light roux will thicken gumbo without adding much flavor. However, a dark roux adds an indescribable nuttiness to the soup. While I recall cooking the roux on high heat for many years, I once discovered it cooks just fine on medium heat, and the slower cooking speed gives me freedom to turn my back on it from time-to-time with little threat of it burning.

Gumbo Tips

I’ve embedded a video of me making gumbo that explains every step. To keep it short, I omitted a lot of commentary. Here are a few things that are good to know:

  • Andouille sausage is a hot, smoked sausage native to Cajun country. I can buy it locally for about twice what other sausage costs… some day I’ll try making my own. In the meantime, I’m too cheap to pay so much for ground meat, so I use hot Italian sausage in my Gumbo. This works particularly well if I slow cook it on my grill with some kind of hardwood to add smoke.
  • Green and red peppers don’t add significant heat to the gumbo unless you leave the seeds in… but that’s a rather imprecise way to control heat. After you’ve finished the gumbo, let it simmer for five minutes or so, then taste. If the seasoning isn’t fiery enough for you, add more cayenne pepper, stir it in, and give it a few more minutes on the heat.
  • I used to use a few cloves of garlic in my gumbo, but I eventually discovered that garlic gives me heartburn. Use some if you want; peal the cloves and toss them in the food processor with your other vegetables.
  • A meat grinder works about as well as a food processor. Cut up the carrots and celery into small pieces so they don’t stall the mechanism… but you can put all of the vegetables through a meat grinder if you prefer that over a food processor.
  • Sometimes my family fishes a disproportionate amount of “goodies” out of the gumbo (sausage and chicken), eventually leaving only broth in the pot. If this happens I re-heat the gumbo to a boil and add more sausage (and sometimes chicken), giving the vat several more days of usefulness.

Please enjoy the video:


Here are some other approaches to making gumbo that might appeal to you (including one that uses okra):

  • Shrimp Gumbo Soup – Add in about 2/3 of the can of broth, the can of Chicken Gumbo (NO additional water) and chopped tomato. Cover and bring to a slow boil. Add in the raw shrimp, cover and cook for about 3 minutes or until the shrimp are pink. …

  • National Gumbo Day!: Andouille Sausage and Chicken Gumbo – This recipe is truly at its best when prepared 24 hours ahead of serving time. Simply reheat the gumbo on the stove for several hours on the day of serving. This technique allows for all of the flavors to combine and marry together – a …

  • louisiana chicken gumbo – 1/4 cup flour 1 tsp salt 1 3 lb chicken cut into 8 pieces 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 cup chopped celery 1 cup chopped green onion 3 cloves garlic; mashed 1 quart chicken broth 2 cup canned whole tomatoes in juice; …

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