A Muslim travelling to New Orleans may not find a suitable version of this hearty stew. Native New Orleanian Theresa Corbin adapts it for the halal palate.
The term “gumbo” can call to mind many different types of stews – it all depends on who you are talking to in southern Louisiana. If you ask a person of Spanish descent, he/she will likely tell you it is a stew made with tomatoes. To someone of French heritage, it is made with chard, mustard greens, turnips and/or cabbage. For Native Americans, it is made with a powder from ground sassafras leaves. And for the West African-inspired cook, it is primarily okra (“gumbo” being the word for okra in many African languages).
New Orleans is famous for its gumbo, but there are as many different gumbo recipes as there are families in New Orleans. Everyone adds their own favourite kinds of vegetables, meats and spices.
When you boil it down, gumbo is a stew made with a dark roux (flour cooked in butter) as a thickener; cooked down with celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic and your choice of vegetable and meats. Gumbo is usually made very spicy by adding Creole seasoning and hot sauce, but the flavours of the gumbo are delicious even without all the heat.
Unfortunately for the Muslim who takes a trip to New Orleans to try this stew, gumbo is almost always made with pork. Whether it is in the stock, a hambone thrown into the roux for flavour, or pork sausage as one of the meats added to the stew, pork is almost always an ingredient in gumbo.
But there is no reason why Muslims should miss out of this robust multiethnic dish. Gumbo doesn’t need pork – shrimp, chicken, crab, or even fish can replace that part of any gumbo. So put on your apron and whip up some gumbo.