Sunday, 11 November 2012

Jamba- Liar!

Zuppa in Stile "Cajun" con Okra e Gamberetti
Cajun-Styled Shrimp & Okra Soup

Well yes indeed- I would be a liar if I were to claim this was an authentic Cajun dish! But was inspired by the real thing, enjoyed in a number of variations on a trip to New Orleans a couple of years ago. The main characteristic for me, is the deep richness and blend of flavors- the individual spices or ingredients vary anyway and there is no one true recipe. They are all born of what the people had and all products of improvisation. At least that is what I like to kid myself... because that is how I went about making my soup this evening!

I didn't have all of the ingredients to make an authentic Gumbo or Jambalaya... no spicy sausage for example, which really should be part of the blend- but with a bit of imagination and my last spoonful of filé powder (at least I had that!), I set about making the most of what I had in the fridge- and the result was not bad at all! Read on...

I started out by frying some finely diced bacon together with my shrimp- just a handful- these would be my garnish once the soup was finished... as I realized that the reality of the matter with soups is... that all of the yummy ingredients sink to the bottom! 

So as soon as I had my garnish ready, I continued by adding some fresh bacon to my saucepan, along with some chopped celery, red peppers, onion and finely chopped parsley- including plenty of the stalk which gives great flavor and seasoning. I added crushed garlic, a bay leaf, a few leaves of basil, a good sprinkle of oregano, salt, pepper, a little sugar and half teaspoon of cayenne pepper.

Once the onion and celery had become translucent, I added the shrimp, some tomato paste, a little grated ginger and stirred everything together well. I deglazed the pan with a good shot of Sambuca and with boiling water, so as to not interrupt the cooking process and added the chopped okra. One more stir and a little adjustment in seasoning, adding extra salt if necessary because of the extra water and then reduced the heat to a slow simmer and let it cook for 10-15 minutes.

Whilst the soup was bubbling away, I sliced up some Spring onion and cherry tomatoes to add during the last 5 minutes of cooking- just to give a little freshness, bite and color. Speaking of color, I added a little milk to the soup, just to take the edge off the spicy and tangy flavor. The sugar does that of course, as would the "roux" that gets added to the authentic dish, but I found that this worked really well for my taste- it gave the soup a hint of creamy richness whilst neither being rich nor even cream! All fine by me!

I also did without the flour and butter-based roux, in favor of letting the okra thicken the soup- as well as my one tablespoon of filé powder... and believe me- if you don't have that powder- you are not going to notice any difference!

Time to add the tomatoes and onion- and some finely chopped celery leaves, which give a rich and pungent, delicious flavor... and a final good pinch of chili flakes- just to make sure your taste buds don't get off too lightly! Sprinkle with the crispy shrimps and bacon, garnish with basil- and you will have the dish you see before you for supper! And hopefully will enjoy it as much as I did mine!

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