Okra – a Love Hate Relationship

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Okra is one of those black and white vegetables – you either love it or hate it. Just to set the record straight, I’m an okra lover so when I walked by the local halal market and saw a box of these green fingers, I had to buy some.

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I was craving gumbo-style soup on that gray day and okra is a key ingredient. It imparts a wonderful texture as it cooks – some would say a peculiar slime – but in this recipe the viscosity adds body and heartiness to the soup.

It’s easy to make and comes together in about 30 minutes. First, saute the vegetable trinity of New Orleans cuisine: chopped onions, celery and bell pepper. Sweat these vegetables until they release their juices and are tender.

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Slice the okra in 1/2″ pieces then add that to the pot along with garlic and stir briefly until garlic is fragrant.

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Add chicken stock, tomatoes, a bay leaf and some cooked chicken. If I have some in the house, I also add cubed zucchini and fresh corn cut off the cob. Simmer the soup until the vegetables are tender, add cooked rice and serve it up, maybe with a nice slab of cornbread.

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You can take this soup in a lot of different directions. Add Andouille sausage and raw shrimp for a heartier gumbo, make it vegetarian by leaving out all animal proteins or use turkey instead of chicken (thinking ahead here to Thanksgiving leftovers).

In any case, it’s a handy little soup that I often make after a roasted chicken dinner, using the carcass for stock and the leftover meat for the soup. Top with a few squirts of Sriracha sauce and, as they like to say here in London, “Bob’s your uncle”.

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Chicken Gumbo Soup

2 T olive oil

1 cup diced onion

1/2 cup each diced celery and green bell pepper

2 cloves garlic minced

1 1/2  cups okra, sliced in 1/2″ coins

2 cups chicken stock, more if necessary

1 bay leaf

1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped or 1-14.5 oz can chopped tomatoes and their juice

1 1/2 cups cooked chicken meat, in bite-sized pieces

1 cup cooked Basmati rice

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add onion, celery and pepper and saute until vegetables are soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add garlic and okra and stir until garlic is fragrant then add the stock, bay leaf and tomatoes. Season well with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil then lower heat to barely simmering, stirring occasionally, until all vegetables are cooked through. Add the chicken and rice and heat through. If needed, thin with additional chicken stock or water. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with Sriracha sauce or Tabasco if desired.

Yield: 4 servings

 

 

 

 

 

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Love Letter to Lisbon

Dear Lisbon,

I had no idea that you were such an elegant and sophisticated city. Rife with history, culture and natural beauty, you gave us plenty to explore during a recent weekend.

We were thrilled to discover your culinary gems, such as the Mercado Da Ribeira, an amazing amalgamation of a historical fruit, veggie, fish, meat and cheese market combined with a hip food court. The bounty from the area was eye popping, with gleaming fresh fish, roast suckling pig and even snails trying to escape their net bags.

The food court was created by Timeout Publications and offers everything from sushi to pizza, tartare from a Michelin-starred chef and some of the best Portuguese hams and cured meats to be found anywhere. It was here we were almost brought to tears by warm, luscious pasteis de nada, the country’s infamous custard tarts.

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The National Tile Museum, housed in a 16th century convent, was surprising in its offerings with unbelievably colorful tiles from the 14th century on up as well as a couple of jaw-dropping, gilt encrusted chapels filled with relics and paintings. One of the highlights is a mural of Lisbon done in tiles which shows the city in all its glory before the 1755 earthquake that wiped out large parts of it.

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We loved this detail of another mural that depicts a glamorous chicken being taken to a ball in a colorful carriage. Chickens hold a warm place in the hearts of Lisboetas because

in Lisbon, there is a piri piri  shop on virtually every corner. The inhabitants of this great city love to get their chicken fix and one of the best outposts is in the Campo de Ourique neighborhood.

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Step inside and smell the delicious aromas of birds that have been bathed in a sauce of hot chilies originally brought from Africa. Piri piri sauce is a marinade for chicken as well as a bottled sauce that is ubiquitous here and used to fire up everything from soup to eggs. Every cafe, diner and restaurant makes their own and the flavors and textures vary as much as the people who make up this hilly town.

We happened upon this fantastic chicken place on a walking food tour with Culinary Backstreets. In 6 hours we ate and drank our way around this out-of-the-tourist-fray district, trying traditional cherry liqueur called ginjinha, fish stew, bacalhau (another national dish made from salt cod) that is fried into tasty croquettes, pork vindaloo, cheeses and cured meats all washed down with fabulous (and underrated) red wines from the countryside.

Another reason I fell in love with you, dear Lisbon, is because you are much like my home city of San Francisco. Your hilly streets are also navigated by rickety cable cars,

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you have a scenic waterfront where one can consume red wine purchased from an adorable truck (don’t think SF has one of these yet)

and then used to make a toast to you and your version of the Golden Gate Bridge.

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I’ll be back to visit again, there is still way too much to see and taste to be away too long. Until then, dear Lisbon, keep singing your hip-swinging songs, painting your beautiful tiles and cooking up delicious traditions.

A Week in the Life

London has an incredible diversity of activities to experience and I’ve been out there doing just that. In this past week, I’ve shopped at the fabulous Borough Market,

walked through a gorgeous tribute to India’s use of orchids at Kew Gardens,

and seen how they play ice hockey in England as the Streatham Red Hawks took on the Invicta Dynamos

And after all that running around we still had to eat. A look in the fridge revealed leftover roast chicken and not much more than that. I remembered Lancashire hotpot from the comforting detective show “Hetty Wainthropp Investigates” and came up with this recipe using chicken instead of the traditional lamb. It’s an easy way to use up leftovers for a quick, nourishing supper.

First, sauté onions in olive oil until golden

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Then whisk in some flour to make a roux

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Stir and cook the roux until it is lightly browned then whisk in chicken stock

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Bring to a boil then lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes or so until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Fold in the chicken and some cooked vegetables and incorporate well.

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Transfer the stew into an oven proof casserole and top with thinly sliced potatoes then brush the potatoes with olive oil or melted butter and pop in the oven.

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Voila! In no time flat a hotpot worthy of Hetty and her crew is ready to enjoy.

Chicken Hotpot a la Hetty Wainthropp

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/2 onion, chopped

2 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

salt and pepper

2 cups cooked chicken, cut in bite-sized pieces

2 cups cooked vegetables such as carrots, peas, turnips, zucchini, mushrooms

2 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350F/160C. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat then add the onions and sauté until golden and softened. Whisk in the flour until a smooth roux forms and cook for a few minutes then add the chicken stock and whisk rapidly over high heat. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring frequently until mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Remove from heat and fold in chicken and vegetables then transfer to a medium ovenproof casserole dish. Smooth the top then lay the sliced potatoes in a spiral design over the stew. Brush the potatoes with the remaining oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the stew is bubbling and the potatoes are browned and crusty, about 35-40 minutes.