Vegan Gumbo, Fat-Free and Gluten-Free

Bean and Okra GumboWhen I was a child, a young woman with a huge straw basket balanced over her head would make the rounds of my neighborhood every week or so. She would knock on doors, peddling fresh fish that her husband had just hauled in that morning from the sea that hugs Bombay’s shoreline. Everyone simply called her “Kolin” which is the Marathi word for fisherwoman.

Kolin was a striking woman– mahogany skinned with large eyes shaped like almonds and gold earrings so big and so heavy, they had pulled her earlobes almost down to her chin. She was always dressed in a colorful saree with a gold border and at her waist, where the saree tucked in, she had fashioned a little purse with the fabric in which she kept all the bills and coins she had collected from her customers.

I dreaded Kolin’s visits. Partly because of her rather abrasive tongue that always told you exactly what she thought, and partly because I hated the smell of the fish that lingered in the air for hours after she had left. But I was never so terrified as the occasional day when Kolin would bring what my parents considered a special treat: crabs. The little creatures would be alive as Kolin picked them out of a wire cage in her basket, snapped their claws and put them in a steel tin my mother would hold out. Some would escape and run all over the apartment, scurrying into every corner of the room, trying to hide from the inevitable. It was such a terrifying sight that I could never bring myself to eat a crab through all of my childhood.

gf bean gumboYears later, a friend who loves her seafood argued with me that crabs do not really feel pain or fear death: they just don’t have the mental capacity to do it, she insisted. But it is not an argument that is easily made to someone who had seen the terror of those little crabs in a Bombay apartment trying to save their skins. According to the Humane Society of the United States, lobsters, crabs, and other crustaceans are complex creatures who can remember things they learn. Crustaceans feel pain and may not immediately die when one part of their body is destroyed, which may mean they experience prolonged suffering before dying.

It is not just the creatures we eat that suffer and die. Driving home  the other day, I was listening to a segment on NPR’s All Things Considered that reminded me of another reason why seafood is just not a good idea. The report discussed the massive numbers of mammals that are injured or die globally each year in fishing “incidents” — around 650,000. Casualties happen in all sorts of fisheries, ranging from tuna to squid, shrimp, swordfish and bottom-dwelling fish. At the bottom of the ocean, sea mammals can get trapped in trawls. The mammals affected include dolphins, whales, seals, porpoises, manatees and so on.

Something worth chewing over.


Bean GumboAs nature turned the world into a cold, icy mush over this past week, I found myself craving for something warm and comforting and nutritious to put into my tummy. It seemed the perfect time to stir up a seafood-free gumbo — something I’d been planning on making for a long time.

One of the things I love about eating vegan is that I never have to be one of those people who has to rush at the last minute to buy milk or eggs because a storm is coming and the supermarket may not be open or accessible for days afterward. I don’t have to worry about a power failure turning all that  meat in my freezer into an unsanitary nightmare.  Give me some beans,  rice,  frozen veggies and soymilk — all of which are usually already in my pantry — and I’m all set.

I had everything I needed for the gumbo on hand. Okra, beans, onions, green peppers, herbs, and even some Cajun seasoning that I had picked up months ago. And then, just to get a little edgier, I decided to make my gumbo fat-free. There seemed to be so much going in with all those different flavors — beans, herbs, veggies– that the fat just seemed totally redundant.  I threw in some sage and chipotle for their smoky deliciousness, and I made the gumbo gluten-free by making the roux with brown rice flour instead of whole-wheat– an idea that totally worked.

The recipe’s really easy and comes together faster than you would imagine.  I served it with some wholesome brown rice, but crusty bread or quinoa would go really well with this too.

Wishing everyone a great weekend– hope you have plenty of time to live, love, and laze around, not in any particular order.

Bean Gumbo

5.0 from 3 reviews
Fat-Free Vegan Gumbo
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Cuisine: Louisiana
Serves: 8
  • 2 tbsp brown rice flour
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 carrots, cut into rounds
  • 2 cups button mushrooms or crimini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh okra, cut into rings
  • 1 cup pureed tomatoes
  • 3 cups of canned red beans, drained and rinsed. (If using dry beans, start with 1 cup of beans, soak them overnight, then cook in a pot with enough water to cover the beans. Let the water come to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pot and then cook about 90 minutes to 2 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if the beans get dry.)
  • 1 tbsp dry sage
  • 1 tbsp thyme
  • 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning
  • 1 chipotle chili, minced, with 1 tsp of the adobo sauce
  • 2 tbsp tamari
  • Water or vegetable stock
  • Salt and ground black pepper to taste
  1. Heat a large pot and add the brown rice flour. Roast, stirring constantly over medium-low heat, until the roux is a couple of shades darker. Remove immediately to a bowl.
  2. In the same pot, add the onions, carrots and garlic along with a quarter cup of water or vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and the water has evaporated.
  3. Add the tomatoes, bell peppers and mushrooms and cook, stirring, for another five minutes. Add the chipotle chili and adobo sauce, tamari, herbs and the Cajun seasoning and mix well.
  4. Now add the beans and the okra and stir well to mix. Add the brown rice flour back to the pot and stir in. Add 2 cups of vegetable stock and allow the gumbo to come to a boil over medium-high heat. If the gumbo is too thick, add more water or stock. Lower the heat to a simmer and let everything cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add more salt if needed. Turn off the heat. You can also throw in some vegan sausage if you like -- cut it into rounds. That would add a small amount of fat to the gumbo, but it would also send the protein content soaring higher.
  6. Enjoy!
Nutrition Information
Calories: 122 Carbohydrates: 23.6 g Fiber: 6 g Protein: 7.1 g



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  1. says

    That looks so yummy – I’m going to be making that in the next few days for sure. I have some vegan chorizo that will probably end up in there; my 46 year old son lives with me and doesn’t feel satisfied without some on his plate or in his bowl.

  2. Jacqui Pappas says

    Did I miss where you add the brown rice flour back to the pot? I saw toasting it and removing it, but not using it as a thickener.

    • says

      Hi Pallavi, you can eat it with brown rice or quinoa or bread even. The okra does not at all become slimy in this, because of all the liquid. It actually helps as a thickening agent.

  3. says

    This looks so good! I’m always on the lookout for vegetarian meals I can make for my meat-eating housemate that will satisfy both of us, and I think this just might do it! 😀

  4. smallftprints says

    Mmm … this looks delicious!! In my pre-vegan days, I loved shrimp gumbo and frankly, I’ve never found a vegan version that lived up to the original. I think that this one will do it with all the lovely vegetables and flavorful “gravy”. Browning the flour will give it that authentic taste, as will the okra. Thank you for including information on how many dried beans to use. I prefer to pressure cook my beans … it’s so fast and easy and we get so many more meals from a package of dried beans versus cans. But I’m never quite sure how many to cook to equal the beans in a recipe. Can’t wait to try this!

    • says

      Small Footprints, thank you! I like pressure-cooking beans too– just makes it so much quicker. And very true, it’s more economical as well. I think a cup of dry beans roughly equals three cans of cooked, although all beans are different. :) I guess that’s what makes them so special. :)

  5. Gail says

    I noticed you had mentioned after the amount of red beans to use, ‘…to put enough water to cover the lentils…’ Did you mean the ‘red beabs’, as I didn’t notice lentils as one of the ingredients. My husband loves okra and was a big ‘seafood gumbo’ connoisseur, but due to health issues, we have had him on intake of vegan recipes & juicing. This looks very easy, and delicious, to prepare!

    • says

      You can buy chipotle chilies in adobo sauce at any supermarket– it’s usually sold in a tiny can in the international foods aisle. You can store the leftover chilies and their sauce in an airtight box in the refrigerator. The adobo sauce is very flavorful but it’s also very spicy, so use it with caution.

  6. Dennis Morton says

    Yummmmmm thank you. Just had fun using the FAT-FREE VEGAN GUMBO recipe. Delicious. Instead of Okra I used tofu. This is definitely a favourite now. Thank you for sharing

  7. Samantha says

    First, I want you to know that I very rarely leave reviews. Maybe I am just lazy, who knows, but what I am about to tell you is very genuine and from the heart.
    I got online, searching for healthy vegan gumbo recipes as I, too, was craving some comforting, healthy soup and gumbo, I knew, would hit the spot. I traveled amidst a sea of different recipes, but this one caught my eye. And then, I read your blog post about the fisherwoman, or Kolin, and I had chills. I love that you took the time to stress the importance of “can’t feel pain” arguments and tie it into your own experience. I have never eaten a crab in my life, to know that they are living, sentient beings has been enough, but your words were quite powerful and so touching that I found myself not only in chills, but copying/pasting this link to my Facebook, along with an excerpt from your blog in hopes that it would touch others the way that it did me.
    I have since bookmarked your blog and I will be back, indeed.
    Gumbo is on the menu tonight! I have found my recipe. :)

  8. Carissa says

    I’m going to make this tomorrow for our neighborhood Mardi Gras parade! Can I use whole wheat flour instead of brown rice flour? Thanks!

  9. Jean says

    I am not vegetarian but I am from the gulf coast (alas, live much further north now) and have many vegan/veg friends. As this time of year always makes me nostalgic, I am having a Mardi Gras dinner and find myself taking elements of your recipe with my own seafood gumbo for my diverse group. I have to say- your spices and the adobo are fantastic and I can’t wait to serve this on Mardi Gras night! Laissez Les Bons temps rouler!

  10. Joan says

    I don’t eat seafood for the same reasons. Your words summed up nicely my feelings. I also believe there are healthier choices for omega’s in the plant kingdom. This looks and sounds wonderful and I will be making this soon. Thank you for sharing your recipe and your story.

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