When 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.
Years 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.
As 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.