Merry Christmas Eve! I hope you’ve been enjoying my holiday tour around the world. I love hearing all of my friends’ stories, and I know for a lot of them, it was hard to narrow it down to only one yummy dish to share. Lucky are we all.
While my house also enjoys the poppyseed roll previously shared by Lettuce, tonight I’m revealing a family’s Christmas Eve tradition that I’m pretty sure is all our own. Objectively, it’s a random choice given our family’s background, but very fitting given our propensity to experiment with flavors outside of the box and now, so many years later, I guess now really is part of my heritage.
Starting as a freshman in high school, my mom cooked Christmas Eve dinner for her family. The dish of choice back then was a lasagna recipe tried and tested in her Home Economics class (those were the days, huh?!). This was par for the course until about ten years later when, in or around 1975, struck by the mad photography skills of the folks at Food & Wine magazine (and maybe an effort to impress her then-boyfriend, my dad?), she did a one-eighty by making jambalaya. Not only is this nothing at all like lasagna, it was not an obvious choice at all for a white woman living in Western New York. However, the flavors stuck and the heavy rice dish eventually morphed into a non-roux based “gumbo” sort of soup that we eat today. While it doesn’t seem like that much of a novelty, the ingredients, mostly seafood, are quite pricey, and back in the day this really was a once-a-year treat.
Luckily, growing up on the shores of the Atlantic, we had access to cheap seafood to eat this more often than on Christmas Eve. However, on this special night, we usually accompany the soup with some sort of fish, broiled or fried and other side dishes that switch up from year to year. As we’ve grown older and the numbers around our Christmas Eve table have dwindled, the accompaniments have disappeared, but the gumbo remains. With the red broth and the green peppers, it looks like it belongs on any holiday table, not just ours. And while my nuclear family now calls the midwestern U.S. home, and pine trees rather than palm trees grace the backyard, the smell of the kitchen and the flavors of the gumbo takes us back to all those years growing up in Florida and bring a little warmth to the chill outside.
Here is mom’s recipe for what we like to call Gumbo. Be warned, this isn’t your Louisiana gumbo…
- 20 links "original flavor" Brown-and-Serve sausage (from the freezer section- BROWN and SERVE is the actual brand)
- 1/2 green pepper
- 1/2 red pepper
- 1/2 yellow pepper
- 1 medium yellow onion
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 TB tomato paste
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 (16-oz) bag cut okra
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 TB chili powder
- 1 TB Hungarian sweet paprika
- few grains saffron (optional)
- 1 whole bunch parsley
- 1 stalk celery
- 6 cups seafood stock or chicken stock (NOT water)
- 1/4 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 1/4 pound calamari
- 1/4 pound scallops
- 6 mussels
- 6 clams
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Basmati rice, to serve
- Saute, sausage, onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add the celery and spices. Cook until translucent, not necessarily soft.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for a few minutes until the spices are incorporated into the paste. Add the tomatoes and broth. Simmer for about 20 minutes.
- Add the okra. Simmer about 10 minutes.
- Add the peppers. Cook until tender.
- Add any seafood that contains shells. Bring to a rapid boil. Cook until seafood is cooked.
- Add the rest of the seafood and parsley, cover the pot and turn it off. Let sit at least until the seafood is done. It'll cook all by itself in the hot liquid if you cover it,. Don't overcook it!
- That's all she wrote. Enjoy!
- You can add any seafood you like...buy what's on sale.
- Cooking time is approximate.
- You can add extra liquid if necessary. Also, this freezes extremely well, but remember to reheat it only on the stove. NOT in the microwave. It'll toughen the seafood.