A steamy bowl of soup can be soothing. And since it is an integral part of Creole cuisine, it is a fitting menu item for a mid-winter Mardi Gras celebration.
Mention soup to Creole cooks and the subject inevitably turns to gumbo, the murky soup-stew that is so hearty it is usually served alone, perhaps with crusty French bread or a salad.
The most popular method of thickening a gumbo for a Mardi Gras menu is by using a roux. But this process requires such a hefty amount of butter that health-conscious cooks may shy away from it. Purists, on the other hand, wouldn't consider leaving the roux out.
Some soups too can contain a great deal of saturated fat when they rely upon whole milk dairy products for texture. But in both cases some simple adjustments can be made to reduce the amount of fat in favorite recipes and still maintain authentic taste.
Serve okra-based gumbo, such as this one from the restaurant TGI Friday's, instead of the roux-thickened versions when fat is a concern. Load the broth with low-fat meats such as chicken, turkey or fish as a lean alternative to the fat-laden sausage of the original recipe.
Or sprinkle the finished dish with file--ground sassafras leaves, to provide the familiar thick texture to gumbo. It's rich, earthy flavor stands in well for the taste of browned roux.
Another suggestion--rely on the delicate flavor of fresh herbs or the potent taste of spices and flavorings to boost the flavor of modified soups, stews and gumbos. Cilantro lends a special character. Cumin, garlic and pepper add spice.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, diced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup sliced celery
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 cup flour
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated skim milk
Diced green pepper
Combine chicken, broth, cilantro, green onions, celery, garlic and cumin in large saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered 15 minutes. Pour soup into blender container. Add flour, cover and blend on low speed until smooth.
Return mixture to saucepan and cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils and is thick. Remove from heat and gradually stir in milk. Reheat just to serving temperature. Do not boil. Season to taste with pepper. Garnish with tomato, onion and green pepper. Makes 4 servings.
CHUNKY WINTER HARVEST SOUP
4 quarts chicken broth
2 cups cubed peeled rutabaga
2 cups cubed peeled acorn squash
1 1/2 pounds carrots, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 onion, diced
1 red onion, diced
4 leeks, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 bunch celery, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/2 head cabbage, cored and cut into 1/2-inch wide slices
2 (28-ounce) cans plum tomatoes, undrained
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped basil leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon celery seeds
1 pound zucchini, sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas
1 pound mushrooms, chopped
Combine broth, rutabaga, squash, carrots, sweet potato and potatoes over high heat in large stockpot or 2 saucepans. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Add onion, leeks, celery, cabbage, tomatoes, bay leaf, basil, cumin, coriander and celery seeds. Cook until vegetables are tender, about 1 hour.
Stir in zucchini, peas and mushrooms. Continue to cook 30 minutes or longer depending upon desired tenderness of vegetables. Makes 8 quarts.
MANDARIN FISH STEW
2/3 cup bottled sweet and sour sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 small zucchini
2 tablespoons oil
2 stalks celery, cut into diagonal, thin slices
1 medium carrot, cut into diagonal, thin slices
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger root
1 1/2 pounds firm white fish fillets, 3/4-inch thick
Combine sweet and sour sauce, brown sugar, soy sauce and 1/4 cup water. Set aside.
Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then into 1/4-inch slices.
Heat oil in large saucepan or skillet over high heat. Add celery, carrot, onion, garlic and ginger. Stir-fry 1 minute. Add zucchini and stir-fry 1 minute longer. Remove vegetables from pan.
Cut fish into 2-inch pieces and place in single layer in same pan. Pour sweet and sour sauce mixture over fish and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 4 minutes. Turn fish over and simmer 4 minutes longer, or until fish flakes easily when tested with fork. Gently stir in vegetables and heat through. Serve immediately. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
TGI FRIDAY'S SEAFOOD GUMBO
1 cup frozen okra, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 cups water
1 (6 1/2-ounce) can minced clams
3/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes, undrained
1/4 cup tomato puree
1 bay leaf
2 1/4 teaspoons file powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried thyme
3/4 pound small shrimp, peeled and deveined
5 ounces langostino