The decorative wrought-iron gates marking the entrance to distinctive Texas ranch houses can be easily overlooked while passing through Kendalia. Before you know it, you simply miss its post office, established in 1895. There’s not much to see in this settlement or so it seems. With about 350 inhabitants, Kendalia is located in the midst of the generous landscape of the Texas hill country. On a lazy Saturday morning, I slowed down at the sight of a watermelon painting along the dusty Farm Road 3351 from San Antonio in the direction of Fredericksburg. Just around the corner, I happened upon an even larger sign leaning against a parked tractor, with the hand painted promise of “Sweeet Watermelon”.
Under the shade of a Texas live oak tree stood Richard, the proud owner of beautiful vegetables and fruits from his own garden. As Richard told me about the laid back lifestyle of his small town, my plans for the day slowly changed. An enjoyable conversation later, I left with a paper bag full of fresh green okra, beautifully ripened tomatoes, jars of salsa and of course a huge watermelon. Filled with the perfume of the garden, I rode back home along the winding country roads to cook a Texas-inspired gumbo for Saturday supper.
- two large sweet white onions like the Vidalia or Bermuda sort
- 50-75 ml extra virgin olive oil
- one teaspoon of smoked paprika powder
- one teaspoon of ground cumin
- four large beef tomatoes
- 2-4 cloves of fresh garlic
- 500 grams of fresh okra
- 500 grams of Texas Gulf or ocean-caught shrimp
- one organic lemon
- sea salt to taste
Peel the onions and cut them in half. Lay the onion halves flat on the cutting board. Make vertical slices of the onions of even width with a sharp knife. Heat 30 ml of extra virgin olive oil in a skillet and toss the onions with the smoked paprika, a pinch of sea salt and the ground cumin. Sauté the sliced onions at low heat about twenty minutes until the onions are softened and pale-golden brown. Taste the onions for the right balance between smoky sweetness and the warm spice of cumin.
Meanwhile preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Wash and core the tomatoes and cut them into thick chunks. Peel the garlic and slice them paper thin. Toss the tomatoes with the garlic and some olive oil and bake them on a platter covered with baking paper. Peel and devein the shrimp and place them on top of the tomatoes. Place the platter in the oven about ten minutes, until the shrimp have turned bright pink.
Prepare a gas or charcoal grill at high heat. Wash the fresh okra under cold running water and drain it in a colander. Toss the okra in a teaspoon of olive oil to coat thoroughly and sprinkle it with sea salt. Place the okra on the grill about two minutes on each side or until the okra is bright green and grill marks appear. To serve, fill your favorite platter with the grilled tomatoes and shrimp, followed by the sweetly cooked onions. Decorate the dish with grilled okra and serve this Texas style gumbo warm, surrounded by wedges of lemon.
♦ Suggested combinations
Serve the gumbo with a fresh herb salad made of equal amounts of cilantro, flat leaf parsley and baby kale. Toss the salad with the juice of a lemon and the slightest amount of olive oil. Sprinkle the lemony herbs with dried chili peppers for added spice.
Wild rice mixed with bright green onions complement this dish. Imagine red bell peppers baked in the oven filled with wild rice, topped with okra gumbo for a lovely summer dinner.
Okra is a green pod filled with seeds. Its grassy green flavor is heightened by the heat of the grill. Okra is commonly used in the comfort foods of the American south. It is also to be found in Caribbean, Moroccan, Turkish and Lebanese kitchens. Okra grows in the warmth of summer.
Replace okra for grilled zucchini combined with sautéed green peppers for an equally Texan-style gumbo.