Gumbo is a type of spicy stew typical of Louisiana and South Carolina cuisines, but also consumed frequently on the Gulf of Mexico. The hearty dish consists basically of two ingredients: broth and rice. While this may sound boring and limited, gumbo is actually a dish with an extremely large variety of flavors and consistencies, depending on how the broth is made.
The main varieties of gumbo broth include seafood, chicken, red meats (including sausages), and pork. A vegetarian variety also exists, and it was created for consumption primarily during Lent. Instead of meat, vegetarian gumbo is made using mashed greens that have been thickened with a roux, a mixture of butter and wheat flour.
The name is a reference to the African word kigombo, meaning okra. This refers to the old tradition of using okra to provide a flavor base. The rice used in gumbo is not cooked on the broth but separately, and only added to the dish at the time of serving. Once the broth is made, cooks can then add whatever type of meat and vegetables they feel will complement the dish. For example, tasso, a type of Cajun smoked pork can be added, or shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters. Gumbo is consumed primarily during winter months because its hearty consistence makes it a great choice during cold days. Also, the dish requires a long cooking time, as the broth must be left to simmer for hours to achieve the appropriate thickness.
Creole Gumbo, which is eaten primarily in Southern US States, is a mix of Spanish, French, and African cuisine. More vegetables are used than in traditional versions, including green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. Spices are lightly used, as this dish is supposed to have a subtle flavor rather than a strong one. People who prefer a hot variation often ask for hot sauce on the side. Gumbo is the traditional dish of Mardi Gras celebrations in Lousiana, where it is often served by masked horse riders, who first collect the ingredients by stopping door to door and then come back with a warm plate of the ready-to-eat stew.