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By the Book: Elizabeth Sims and Brian Sonoskus’ Gumbo Bell Peppers with Corn, Peas, Spinach and Okra

June 14th 02:06pm, 2014



The story goes like this: a Jersey chef with a Johnson and Wales pedigree decides to relocate South and winds up running the kitchen at Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina – that melting pot of melting pots where folk revivalists, coffee pundits, mountain romantics and outdoorsy types rule the roost. Chef Brian Sonoskus teamed up with “Garden & Gun” writer Elizabeth Sims to stitch together an eponymous collection of his recipes, and while they don’t always hold together, there’s plenty in this book to try, and cheerful bits of commentary and nostalgia to tide you over while you read.




I went with Sonoskus’ bell peppers stuffed with summery vegetables swimming in a curious tomato curry broth. But first, I had to hunt down the quintessentially Southern ingredients. Once, while traveling in eastern Kentucky, I remarked on how the only vegetable available in the groceries was iceberg lettuce. This was before noticing that most families, at least the ones with means, grow their own in well-appointed gardens in the backyard. That’s tough to replicate in the middle of the city, so frozen okra and black-eyed peas will do in a pinch.




Note: No-salt Creole seasoning is tough to find in the store, so the low-sodium kind will do (look in the seafood section). Still, plan to season more than the recipe lets on. Most of this dish’s components wanted for salt by the end.




Be sure to stir the Arborio rice mixture constantly to ensure the correct texture. Owing either to my extra-hot stove element, or the recipe overshooting the time, my rice took closer to 12 minutes than 25.




The tomato curry broth is the dark horse of this recipe. Aromatic and slightly spicy, mix up an extra-large batch of this to use in other cooking projects. It’s worth it.

What was troublesome about the finished product was a dissonance of flavor. The red bell peppers were too powerful for their otherwise tasty innards. (Green or yellow would have worked better.) And for all its individual gifts, the tomato curry broth just doesn’t jive with this catalog of vegetables. The “whiff of Punjab” advertised by the authors accentuated the pepper and eclipsed what should have been the showpiece (and only Appalachian representative) of this dish: the filling.




Gumbo bell peppers with corn, peas, spinach and okra
6 servings

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced onion
¾ cup sliced celery
1 cup sliced fresh or frozen okra
¾ cup fresh or frozen corn
½ cup fresh or frozen black-eyed, crowder or field peas
1½ tsp. gumbo file
¾ tsp. no-salt Creole seasoning
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup Arborio rice
1½ cups water
1 cup vegetable broth
½ cup V8 juice
2 cups chopped fresh spinach
6 large red bell peppers
½ cup tomato curry broth (Recipe follows.)

• To a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil, then the onion and celery and saute for 5 minutes, or until tender. Add the okra, corn, peas, file powder, Creole seasoning, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Stir in the rice and add the water, broth and V8 juice. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until the rice is al dente and the mixture is creamy, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Stir in the spinach, remove from the heat and let cool.
• Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the stem ends off the peppers and remove the seeds and membranes. Fill the peppers with the risotto mixture. Stand the peppers up in a baking dish just large enough to hold them. Spoon the Curry Tomato Broth around the peppers. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the peppers are tender. Place each pepper in a shallow bowl and spoon the juices and broth over the pepper. Serve immediately.

Tomato curry broth
Makes 1¾ cups

1 cup V8 juice
½ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup coconut milk
¼ tsp. no-salt Creole seasoning
¾ to 1 tsp. curry powder

• Combine the V8 juice, vegetable broth, coconut milk, Creole seasoning and curry powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

What’s the most unusual yet successful fusion of cuisines that you’ve made? Tell us about it in the comments section below for a chance to win a copy of “Tupelo Honey Cafe.” We’ll announce the winner in next week’s By the Book column.

And now, congratulations to Joe, whose comment on last week’s By the Book column has won a copy of “Coi.” Joe, keep an eye out for an email from the Sauce crew.

By Garrett Faulkner

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One Response to “By the Book: Elizabeth Sims and Brian Sonoskus’ Gumbo Bell Peppers with Corn, Peas, Spinach and Okra”

  1. frances Says:
    June 20th, 2014 at 9:20 pm

    I”m of Dutch decent – and in the Netherlands they have a tradition of indonesian food and whenever I go back I have to go out to eat at an indonesian restaurant and have a “rice table”– multiple small dishes served with rice — which is not quite traditional but still delicious. An interesting indonesian – dutch ‘fusion’ food is fries with peanut sauce, mayo and raw onions on top – i made that once here – the fries were not quite the same but i made a delicious peanut sauce with peanut butter, garlic, sweet soy sauce, peppers, some coconut milk and a variety of spices. I know this snack sounds strange but the ingredients really work well together and it is very tasty!

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