This is a bestseller in our café. The endless appeal of peanut butter, eh? I worked out long ago that in order to keep customers coming back, we needed to feed their inner child. This dish does exactly that: it feels like grown-up food, but tastes like something our five-year-old self would love.
Gumbo is more of a concept than a recipe: a soupy Creole dish of meat or vegetables or fish, thickened with okra. The word is also used to denote a mishmash of anything, from cuisines to general culture. It perfectly describes my hometown of Peckham.
Good splash of groundnut (peanut) oil (or use sunflower)
13 – 14 slender, firm okra, topped and tailed and thinly sliced
10 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 green chilli (optional), chopped
2 heaped dessertspoons peanut butter
200ml special pepper sauce (see below)*
Roughly 100ml water
Big handful of chopped fresh parsley
Warm flatbread, to serve
Heat the oil in a pan and toss in the okra, stirring well to seal – the hot oil stops the okra from becoming slimy from the outset. Add the tomatoes, garlic and chilli, if using. Once the tomatoes have softened, add the peanut butter and pepper sauce, mixing well to prevent the peanut butter from sticking. Add water as required to give the dish a thick, soupy consistency. Turn down the heat and simmer for around 6 – 7 minutes, then divide the gumbo between 2 bowls, then sprinkle with the parsley and serve with warm flatbread. This dish is very rich, so a crisp green salad would make the perfect accompaniment.
Handy hint: If you are in a real hurry, just use half a can (200g) of chopped tomatoes, or a small jar of Bolognese sauce: I am a great believer in cupboard love, so get those cans and jars out and cheat.
For a pepper Sauce
Makes roughly 1.5 litres
1 large onion, chopped
2 small red peppers, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped oil, for frying
4 garlic cloves, chopped
½ tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp paprika
½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 tbsp biber salçasi (see below)*
2 cans (400g) chopped tomatoes
About 500ml water
Salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5. Bake the aubergine for around 15 minutes, or until soft, before removing the calyx, chopping the flesh finely and setting aside.
Fry the onions and pepper in plenty of oil. Once they have softened, add the chopped aubergine, garlic and spices, stirring well, followed by the biber salçasi. Add the tomatoes and the water – you are looking for thick but pouring consistency. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down to low and bubble for around 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Season to taste. Bottle and allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator. The sauce will keep for up to 2 weeks or 4 if you trickle a layer of oil on top.
Roast 500g red peppers in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Cool slightly, pop in a plastic bag for a few moments, and you should then be able to skin them easily. Blend with 1 teaspoon salt and, for a spicy version, 2 red chillies. Achieve that authentic sun-dried effect by popping the paste back in the oven, uncovered, for around 30 minutes on a very low heat, then store in a dry, airtight jar until needed.
Persepolis: Vegetarian Recipes from Peckham, Persia and beyond Hardcover by Sally Butcher. Published by Pavillion.