Last month I was in the city of my birth, New Orleans, Louisiana. Everywhere were preparations for Mardi Gras celebrations, which included many decadent and delicious foods like "king cakes", pralines and bananas Foster. I was reminded of my youth and the purpose of Fat Tuesday: to have one last fling before lent commences the next day.
My family was strict Catholic so we five children were instructed to "give up" all sweets until Easter Sunday, six weeks later. In our community, this was an expected form of food discipline for children who had made their first holy communion at the tender age of seven. This sacrifice was considered a spiritual or mindful one. We were doing this as "penance” for our sins, which everyone was considered to have committed at some level.
As I wandered the streets of New Orleans, an adult reflecting on these traditions, I felt gratitude that at such a young age I was taught mindfulness in the form of self control surrounding food. The guilt of the "sin" aspect was long ago lost in self-awareness but the attention to serious food contemplation has become a part of my being. I feel that this mindful attitude made it easier for me to transition to a macrobiotic diet when I was only twenty years old.
I wonder what forms of food discipline or mindfulness can be incorporated into the lives of today's youth as they are bombarded with advertsements urging unhealthy food and drink choices – so that they may gain awareness of their own agency. At a basic level, we can celebrate and appreciate delicious, healthy food. We can also interest young people in cooking.
Here is a healthy Louisiana recipe for "African Slaves Gumbo Z'Herbes", a meatless green vegetable gumbo that uses okra as it's thickening agent. Okra's mucilage and fiber strands aid in lining and protecting the digestive tract and act as an excellent bulking agent.
Serves 6 - 8 and is best with brown rice. A modern "Cajun" brown rice recipe follows.
4 cups chopped okra ("cap" discarded)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion
2 stalks celery
1/2 sweet green pepper, chopped
1/2 bunch parsley with stems and chopped
8-10 scallions chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed and minced(optional)
2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1 bunch collard greens, center stems removed and leaves chopped
1 bunch turnip greens, chopped
1 bunch or 1 package spinach, left whole
1 bunch kale, center stems removed and leaves chopped
Any of the above greens can be substituted or more added
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper(optional)
4 dried bay leaves 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
In a large saucepan add the oil then onions. Sweat for 3 minutes then add scallions, celery, green pepper, okra and garlic. Cook and stir occasionally for about 7 minutes, then add the parsley and cook for another 2 minutes.
Add the stock or water, bring the mixture to a boil stirring constantly, then lower heat and slowly stir in each chopped green vegetable, bay leaves, thyme, cayenne and salt. Cook for at least one hour and then serve over brown rice.
"Cajun" Brown Rice
serves 6-8 with leftovers
2 cups brown rice
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tablespoons each of chopped onion, scallion, sweet green pepper, celery and parsley( any combination of any or al these vegetables will work)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Cayenne pepper to taste or "Cajun" spices
Sauté vegetables in olive oil for 5 minutes. Transfer to an earthenware or glass baking dish. Wash rice then add it and stock with seasonings. Cover with a tight lid. Place in cold oven then turn on to 350 degrees. Bake for one hour and fifteen minutes or until all liquid is evaporated.
This dish can be served with gumbo or on it's own.
Image Credit: Saucy Salad
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