Weekly Feature: The Grad Lounge – Veggie & Bean Gumbo on Salsa Rice


I love learning about food.  Ever since I was a little girl, I would pore over recipes in my grandma’s Homemaker’s magazines and make food collages out of random magazine scraps and weekly supermarket flyers.  I never feel more focused, more driven, than when I’m photographing and scrapbooking, and something in me just ignites when I learn about ingredients and origins and histories, so really, I don’t know what the heck I’m doing in a liberal arts university program because hell, I should be out growing herbs and learning about spices at a culinary institute, ha!  I am fascinated by New Orleans and Southern Creole cuisine in general, so I was really excited to take photos of this veggie gumbo dish – and you know, it was just as wonderful eating it too! 😀 

Gumbo is a traditional Louisiana dish, a stew generally served over rice and in this particular case, purely vegetarian.  Not only do I love to eat, I love to know what I’m eating.  When I’m putting a spoonful of yumminess in my mouth, I think, “what in the world is in this that makes this so delicous?”    Some things are obvious when you taste them, while other ingredients are much more subtle and work behind the scenes to complement other tastes and to bring the dish together in a well-rounded way.  I can’t tell you how ecstatic I was when Mike and Paul, who run and cook for The Grad Lounge, gave me their ingredient notes (after I politely and sweetly asked for them of course!).  I think I stared at the paper for the whole day after they gave it to me.

The veggie and bean gumbo is chock full of sweet potatoes, okra, red and green bell peppers, onions, white beans, chopped spinach, and seasoned with black and cayenne pepper, ground cumin, oregano, thyme, and paprika.  The delicious veggie stew sits on top of a bed of salsa rice: white rice cooked in fresh tomato juice (from homemade salsa), and simmered with red onions, lime juice, oregano, chiptole pepper, and cilantro leaves.  And the dollop of sour cream is my own special touch as the coldness and tanginess complements the salsa flavour of the rice and vegetables and, well, I eat and love sour cream with everything!  The vegetables are fresh and juicy, and the salsa rice has this great bold flavour that continues to absorb from the gumbo up top. 

A defining feature of traditonal gumbo is the okra, and as weird as this sounds, I learned of okra from a Baby-Sitters Club book (written from Jessi’s perspective, Jessi being the African-American girl of the group) when I was a little girl!  (I’m not kidding).    And after doing a little research on Wiki, I was fascinated to learn that okra is what inspired the name of the dish: “ki ngombo”, the West African Bantu tribal word for “okra”.  It’s a joy expanding my knowledge and just being more aware of the food in front of me.  Learning about food has this amazing snowball effect for me where one thing leads to another and in this case, it’s learning about okra from my favourite childhood book series 🙂


The Grad Lounge is located at 166 South Ross at the York University Keele campus.  The Grad Lounge and GSA are hosting a Dinner & Dialogue event next Thursday, January 27th, from 5:30pm-7:30pm.  Free movie screening (Spike Lee’s “4 Little Girls”) and free food with some thoughtful discussion about the movie afterward.  All grad students are welcome!

As well, a HUGE thank you to Mike and Paul for being so wonderful and kind to me in taking the time to write out ingredients for dishes I asked about and sharing this information with me for the blog.  I really appreciate it.