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Cooking in College: Food transcends borders, trends

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In 2008, I went to Japan for two weeks for a journey of a lifetime, marketed more importantly as a great resume booster — sidenote: 13-year-olds shouldn’t be concerned about resumes.

We climbed Mount Fuji, explored the streets of Tokyo and took a bullet train across the country. We enjoyed many culinary delicacies, including the much-coveted Kobe beef — another sidenote: Kobe beef shouldn’t be wasted on 13-year-olds.

Everything was beautiful and all the food was delicious, but I was still left feeling a little homesick midway through. When I went to lunch one day, though, I saw a piece of home. In individual bowls on lunch trays were steamed okra. I had seen the green gobs before in gumbo, what my Southern-rooted family would eat every Christmas. My grandma would also fry okra in a cornmeal crust and serve with fried chicken and mashed potatoes. A piece of Americana abroad.

That’s one of my favorite things about food: The fact that I can sit down and enjoy okra, it’s slimy texture and seeds that pop, and feel like I’m halfway across the globe at my grandma’s small kitchen table is amazing to me. Food connects us all. So let me connect you to my family’s holiday dinner with this recipe below.

One last sidenote: Cooking with bacon grease is also pretty amazing. Forget what “Shape” magazine told you about New Year’s resolutions. Expand your mind.



A bowl of shrimp gumbo. Credit: Sallee Ann Ruibal | Arts & Life Editor

A bowl of shrimp gumbo. Credit: Sallee Ann Ruibal | Arts & Life Editor

1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 medium sweet onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons (or so) bacon grease
1 pound frozen okra, cut and thawed
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with chilis

4 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon Creole seasoning
2 bay leaves

1 pound (at least) peeled and deveined shrimp

Heat large skillet over medium-high heat. Add canola oil and heat until it begins to sizzle.
Add flour and whisk to incorporate. Continue whisking until the roux is dark brown, and be careful not to burn it.
Add the onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Cook until softened and translucent.
Remove from heat and put into crockpot.

Using the same skillet, melt bacon grease over medium-high heat.
Brown okra in grease for about 12–15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add Rotel tomatoes, including juice.
Add all to crockpot.

Add the chicken stock, wine, red pepper flakes, salt, bay leaves and Creole seasoning to the crockpot.
Stir well, give it a taste and make any adjustments.
Allow the flavors to get to know each other for a couple of hours.
Add shrimp at very end, while rice is cooking.

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