Food chat: Different gumbos for different seasons

THE WASHINGTON POST – The Washington Post Food staff recently answered questions about all things edible. Here are edited excerpts from that chat.

Q: Years ago at a Mardi Gras party, a friend from the Gulf Coast pointed out a distinction out between summer gumbo and winter gumbo, and I remember only that oysters and beef go in the winter and shrimp and tomatoes go in the summer. Any other advice?

A: That’s an interesting idea. I never thought about summer or winter gumbo, although it does make sense to cook seasonally. A gumbo z’herbes with greens would be a winter gumbo. If you’re using fresh tomatoes and shrimp, for example, then, yes, summer. And, the issue with oysters is that they are generally better in colder months (months with an R in them). I never thought of it that way. Thanks for this. – Ann Maloney

Q: I made toum for a boyfriend because who doesn’t love garlic? Well, he put on his game face and ate some, but the game face quickly fell and now it’s forced consumption. What can I do with toum, other than serve it with pita bread? I don’t want to throw it away because it was kind of a lot of work to make.

A: You can put it in a marinade, put it on sandwiches, in salad dressings, etc. It’s a condiment you can throw in anywhere you need some sharp, creamy, garlickyness. – Kari Sonde

Q: Traditional recipes call for cooking pasta in lots of water – eg, four or five quarts of water for one pound of pasta. But for quite some time, I’ve seen recommendations of cooking pasta in much lesser amounts, say, one and a half to two quarts per one pound of pasta. There’s also some dispute about whether to start with cold or hot water, but that aside, what if I’m only cooking half pound of pasta? Would the one and a half to two quarts “rule” still apply?

A: The amount of water that I use depends on what I plan to do with the pasta. Many recipes call for using the pasta water to thicken a sauce. In that case, I use less than the required amount to get a richer pasta water. As long as your pasta is covered and has enough water to move about as it boils, you should be fine. – AM

Q: There are so many flours out there, and it seems like every other recipe I see that intrigues me uses a different kind. Is there a guide for which flours can be subbed for which? I just don’t need 10 different flours in the house and would never get through them anyway. Most recently, I found a recipe that called for chickpea flour, and of course, the store was out of that, even though it bursting at the seams with coconut flour, almond flour, rice flour, cassava flour. Are any of those things interchangeable? Any ideas for the tapioca flour I found in the back of my cabinet? (I checked and it’s still good.)

A: It really and truly depends on the recipe. Chickpea flour, for example, is used often for its flavour. But, if used in baking, you may – may! – be able to use something else. – KS

Chicken and sausage gumbo. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST