Chef Porsche Combash, a former Holistic Chef Instructor for our Holistic Chef Online Culinary Program shares a story of origins, her father’s favorite food, and a must-try recipe.
Learn more about Chef Porsche and enjoy her easy and delicious recipe for Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickles below.
African Americans are Uniquely American
African Americans are uniquely American. Our wide and varied stories are firmly rooted in this country’s history–how she was built and how she has flourished through inequitable and unjust systems. America’s true, shameful history was secreted away in the shadows, which has allowed a false narrative of our people to prevail.
According to DNA records, my ancestors come from West Africa–Mali, Benin, and Cameroon–the primary origins of the chattel slave trade. I don’t know where my surname, Combash, comes from. Having such a unique name has enabled me to discover that my people escaped slavery and travelled the Underground Railroad to freedom, and have been lynched in retribution for legal participation in our democratic process during reconstruction.
I was My Parents’ Dream of a New World
My mother and father married in 1965, two years before the Loving v. Virginia case legalized interracial marriage in the United States. I was my parents’ dream of a new world where state-sanctioned, legalized racism would be banished and where people could live in love and equality. Although some laws have changed, systemic racism still exists, and in some areas, is flourishing.
Gumbo (Ngombo) is the West African Bantu Word for Okra
When asked to share a personal story and recipe to honor Black History Month, one of the twelve months of the year that I am African American, I immediately felt a pull to my childhood food tradition: fishing and gumbo. In researching my father’s favorite food, gumbo, I found that the origins of this dish are so deeply American, created from a convergence of a cosmopolitan and interracial society in the city of New Orleans, Louisiana.
This dish, named gumbo (ngombo), is the West African Bantu word for okra. It is a mix of all the Americans who were born to, exiled to, emigrated to, or were kidnapped to this area. It classically contains filé powder, made of sassafras leaf, which originates from the Choctaw who were the first to use it. A rich caramel colored roux, made with flour toasted in fat, seasons and thicken the dish. Roux making has a long history in French cooking, brought in by the early French traders who were exiled from Canada to the area. The influx of Spanish brought sausage and smoked meats into the mix.
Gumbo Can Be Made with Whatever Is on Hand
As with many African American dishes, gumbo can be made with whatever is on hand. Our traditions are often based on regional and seasonal ingredients, and necessity. For my father’s gumbo, we went early morning fishing on the Berkeley Marina, a skill he had learned to do at an early age to help feed his three younger brothers. He taught me to set crab traps, bait and set fishing poles, and to eat sardines and crackers for lunch since there was no getting around the fishy hands.
Our gumbo included crabs and fish caught that day. Sometimes it was red rock crabs, rock fish, or perch, which usually were thrown back because of all the work for a very little amount of meat. Whatever was caught we cleaned at the marina and put into the gumbo, along with the roux (ours was with bacon fat) and the holy trinity (onion, green peppers, and celery). Then we added okra, greens, sausage, and chicken (if we had any) and always Old Bay Seafood Seasoning and hot sauce. Our ancestors come from the Chesapeake Bay and Baltimore, Maryland. We spent the whole day fishing and making this wonderful mix of American food served over fluffy Carolina Rice cooked with butter for anyone and everyone who could make it by for a plate.
Chef Leah Chase, Queen of Creole Cuisine
As I researched and created the curriculum for our Creole and Cajun class, I found the iconic Queen of Creole Cuisine, New Orleans Chef Leah Chase, interviewed by rocket scientist and whole hog barbecue pitmaster, Dr. Howard Conyers. This piece made me so happy and reminded me of my childhood favorite. Her message of local and seasonal is so clear.
My favorite quote from this wise soul is “It takes all different kinds of people to make a good world. Just like it takes all kinds of things to make a good gumbo!” Her passion and love for people and food shines to begin conversations that change the world for the better!
Today I offer a recipe for Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickle. One of the things we teach in the Holistic Chef Program is how to make lacto-fermented vegetables to add to any meal. This gives me the feeling of family and home while supporting my digestion when I do not have time to fish and make gumbo!
Lacto-Fermented Okra Pickles
Servings: 8 | Prep Time: 10 Min
These no-vinegar okra pickles are delicious with the addition of Old Bay Seasoning and can be made with spices you have on hand. Okra is a great vegetable for pickling because it is filled with prebiotics and vitamins, and is mucilaginous which is supportive for gut health.
- 2 cups whole okra
- 1 1/2 Tbs Celtic grey sea salt
- 1.5 cups filtered water, or as needed
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 Tbs Old Bay Seafood Seasoning, or 1 tsp celery powder + 1 tsp paprika + 1/2 tsp black pepper +1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- Prepare the ingredients: Keep okra whole and wash carefully; use fresh okra that has not turned brown or softened.
- Pack okra and garlic into a 1-quart Mason jar as tightly as possible, placing tip to top alternating.
- Make the brine: Add salt and spices to 1 cup filtered water; stir until salt dissolves into the water.
- Pour the brine over the okra in the jar. Add more water to cover the okra in liquid.
- Add a weight, like a clean river stone or glass weight. Place weight directly on top of the mix to keep it under liquid, which prevent molds from forming. Seal with an airlock lid. If you do not have an airlock lid, you can open the lid every few days to release the carbon dioxide.
- It should be ready in ten days. It will turn from bright green to olive green; this is the lactic acid at work.
- Taste it! Check the okra by tasting one. It will be slightly briny, and flavorful. Store it in the refrigerator to slow the continued fermentation.
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