Beef Vegetable Gumbo: A Nourishing Soup Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Beef Vegetable Gumbo: A Nourishing Soup

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Beef vegetable gumbo in the pot, cooking

There are lots of ways to make vegetable soup and they're all warming, filling, and healthy as long as you use good ingredients. This version originates in the southern US and is properly called a gumbo, from the Angolan word kingumbo, meaning okra. Okra is what makes a soup into a gumbo. Okra thickens the broth into a rich sauce, giving the soup a satisfying texture.

This is an aggressively North American recipe from the Appalachians, where measuring is done by guess and by God, using ordinary household implements. Unless the menfolk are involved, in which case we wouldn't rule out the use of equipment from the tool shed. However, a valiant attempt will be made to render this recipe internationally user-friendly. Apologies in advance for awkward metric measurements.

Beef Vegetable Gumbo

For this non-vegetarian soup (to serve four people), you'll need:

  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • ½lb (250g) stew beef
  • Beef bouillon: 1 cube or 1 teaspoon of bouillon paste1 dissolved in a cup of boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons2 tomato paste
  • 2 32-ounce cartons of beef broth (32 ounces is near-as-nothing a litre, so call it that), plus one 16-ounce (half a litre) carton of vegetable stock
  • 12 ounces (340g) mixed vegetables (frozen)
  • 12 ounces (340g) okra (frozen)
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • Bay leaf, parsley, and Italian spice mix, or whatever you usually use to flavour soup
  • Salt to taste


  1. Mince the onion and sauté it in a large frying pan.
  2. When the onion is transparent, add diced cubes of stew beef, salt lightly, and brown.
  3. Add the cup of dissolved bouillon, tomato paste, and spices to taste. Mix together and heat to boiling.
  4. Add the contents of the frying pan to the liquid in a large stock pot. Stir well, and put a fire under the stock pot.
  5. Throw in all the vegetables and the potatoes. Not too hard, and be sure they land in the pot.
  6. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let it simmer for a couple of hours, or until the soup thickens sufficiently and the potatoes are fork-tender.

There is a vegetarian/vegan version of this soup. Simply leave out the meat, and change the bouillon and stock to the vegetable variety. In the Mississippi Delta, the meatless version is of great antiquity, and is referred to as 'bare soup'.

This soup is almost a meal in itself. Serve with bread and butter, or cornbread, or cheese and crackers. Have fruit or sorbet for dessert.

Now you know what gumbo is when you hear about it in those country songs.

1The cook uses 'Better Than Bouillon', available in US groceries.2We quote from another home chef: 'This is one of those inaccurate cooking terms. You could use the word glob or dollop or something.'

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