The tradition for gumbo z’herbes is to include many different kinds of greens in the gumbo – and to always include an odd number. Why? Apparently for every different green you add, you will find a new friend in the coming year.
A traditional Louisiana gumbo served during Lent that is based on loads of greens such as collards, kale, turnip greens and spinach.
Green gumbo, or gumbo z’herbes, is a Lenten tradition in Louisiana. Ironically, it is not always vegetarian, as this hearty stew is often served on Holy Thursday to fortify the faithful for the Good Friday fast.
Our version includes a ham hock and smoked andouille sausages, but you can leave them out to make a vegetarian gumbo.
Why and odd number? Not really sure, although I bet it has to do with old West African or French folklore. Gumbo zav, which is how its pronounced in Louisiana, appears to be related to the French potage aux herbes, or the West Indian callaloo, which in turn has its origins in West African cooking.
Which greens? Any you’d like. I used collards, turnip greens, lacinato kale, curly kale and dandelion greens. Other good options would be chard, spinach, parsley, mustard greens, arugula, the tops of radishes or carrots… you get the idea.
A word on the roux: Try to use peanut oil if you can find it, as it lends a particularly excellent Cajun flavor to the gumbo. Lard, while not vegetarian, would be my second choice. But regular vegetable oil will work, too.
The recipe below includes a Cajun spice blend that makes more than you need for this gumbo. You can save it for later, or serve it at the table with the file powder.
If you’ve never heard of file (fee-lay) powder, it is the dried, ground leaves of sassafras. It adds a sweet flavor to the gumbo and will thicken it a bit, too. Only add the file at the end of cooking, though, or it will turn into nasty, goopy strings.
- 1 cup peanut oil, lard or other vegetable oil
- 1 cup flour
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (see below)
- 1 ham hock (optional)
- 10 cups water
- 3 pounds assorted greens (i.e. kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, chard, parsley, dandelion greens, beet greens), chopped (about 14 cups)
- 1 pound smoked andouille sausage (optional)
- File powder to taste (optional)
Cajun Spice Blend
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon cayenne
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 2 Tbsp sweet paprika
1 Make the roux: Start the gumbo by making a roux, which will add a lot of flavor and thicken the gumbo. Heat the cup of peanut oil or lard (both are traditional roux ingredients) over medium heat for a minute or two and then stir in the flour. Mix so there are no lumps.
Cook the roux over medium-low heat until it is the color of chocolate. It is your choice how dark you let your roux go. The darker it is, the better, but once the roux gets dark it can burn easily, so you must stir constantly and keep and eye on it.
2 Heat water to a simmer: While the roux is cooking, bring the 10 cups of water to a simmer.
3 Add onions, celery, green pepper, then garlic to roux: When the roux is dark enough, mix in the chopped onions, celery and green pepper and turn the heat to medium. Let this cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften. Add the garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes.
4 Add bay leaves, spice, hot water: Add the bay leaves, the Cajun spice and slowly stir in the hot water. The roux will seize up at first, but keep stirring and it will all come together in a silky broth.
5 Add ham hock, greens, cover and simmer: Add the ham hock and all the greens. Taste for salt, but remember the ham hock will be salty, so let the broth be a little under-salted for now. If you want to add more Cajun spice, do so now. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 1 hour and 15 minutes.
6 Remove meat from ham hock bones, chop and return to pot: Check the ham hock. If the meat is falling off the bone, remove it, discard the bones, chop the meat and return it to the pot. If the hock is not ready, keep simmering the gumbo; ham hocks don’t always cook at the same rate.
7 Add andouille sausage: Once the hock is ready, add the andouille sausage and cook for another 15 minutes.