Mar 17, 2010

Gumbo Goes Green, I Try to Get Lucky

No.  Not that kind of lucky.  This is a family show.  Think St. Patrick's Day, Luck o' the Irish lucky.

Usually I'm all about recipes that I grew up eating or current family favorites.  I rarely feature something I haven't eaten or made at least a few times.  But I couldn't pass this up. 
* I'm a few weeks into a meatless series
* It's St. Patrick's Day 
I felt in my bones that Gumbo Z'herbes was the way to go.

Gumbo Z'herbes, from the French gumbo aux herbs (gumbo w/ greens), also called green gumbo, is what the title suggests: a gumbo made from lots of green stuff.  Not just lots though.

It should be an odd number of greens...5, 7, 9, 11, and so on.  The lore behind this dish is plenty.  Some say you must use 7 types of greens for good luck.  Some say the number of greens you add to the pot will be the number of new friends you'll make within the year.  My question: does this count only for the first pot of the year?  What if you make this 4 times in a year, adding 11 greens each time?  Poo-yie!  I can't keep up with that many people.  My Facebook account would explode.

It seems the term "greens" is used loosely.  While all the recipes I read had things like collard greens, mustard greens, beet tops, spinach, and cabbage, also included in the count were green onions, parsley, and bay leaves.  I guess if it's green and a leaf it's fair game!

Traditionally, Gumbo Z'herbes was served during Lent...often Good Friday.  (Most families I know have a fish fry or crawfish boil that day.)  Gumbo Z'herbes can be made with seafood stock or just water to keep it meatless.  But there are also recipes that use chicken stock and have andouille, ham hocks, or bacon.  People can't resist piggy greens.

This isn't too well known in Cajun country, but can be found in and around New Orleans...even on a few restaurant menus.

I took a little-a-this-little-a-that approach, mostly trying to use things I already had.  Like the half a head of green cabbage just sitting in the fridge looking sad & rejected and a few green onions that didn't make the cut during last week's meals.  And parsley seems to find its way into my produce drawer even when I don't remember bringing it home.  How does it get there?

I also had a supply of bay leaves and celery.  The part of celery we eat is the petiole, or leaf stem.  It's part of the leaf structure, but I don't know just how picky Luck or all this friend-making business is, so I tossed in celery leaves too just in case

I bought collard greens and mustard greens. 

So the final count was: cabbage, parsley, green onions, celery (incl. leaves), bay leaves, mustard greens, collard greens.  Looks like LUCKY 7 to me.

For extra flavor, I sucked it up and used the last of the shrimp stock I've been rationing.  I also decided on a little liquid smoke, making up for the lack of smoked sausage.  I checked the label--no animal products involved.  So God, luck, and whoever/whatever is out there overseeing my friendships should all be pleased. 

When it was show time, I wavered.  It may have felt right in my bones, but my head and taste buds weren't too sure. Southern I may be...but I'm not much for greens.

Let's see how all this went down.
Mise en place for Gumbo Z'herbes: oil & flour for the roux, garlic, onion, celery (+ lvs), green onion, parsley, cabbage, collard & mustard greens, bay lvs, liquid smoke, Tony's, salt, black pepper, red pepper, shrimp stock, & water

As usual, have everything ready before you start the roux.  Wash, chop, slice, dice.
Here's an easy way to prep the greens.

Hold the leaf with one hand on the midrib (large, central vein).  With your other hand, fold the leaf blade down.

Tear the blade away from the midrib by pulling down on the blade, up on the midrib.

And then you'll have the part you eat and the part you compost.
If the leaves aren't too thick, you can even stack a few at a time.

I decided to precook some of the tougher greens (cabbage, collard, & mustard greens) since a few recipes I consulted did this.  Added them to a large pot, tossed in a little salt, added about 1" of water, simmered for about 20-25 min. 

They were on their own while I made a roux...
A dark roux.  A beautiful roux.
I love making roux. 

In typical gumbo-making fashion, the onions, celery, and garlic go in.  Cooked 'em until soft. 

The greens were done and waiting.  In went a little over half of the pre-cooked collard greens, mustard greens, and cabbage. In went most of the parsley & green onions & the celery leaves. Ya know, just in case the "stalk" didn't count.

In went the shrimp stock and some water (both warmed), liquid smoke, seasonings, and bay leaves.

Got out the stick blender and pureed the remaining cooked greens.  I thought that would help thicken the gumbo and give different textures.
Ok, now!  Everybody into the cesspool. 
Yeah, I know.  Enticing.
Looks like I went out to the swamp and brought back a bucketful.

This all simmered for about an hour to an hour and a half. Honestly, I just put it simmering, went off to clean the house and sort of forgot about it.
Oh, and started wringing my hands because I wasn't pleased with how this looked.
Dinner time, Shrek!

Then I ruined my chances at luck & friendship.  I sprinkled file' powder (fee-lay) on our individual servings.  File' powder comes from ground sassafras leaves (that are harvested under a full moon).  All that work for nothing! 
Will I be unlucky & friendless? 

The verdict: The Husband knew I was iffy about making this...well more about serving it.  He passed by the kitchen and asked, "So...what's it lookin' like?"  I sighed, "Barf, Honey.  It's lookin' like barf." 

But what did it taste like?  I was pleasantly surprised.  It had the nutty, rich flavor I'd expect from gumbo made with dark roux.  It also had a nice bite from some of the greens and green onion.  It was much more filling than I expected.

But would I make it again?  Not sure.  If I'm going to make gumbo, I think I'd prefer chicken and andouille.  After half a bowl, this seemed like too much of the same thing spoon after spoon.  But I'll keep it in mind for parties when I need vegetarian option for gumbo.

My version of Gumbo Z'herbes
from Ms. enPlace

1 large onion, chopped

2 celery ribs and leaves, chopped (keep leaves separate)
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small head green cabbage, chopped
1 bunch collard greens, torn in pieces
1 bunch mustard greens, torn in pieces
1/4 c + 2 Tbsp chopped parsley, divided
4 green onions, chopped and divided
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour, plus more for adjusting the roux
1 tsp liquid smoke
2 c shrimp stock, warmed
about 3 c warm water
1 tsp Tony's Creole seasoning
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp red pepper, or to taste
2 bay leaves
cooked white rice

Make sure the vegetables are chopped before starting.

Place chopped cabbage and torn mustard and collard greens in a large pot.  Sprinkle in some salt and add about 1" of water.  Partially cover and simmer for about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a cast iron or stainless steel pot.  Sprinkle in 1/2 c flour and make a roux.  Stir and scrape constantly, until the roux is a dark brown.  If pools of oil form on the surface, sprinkle in more flour during cooking.

Add the celery (not the leaves), onion, and garlic to the roux.  Saute until softened.  Add a little over half the cooked greens, plus cooking liquid, 1/4 c parsley, 3/4 of the chopped green onion, and celery leaves.  

Next, add the shrimp stock, water, liquid smoke, seasonings, and bay leaves.  Puree the remaining cooked greens and add to the gumbo.  Cover and simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours.

Serve over cooked white rice.  Sprinkle each serving with reserved parsley, green onion, and file' powder.


  1. "So, what's it lookin' like?"
    "Barf, honey. It's lookin' like barf." -
    I love reading your posts because they make me laugh like crazy. You are too funny!
    Great thinking to use the liquid smoke in order to give it that meaty taste w/out actually using meat. I think I would actually like this based on the greens you used. I wasn't a huge fan of greens and I'm slowly coming around to them.
    Awesome post!

  2. Like Kim, this made me laugh. Good news is, it didn't smell like barf and better yet, it tasted good.


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