This week I’m cooking “Green Gumbo” or “gumbo z’herbes.” What is “Green Gumbo?” It is a thick, flavorful soup traditionally served in Louisiana Catholic homes during Lent. On Fridays during Lent, a meatless version of gumbo is made by omitting meat and chicken and substituting vegetable broth or water for chicken stock. On Holy Thursday before Easter, a generous amount of meat (usually sausage, smoked ham) is added to the gumbo. As many types of greens that a person can find are added to the soup (but always an odd number of greens). The greens are symbolic and for every green added to the soup, you will find a new friend in the coming year. The greens add a zesty, peppery flavor to this gumbo. With smoked ham, sausage and chicken broth for flavor and with Tabasco sauce for zip, this very tasty version of gumbo is worthy of being served any time of the year.
You won’t find “Green Gumbo’ on many restaurant menus, rather it is prepared in homes. The renown New Orleans Creole restaurant, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, established in 1941 and operated for years by chef Leah Chase, is about the only restaurant which serves this gumbo. And that is one day a year, the Thursday prior to Easter. The gumbo appears to be a product of West African and French cuisine and is found in the New Orleans area. Chef John Folse, Louisiana chef, historian and author, discusses the dish in his book, The Encyclopedia of Cajun & Creole Cuisine, adding that there may be German influences in this gumbo recipe, too. A true melting pot!
Even though this gumbo recipe is primarily limited to South Louisiana cuisine, it is tasty and very heatlhy with the additions of multiple types of greens. The greens give the gumbo a different flavor profile, both my husband and I enjoyed the soup. I hope this recipe will spread beyond our region of the country.
What types of greens can be used in the recipe?
This is a flexible recipe and many combinations of greens can be used in the soup. I found lots of suggestions in recipes posted on the internet including collard, mustard, turnip greens, watercress, kale, swiss chard, beet and carrot tops, spinach, arugula and dandelion greens.
I included the last of several greens growing in my winter garden: kale, mustard greens, pak choi, argula and parsley, shown in the photo above.
Making the Recipe
Although this recipe is not difficult to make, it is time consuming as it involves making a roux. Yes, that copper-colored flour/oil combination flavors and thickens the soup. It wouldn’t be a “gumbo” without the roux. Then the gumbo needs to gently simmer on the stove for an hour or longer so the flavors meld. Find some time to make this recipe and you won’t be disappointed with the results.
In addition to the assortment of greens and the “Holy Trinity” of seasonings, here are the other ingredients for my “Green Gumbo.” I used ham in this recipe.
To make the recipe:
First, make the roux. This is a time consuming but necessary process and can take up to 15 minutes of stirring on the stove. Add oil and flour, cook and sir over low heat until it becomes copper brown in color. (If it burns, start over.)
Add the Cajun “Trinity of Seasonings” which is finely lots of chopped onion, bell pepper and celery. Plus garlic. I used a food processor to grind these vegetables to a mash.
Add these vegetables to the roux, stir and cook them about 10 minutes over very low heat.
Slowly add a quart of chicken broth or stock. Best to take the pot of the stove for this step. Stir and stir to break up any lumps of the roux.
Get the greens ready. Sort the greens and wash them to meticiously remove bugs and dirt. Remove thick stems and chop the leaves into fine pieces.
Add the chopped vegetables, diced ham and several drops of Tabasco sauce to the pot on the stove. Bring to a boil and then turn to a simmer. Cook, partially covered for an hour or more. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper, if you desire, along with more Tabasco sauce.
Ladle into bowls and serve. Traditionally this dish is served with rice and crackers.
This is a refreshing, thick and hearty soup. It is a wonderful way to use the assortment of greens which are available in markets in late winter and spring. Even though the Lenten season is officially over, we can still enjoy this soup! A taste of Southern Louisiana.
- 8 oz mustard greens (4 cups, finely chopped)
- 6 oz dinasour kale (3 cups, finely chopped)
- 2 oz arugula (1 cup finely chopped)
- 1/4 cup pak choi, chopped
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 large yellow onion
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil, such as canola oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 32 oz (4 cups) chicken stock (or broth)
- 8 oz smoked ham, diced
- 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce, more if desired
- Salt, as needed
- Black pepper, as needed
- Cooked long-grain rice, for serving
- Saltine crackers, for serving
Method and Steps:
- Prep greens (mustard greens, dinasour kale, arugula, pak choi and parsley): Mediciusly wash and drain leaves, remove center stems, finely chop. Set aside.
- Prep seasoning vegetables: Peel and coursely chop onion, chop celery into 2″ segments, seed and cut green bell pepper into large chunks, peel garlic. Add vegetables to large food processor bowl. Using pulse function, chop vegetables until finely chopped. Scrape down sides of food processor bowl as needed. Set aside.
- Make roux: Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-low heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the flour turns copper brown in color, about 12 – 15 minutes. If roux burns, start over.
- Turn heat to low. Add coursely chopped seasoning vegetables (onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic) to the roux. Cook and stir frequently until soft, about 10 minutes.
- Remove pot from stove. Slowly stir in chicken stock (or broth), about 1/2 cup at a time, to thin roux. When all the flour roux is dissolved, stir in remainder of chicken stock.
- Return to stove. Add finely chopped greens, diced ham and Tabasco sauce to the pot. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, about an hour.
- Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt, black pepper and additional Tabasco sauce, if desired.
- Ladle into gumbo bowls. Serve with long grain rice and crackers.