recipe: gumbo z’herbes

I promised back in the day, I would give up my recipe for this so, I suppose it must be time to since it is indeed lent. This is a personal favorite for me, not because it is a family recipe or anything I grew up with, or anything I invented from scratch, but because it was one of the first recipes I developed on my own in my early cooking. It draws upon my French-Canadian and Iberian heritages in a very American way. If you know the plight of the Arcadians they were forced from Eastern Canada by the Brits and made one of the first treks across the Americas down Appalachia picking up native cuisine and many immigrant cultures who were now moving into the region and into what is now the Mississippi delta where they met their neighboring European Iberians as well as the natives of the bayou. The amalgamation of the French bouillabaisse into a distinctively American product incorporating the diversity of the cultures.

Cooking it is an event so try to bring the whole thing together as a gathering for whom it will be consumed. In my interpretation of the gumbo z’herbes it is all vegetarian. Typically, I give up all land dwelling beasts and fall back on my pesciterian love of food, but this is even a further departure in traditional idea gumbo aux herbes and I worked on it with vegetarians around at different times making it that much more about the experience. You could, of course, use a fish stock and add in prawns and some oysters for a nice touch on a Lenten Friday for a fish version and some Andoullie of a regular meal during the none season and still keep the herbes de verts idea, and even black beans or black eyed peas if you supposed, as long as the green veggies still remain the centerpiece.

The centerpiece of it is the ‘herbes’ portion, best done as 7 vegetables, the traditional good luck charm – though less would always work depending on what you like and is available fresh. I never received a definitive answer as to if the trinity counts toward the veggies or not, so I work toward combining the seven out the entire dish after the trinity with the (dark leafy) greens, however, you could also do an Allium based version focusing on that flavor pallet instead. I also experimented with one to perhaps be posted later that’s a gourd version that’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself, using the same base dish.

The stock here is made fresh from the left-overs from prepping the dish while the roux is cooking – all your veggie left overs should be used – if you use fish, or meat product at any point, boil that in as well. The roux is equal parts lipid and starch and is nice as a peanut butter color, but my preference is a nice red brick. Go low and slow and let the oil and flour take on a nice flavor base by mixing constantly for at least a half hour to begin browning for a full family dish (black specs means you burned it!). The darker the roux the less the thickening power, the more you’ll need to prepare. I personally like about 1/4 cup oil and 2 oz flour as a red roux to each full cup or so of stock but 1/8 cup oil and 1 oz flour at a peanutbutter roux…but it is by feel based on the roux, the trinity, the stock, etc. The trinity is typcially 2:1:1 onion, celery and bell pepper is a decent start but feel them out. Save your celery leaves, they are priceless for the final dish! Feel free to experiment with the chili peppers in it based on your heat preference and what’s available. Since I am a fan of Crystal hot sauce and file (sassafras) powder at the table as part of serving, I don’t go for a deep heat base in the dish the way I would a chili, but again, it’s a personal preference.

olive oil
red onion
green bell pepper
celery (stalks and leaves)
collar greens
mustard greens
turnip greens
spinach (baby)
green cabbage
crushed peeled tomato
file power (young sassafras leaves)
smoked paprika
ground cayenne pepper
black and white pepper corns
bay leaves
Large stock pot
small pot

Coarsely chop the onion, bell pepper, anaheim pepper, celery stalks and garlic
Place the discarded materials (except the celery leaves!) in the small pot and reserve the chopped portion.
Separate the whole leaves and rinse your collard, mustard, turnip, kale, spinach, chard and cabbage and under cold water in a collender and large bowl so the silt can settle to the bottom.
Remove the stems and centers as necessary, rinse and place them in the small pot with the hearts as available.
Coarsely cut the leaves and reserve them in ice water
Fill the small pot with water, add a bay leaf and some whole black and white pepper corns and bring to a boil.
Place your oil and flour in the stock pot and begin the roux.
Allow the roux to come to the preferred color and then add the rough chopped onion, bell pepper, anaheim pepper, celery and garlic and combine
Ladle the stock into the pot at about 3/4 the liquid required to your original estimate for the roux, mixing well to combine them
Add bay leaves and season with paprika, cayenne, cracked black and white pepper and file power (sparingly)
Bring up to a boil and then back down to a simmer to set the roux
Allow to simmer for a minimum of 20 minutes to reduce the liquid
After the simmered liquid begins to take on the thickness you are looking add the tomatoe
Then begin to add handfuls of the greens (if you have them separated the darkest ones first such as the chard, collard and turnip, then the mustard, cabbage, kale and finally the spinach)
Allow it to simmer down until the leaves are between wilted and and softened but still firm. Do not over cook them or you will end up with a bitter, sloppy mess!
As the greens wilt, reseason as necessary and add file power to maintain consistency
Chop the celery leaves and fresh flat leaf parsley and add them to the pot
Turn off heat and let the stew set for 10-15 minutes to fully thicken before serving

I prefer it served over a simple white rice made with the same veggie stock and trinity base plus the parsley and bay leaf for flavor. However, over grits or over nice crusty bread is wonderful too, I’ve even done it over pasta (spaghetti) works well too… so experiment and enjoy!

About thedoormouse

I am I. That’s all that i am. my little mousehole in cyberspace of fiction, recipes, sacrasm, op-ed on music, sports, and other notations both grand and tiny:
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