leave your inhibitions at the door
The Quickfire Challenge in Top Chef NOLA Episode 2 had the contestants making a gumbo that was based on their heritage. The winning dish was an “Iowan-Trinidadian gumbo with coconut, green mango & corn crumble.” I still don’t consider that to gumbo but, then again, no one asked me.
Leah Chase, the judge for that challenge, said that it reminded her of a gumbo z’Herbes, also known as Green Gumbo. I’ve made Green Gumbo a long time ago and hearing her talk about it inspired me to make it again. The recipe I used was from Emeril’s “Louisiana Real and Rustic” cookbook, which is where my gumbo recipe originally came from. Here’s what Emeril had to say about Gumbo z’Herbes:
…is often dubbed the king of the gumbos. Sometimes made with a roux, sometimes not, it’s always made with assorted greens. Traditionally served on Good Friday throughout Louisiana’s predominately Catholic communities, which observed the rules of fast and abstinence, this gumbo could be made without meat. Legend has it that for every green that was put into the gumbo, a new friend would be made during the year. Thus, cooks gathered as many different kinds of greens as possible.
Well, if that’s the case, I’m going to be making a lot of friends this year. The recipe calls for 4 pounds of greens. Ever seen what that amount looks like?
I know they sell some assortments of fresh mixed greens already cleaned, chopped, and bagged in a lot of grocery stores. But the farmer’s market is still going strong and greens are downright singing there. For those of you in Ann Arbor, I got these at the Green Things Farm booth. According to their site, they’re a young couple who met at U of M who chose farming as a way to enjoy the outdoors and contribute to the community. All of their produce has been terrific and what I appreciate most is that they actually gave the greens a good rinsing. You’d think that would be a given, but it’s not. There’s one really popular stall where I always wonder what’s going to get washed first – the produce or the sellers.
Gumbo z’Herbes Recipe
Green gumbo is often made with salt pork or pickled pork. But since this was originally made for Good Friday, the meat is completely optional. I used it here because it adds a lot of flavor to the dish and I can’t imagine it without that flavor. Plus I’ll never pass up an opportunity to put more pork in my life.
For greens, I used two kinds of mustard, kale, and collards. This makes 8-10 servings.
– 1.5 pounds salt meat or pickled pork (optional)
– 1 tsp salt
– ½ tsp cayenne pepper
– 5 bay leaves
– 8.5 cups water
– 4 pounds greens – such as collards, mustard, turnip, spinach, chard, kale – trimmed, washed and dried.
– 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 4 cups of “The Holy Trinity” – 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, 1 cup bell peppers
– ½ tsp dried thyme
– ½ tsp dried oregano
– ½ tsp dried basil
– ¼ cip chopped fresh parsley leaves
– File powder
1 – Put the meat, if using, with the salt cayenne, and bay leaves in a large deep pot and add the water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook for 30 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the meat and chop it. Set aside.
2 – Reduce the heat to medium and add the greens, a handful at a time, and blanch until they are wilted. Drain, reserving the liquid. Coarsely chop the greens. Set aside. (Hedonist’s note – I blanched the greens in batches as I didn’t think there was enough liquid to blanch them all in the pot. As each batch was done, I put them in a colander over another pot to save the liquid.)
3 – In the same pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions, bell peppers, and celery. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted and golden, about 10 minutes.
4 – Add the meat, greens, reserved liquid, thyme, oregano, basil, and parsley. Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 1.5 hours. Remove the bay leaves. If not using meat, add 4 tablespoons butter to the pot just before removing from the heat.
5 – Serve in deep soup bowls with file powder passed at the table for guests to thicken the gumbo to their personal taste.
We served ours with a scoop of rice and generous amounts of Tabasco.