I’m not a gumbo fan (meat, tomatoes, AND okra?? really?), so I was pretty disappointed when my first Daring Cook Challenge from Daring Kitchen member There’s a Newf in my Soup was gumbo. Then, I remembered the Lenten version. Gumbo Z’herbes is a compote of well-cooked greens seasoned with roux, herbs, and spices. Classically, it’s vegetarian. As the Catholic doctrine has relaxed, more folks have added meat. My version is meatless, and based on the recipe in Gourmet Today.
Herbs, in both English and French, was historically used to refer to greens as a class rather than the aromatic plants like thyme and sage which we now refer to as herbs. Spring dishes like gumbo z’herbes were viewed both as the food of the poor – meatless, from the garden – but also an important boost to health. So-called spring tonics were an annual ritual. Often the first fresh foods people had eaten after a long winter of cabbage and turnips, these intensely green concoctions are high in the flavonoids, minerals, and vitamins lacking from the winter diet. Wild greens often served a base, but domesticated vegetables replace them in Gumbo Z’herbes. More is often actually more. Use as many varieties as you can for the most flavor, but be careful to only use a small amount of very bitter greens like endive or dandelion greens.
Classically, it’s served over white rice. But, yes, you may use brown or half-n-half.
Easy Gumbo Z’herbes
1 dried chili (sweet and smokey, preferably)
4 c chopped collard greens (stems removed)
2 c chopped cabbage
1 c chopped cress
3 c chopped spinach
1 T butter
3/4 c diced onion
2 cloves minced garlic
1 T corn flour
pinch hot chili flakes
1/4 c chopped parsley
1 t dried thyme, or 1 T fresh thyme
Boil 6 c water with the chili pepper (a large pot is easiest). Add the collards and cabbage. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the cress and spinach and cook until wilted. Remove from heat. Pour the liquid off into a measuring cup.
Melt the butter in a 3 quart pot. Add the onion, and cook until beginning to brown. Add the flour to make the roux. Cook, over medium low heat for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes, and cook until the flour and garlic are golden brown (kitsune, or fox colored). Slowly mix in the liquid from cooking the greens, stirring constantly. When thickened, add the greens. Finish with the herbs and simmer for 5-10 minutes or until tender. Season with salt and pepper.
I was perfectly comfortable simmering greens while making the roux, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you aren’t familiar with the process. The timing is a little dicey; you need to have the greens done before you add the liquid to the butter-flour-onion blend. It does make the dish much faster though.