A traditional Louisiana gumbo served during Lent that is based on loads of greens such as collards, kale, turnip greens and spinach.
Green gumbo, or gumbo z’herbes, is a Lenten tradition in Louisiana. Ironically, it is not always vegetarian, as this hearty stew is often served on Holy Thursday to fortify the faithful for the Good Friday fast.
Our version includes a ham hock and smoked andouille sausages, but you can leave them out to make a vegetarian gumbo.
The tradition for gumbo z’herbes is to include many different kinds of greens in the gumbo—and to always include an odd number. Why? Apparently for every different green you add, you will find a new friend in the coming year.
Why and odd number? Not really sure, although I bet it has to do with old West African or French folklore. Gumbo zav, which is how its pronounced in Louisiana, appears to be related to the French potage aux herbes, or the West Indian callaloo, which in turn has its origins in West African cooking.
Which greens? Any you’d like. I used collards, turnip greens, lacinato kale, curly kale and dandelion greens. Other good options would be chard, spinach, parsley, mustard greens, arugula, the tops of radishes or carrots… you get the idea.
A word on the roux: Try to use peanut oil if you can find it, as it lends a particularly excellent Cajun flavor to the gumbo. Lard, while not vegetarian, would be my second choice. But regular vegetable oil will work, too.
The recipe below includes a Cajun spice blend that makes more than you need for this gumbo. You can save it for later, or serve it at the table with the file powder.
If you’ve never heard of file (fee-lay) powder, it is the dried, ground leaves of sassafras. It adds a sweet flavor to the gumbo and will thicken it a bit, too. Only add the file at the end of cooking, though, or it will turn into nasty, goopy strings.
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