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Lenten Treat? --- Gumbo Z'herbes

Does anyone fix Gumbo Z'herbes during Holy Week? I am the only one in my family who enjoys this traditional Roman Catholic dish.

My Mère (grand-mother), Louise Egan (1883 – 1955) cooked gumbo z'herbes on either Holy Thursday or Good Friday. in New Orleans. There should be no meat or seafood in gumbo z'herbes. There are however, some non-traditionalists that use bacon and pork as seasoning.

Does your family have a special pre Easter meal?

Gumbo Z'herbes
Serves: 20

Ingredients:

• 1 vegetable oil to just cover bottom of pot (2-3 Tablespoons)
• 2 medium onions finely chopped
• 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
• 1 bunch mustard greens
• 1 bunch collard greens
• 1 bunch turnip greens
• 1 bunch spinach
• 1 bunch green onions
• 1 bunch flat leaf parsley
• 1 bunch watercress
• 1 bunch beet tops
• 1 bunch carrot tops
• 1 bunch radish tops
• 1 bunch dandelion greens
• ½ head green leaf lettuce (not iceberg)
• ½ head cabbage
• 2 small turnips, peeled and cubed
• 2 cups dry white wine
• - water to cover
• 3 teaspoons Creole Seasoning

Note: The name is a contraction of "gumbo aux herbes." As the name implies, it's made with greens, and it's very different from any other kind of gumbo.
The more different greens, the better the gumbo z'herbes.
Another tradition is that you must have an odd number of greens in there for luck, and that whatever the number is will be duplicated during the year in the number of new friends you'll make.

Method:

1. Wash the greens and drain well.
2. Cut out the stems center ribs from the greens.
3. Tear the greens into small pieces.
4. In a black cast iron pot, add enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pot and heat the oil until it is hot..
5. Sauté the onions and garlic until soft.
6. Add the greens and the cubed turnip.
7. Add the water and wine to cover.
8. Add the seasonings and bring pot to a boil over medium heat.
9. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook until the greens are tender, about 2 hours.
10. Serve greens hot with their cooking liquid or "pot likker”.

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  1. I know gumbo z'herbes as a staple throughout Lent, not just for Holy Week, but it's somewhat different in that it contains beans, which I never much liked. I'll have to try your recipe soon!

    2 Replies
    1. re: JungMann

      "a staple throughout Lent," God bless you.
      We would have the gumbo z'herbes mixed with the red beans left over from Monday. But not on Friday because of the meat in the beans.

      1. re: speyerer

        That's what I remember! And that's why I didn't like gumbo z'herbes. I didn't think the two things matched. I might have to make this for dinner tomorrow!

    2. Great Thanks!! I tried Chow's recipe and LOVED IT.
      I notice that your recipe doesn't call for flour. I thought a gumbo started with a roux?
      I made the chow gumbo by the way with whole wheat pastry flour instead of all purpose and it was great! have been subbing WWPF for APF to bake--but hadn't tried for sauces until this recipe.

      1. I've been wondering about the roux question as well, i.e. what makes it a "gumbo" without it? And do you serve this over rice, as with a "regular" gumbo?

        3 Replies
        1. re: sea97horse

          I made a big batch and ate all week with:
          brown rice
          whole wheat couscous
          even with a whole grain pita.
          All delicious.

          1. re: sea97horse

            <I've been wondering about the roux question as well, i.e. what makes it a "gumbo" without it?> It's not the roux that makes it gumbo. It's the gumbo! OKRA! (a natrual thickener)

            1. re: ChefJune

              Lots of gumbos - including Gumbo z'Herbes - don't have okra in them.
              Okra is a summer vegetable, so traditional winter gumbos, such as those with wild game, are usually made without okra.

          2. abud and sea97horse,
            I appreciate your logical questions but my Mère always made "gumbo aux herbes" sans roux and sans le riz. She called it "gumbo" and nobody questioned Mère, at least none of her seven children or the thirteen grandchildren, she was a little short on grandchildren because two of her sons were priests. Enjoy the recipe and Happy Easter!

            2 Replies
            1. re: speyerer

              When my husband and I made the decision to move to New Orleans I decided to embrace local culture by making him a big (and I mean *big* ) pot of gumbo z'herbes on Good Friday. He was so less than impressed, but I really liked it. Since then I've been exposed to much better gumbo than my novice attempt and I'm looking forward to "knowing better and doing better" this Good Friday. If I don't have to make a roux I'm all for it!

              1. re: speyerer

                Thanks for the info, speyerer -- far be it from me to argue with your Mere. You must have been a lucky kid!

              2. I still cook this old family favorite, too, speyerer. I guess we all bent the rules of Lent in our own good South Louisiana Catholic ways, but your recipe calls for wine, a serious no-no for most of us during Lent. That's fine by me.

                However, contrary to what some seem to believe, traditional Gumbo z'Herbes recipes were made with meat broth and my family was no exception. The inevitable Creole rationalization: we don't "eat" meat in Lent but that doesn't mean that we can't have the broth that it was cooked in, does it, cher?
                The veal or ham used to make the stock for the gumbo was simply saved for another meal when meat was allowed. The recipes in old Creole cookbooks always use meat stock and so did those of my grandmothers. Most recipes now just use the meat.

                I do agree with you that there is no roux in this gumbo. Nice clear stock, slightly greenish from the vegetables. And no rice. Ever. Where does CHOW get these strange ideas for their recipes?

                2 Replies
                1. re: MakingSense

                  I stand by ma grand-mère's recipe, no meat in Gumbo Z'herbes.
                  The law of abstinence requires a Catholic, with certain age restrictions, to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Meat is considered, for this restriction, to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Some moral theologians have traditionally considered this also to forbid soups or gravies made from them. Other theologians hold that abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. So we both have a basis for our meat stock vs. no meat stock recipes.
                  However, as a New Orleans Catholic, I must point out that there is no regulation that Catholics abstain from drinking any form of alcohol during Lent.

                  Happy Lent!!

                  1. re: speyerer

                    The recipe in The Picayune Original Creole Cookbook calls for both a veal brisket and a large slice of lean ham. Many other old recipes simply use meat broth or ham. There's no reason why you have to.

                    The current rules for Lenten fast and abstinence require observance on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but prior to Vatican II, all days during Lent were days of fasting with total abstinence added on Friday. On fast days, you were only allowed meat at one meal. The two meals, other than a light breakfast, were not supposed to exceed a normal full meal. The exceptions were Sundays - and in New Orleans, St. Joseph's Day. And alcohol was forbidden except for those days as well. Most people lost a few pounds.
                    We were all relieved to see those strict rules go, but many older Catholics observed them for years after Vatican II.

                    The old joke in New Orleans was that we gave up alcohol for Lent anyway - to give our livers a rest after the pleasures of the rest of the year.