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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


• 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.


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.

                2. How nice to see this thread revived! Two weeks ago I did some searching on the web for recipes for gumbo z’herbes and after looking at dozens of iterations, ended back here at the Chowhound clubhouse with your grandmother. I wanted one that was strictly vegetarian, and maybe the wine in this recipe attracted me too. I loved the tradition you shared as well.

                  I had some greens in the CSA box that week and for the others made a trip to the inimitable Berkeley Bowl armed a shopping list of possibilities. Berkeley Bowl being the largest produce department in the country had everything and I had to stop myself from putting more in my shopping cart. I skipped the beets and radishes as I’d not be able to uses the roots for something else soon. Here’s what it looked like:

                  Since I was planning to make a ginormous batch to take to a wine tasting and dinner party for 12 people on Saturday night and then to another party on Sunday night, I thought this might be my one opportunity to go crazy with the assortment of greens and fresh herbs. Starting with a base of chopped onion and garlic, I also added a bell pepper (but didn’t count it as a green herb). Here’s my list of 23 greens that went into the gumbo z’herbes:

                  Carrot tops (removing most of the tougher stems)
                  Turnip greens and baby turnips
                  Savoy cabbage
                  Swiss chard
                  Green onions
                  Curly parsley
                  Fresh thyme
                  Collard greens
                  Green kale
                  Cavalo nero
                  Mustard greens
                  Bay leaf

                  I couldn’t fit everything into my refrigerator and left some out in the cold garage overnight. I spent about an hour Friday night starting to wash and pluck the greens, pulling the tough stems from the collards, turnip, and kales. This helped reduce the volume to go into the fridge and also gave me the stems and trimmings for a quick start on making a veggie broth in the morning.

                  Here’s a Chow video on de-stemming greens.

                  Saturday morning I started two pots on the stove, one a 12-qt stock pot for the gumbo, and the other a smaller Dutch oven to make veggie broth. There was so much trimmed from cleaning the greens, I wanted to capture all that flavor too in the gumbo. Leek tops, carrots, onion peels, garlic stems, tomato paste, more celery, and various trimmings saved from a week of cooking (potato peels etc.) went into the boiling broth with the chopped greens stems with bay leaf, and I kept adding more trim as I finished prepping the greens for my gumbo. The bubbling veggie broth had about an hour’s head start before I started cooking the gumbo.

                  After sautéing the onions, garlic, leeks, and bell pepper, I started putting in the chopped greens and about two quarts of water to begin. The heavier, tougher greens such as collards, turnips and kale went in first, as needing the most cooking time, while I continued to work on the rest. Normally I would set aside Swiss chard stems, but with the long cooking time for this recipe, I put these in too. It took me more than two hours of prep to get everything into the gumbo pot. Along the way I added the veggie broth once it started to color up after a couple hours of simmering, as needed, to keep the cooking greens covered, then refreshed the broth pot with more water and more material to keep going.

                  The pot drank a whole bottle of wine: 1996 Baron de Montesquieu Graves (white Bordeaux). Expecting it to be over the hill, the wine was deliciously complex, lemon and lanolin-scented, when I pulled the cork. The cook got a little more than a swig! I didn’t have any Creole seasoning so seasoned my gumbo with allspice, cayenne, sweet paprika, white pepper, black pepper, and dried thyme, plus plenty of salt. I was wishing that I had some garlic powder on hand for a little more punch. I didn’t use any bacon fat for flavoring, but I did brown a cube of butter making beurre noisette to add another note for richness. However, in this total volume, I’m not sure that it made much difference. If I’d had some smoked salt on hand, I might have added that too. The gumbo pot had a total of three hours on the fire and was filled to the brim.

                  For the dinner party in Healdsburg, I ladled the gumbo into flattish, rimmed soup bowls, mounded a spoonful of long-grain rice in the center for a white bull’s eye and sprinkled with some chopped scallions for a fresh green fillip. I had green Tabasco sauce and file’ powder on the table for guests to add their own. The gumbo was a wonderful palate cleanser and first course after a tasting flight of North Coast Cabernet Sauvignons and very well received.

                  My wine friends were the guinea pigs to help me decide if this was good enough for “prime time” to take to Sunday’s party. So off I went with my gumbo to Sebo restaurant http://www.sebosf.com in San Francisco for its fourth anniversary celebration. It’s always stressful to cook for chefs, especially when they’re as talented as these guys. At last year’s party, I noticed that some of the regular customers had contributed food and I thought it would be fun to do so if I made it back. Masa, the Japanese cook, reheated the gumbo for me. I doubt this Japanese kitchen has ever had collard greens on the stove before! I spooned rice into 35 seven-ounce disposable cups, then Chef/owner Danny ladled the hot gumbo over. This go-round I had some cubed Snake River farms kurobuta ham for guests to add as a garnish, as well as chopped scallions, green Tabasco and file’ powder. I told them the black pig ham was for “infidels”. Much as I love the vegetarian version of the dish, adding the Japanese ham took the gumbo z’herbes to a whole other place.

                  Thank you, “speyerer” for sharing your family’s Lenten treat with us. I hope that you’ll feel that I’ve respected your grandmother’s delicious original in my own rendition even though I used rice to stretch it. The last two quarts of my gumbo have been shared with other friends and family. Nearly 50 people out here in Northern California enjoyed gumbo z’herbes for the first time due to your generosity.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Melanie you are certainly fixed for friends in the coming year. The story goes that for each type of green in the gumbo z'herbes, a new friend will be made in the coming year.
                    Thanks for the feedback and Happy Easter.
                    Frank Speyerer