There is an old Creole saying, “Jardin loin, gombo gâté,”which means, “When the garden is far, the gumbo is spoiled.” This phrase best depicts the dishes I grew up eating. Most of the vegetables on our table were plucked straight from own backyard or from the local farmer down the road. Our produce never strayed far from our property line, much less the Calcasieu Parish borders. Beginning with crisp, fresh produce is key when preparing gumbos, étoufées and fricassées, which simmer and stew for hours. So, you can image my delight when I found bins brimming with beautiful greens at the farmers market the other day. I brought back a basket filled with lovely leafy greens to make a dish I only make this time of year: a pot of green gumbo that’s steeped in tradition.
In New Orleans, gumbo z’herbes is a meatless dish traditionally served on Fridays during Lenten season when folks abstain from eating meat. Gumbo z’herbes, like all gumbos, starts with a nutty roux and the Holy Trinity: onions, celery and bell pepper. Its bulk comes from tons and tons, or at least a few pounds, of seasonal greens. Custom says that the number of greens represents the number of friends you are going to make that year, and you must use an odd number of greens for luck.
Lenten rules alter on the Holy Week, the week leading to the celebration of Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), which is the day before Good Friday, gumbo z’herbes is served with the same amount of greens but is matched pound per pound with rich meat. In preparation for a day of fasting on Good Friday, every bite of gumbo z’herbes contains lots of spicy, smoky sausage and chicken to sustain hunger and greens to nourish the soul, local greens, of course, or else the gumbo is ruined!
Note: Feel free to pick your favorite greens and add them to the pot. As long as you end up with 3 pounds of greens, that’s all that matters.
P.S. If there are any leftovers this gumbo freezes beautifully.
1 gallon cold, filtered water
3 pounds mixed leafy greens (collards, kale, spinach, lettuce, savoy cabbage), triple washed
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 bone-in chicken thighs, both sides lightly seasoned with kosher salt
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into ½-¾ inch coins
¾ pound ground sirloin
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup canola oil
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
1 medium-sized green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 medium-sized Serrano pepper, deseeded, finely chopped
3 celery stalks, finely chopped
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to season
Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce, for serving
Steamed Rice, for serving
Remove tough ribs from the kale and collard greens, and remove the outer leaves and core from the cabbage. Roughly chop the greens. Weigh the greens as you go, making sure there are at least 3 pounds of washed and torn greens.
In a large stockpot over high heat, bring water and mixed leafy greens to a boil and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes.
Strain the boiled greens, reserving 2 quarts plus 2 cups of water in a large pitcher for the gumbo. Purée the greens in a food processor. (You may have to do this in a few batches!) Set aside.
Return the stockpot to medium heat, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the chicken, skin side down, browning both sides. Remove the chicken from the pot, and add the smoked sausage. Brown both sides and set aside with the chicken thighs. Add ground sirloin and red pepper flakes to the pot. Break up the sirloin with a wooden spoon. Once the sirloin has browned, set aside with the rest of the meat.
Add canola oil and flour meat drippings in the pot, stirring with a wooden spoon until the roux comes together in a blond paste. Reduce heat to medium-low. Stir often until the roux turns a peanut butter color, about 15 minutes. Stir constantly at this point. The roux will quickly turn to the color of milk chocolate. Turn off the heat, and immediately add the garlic, green onions, bell pepper, Serrano, celery and puréed greens. The mixture will sizzle, but continue stirring until the sizzling subsides. Add seared meat and reserved water from the boiled greens. Season with cayenne, salt and black pepper. Turn the heat to medium-high. Bring to boil and reduce heat to low, partially covered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. After 1 hour, take the chicken out of the pot and allow to cool slightly. Hand shred the chicken, discarding the skin and bones. Return the chicken back to the pot and cook the gumbo for another hour, making sure to skim off any oil that rises to the surface. Adjust seasoning. Serve with Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce and steamed rice.