GREEN GUMBO & HOLY THURSDAY

Southern Greens | for the love of the south

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.

Louisiana Window | for the love of the south

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.

St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

Outside St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

St. Louis Cathedral | for the love of the south

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!

Garden of the Two Sisters | for the love of the south

Gumbo Z'Herbes | for the love of the south

Gumbo Z’Herbes

Serves 8-10

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.

New Orleans | for the love of the south

 

ODE TO MAS

Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup, Elote, Watermelon Agua Fresca | for the love of the south

One of the advantages of moving from place to place is getting to research and experience the best restaurants the South has to offer. Whenever I moved to Nashville, my list quickly took form with numerous local eateries. On the top of the list was Mas Tacos Por Favor, which is nestled in a residential area and honestly does not look like much from the outside. Mas Tacos is in the neighborhood of being a dive and super trendy (only in Nashville can somewhere be considered as both.) But, nonetheless, it stole my heart love at first bite and quickly became one of my favorite spots to eat in town.

Elote | for the love of the south

With cash in hand, I eagerly scan the chalkboard menu to make sure my favorites are available. Fried avocado tacos, watermelon agua fresca, elote and chicken tortilla soup, por favor. As soon as I find my table, my order is up, and there, sitting in front of me is some of the greatest Mexican food I’ve ever encountered. The elote (Mexican street corn) is roasted to perfection and slathered in a thin layer of mayo, kissed with shredded cheese and sprinkled with ground red pepper. The chicken tortilla soup is so bright and acidic it becomes slightly addictive, and you MUST wash everything down with their watermelon agua fresca.

Chicken + Cilantro + Lime Soup Prep | for the love of the south

This is a casual spot to meet up with friends, share stories, laugh, and most of all, enjoy a lovely meal. And you must eat there with a friend who is willing to tell you you have corn in your teeth from the elote because it WILL happen, and it’s completely worth it.

It began as a simple quest to find the best in Nashville, and it transformed into a love story about wanting more out of life, well more tacos to be exact.

Fresh Corn | for the love of the south

I’ve created these recipes completely inspired by my favorite dishes at Mas Tacos so you can recreate them at home just in time for Cinco de Mayo, y’all!

Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup, Elote, Watermelon Agua Fresca | for the love of the south

Recipe: Chicken + Lime + Cilantro Soup

Inspired by Mas Tacos Por Favor

Note: To get the most flavor out of the cilantro stalks, gently crack the stalks with the back of a knife before tossing them into the stock. I also use kitchen twine to tie the stalks together, which makes it easier to take them out later. 

1 gallon of water

2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

2-3 tablespoons of Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce

3 red onions, quartered

6 cloves of garlic, smashed

1 carrot, roughly chopped

1 bunch of cilantro, stalks only (reserve the leaves for garnish)

2 Serrano Peppers, halved lengthwise

1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to season

Juice from 3 limes

In a large stockpot on medium-high heat, combine all of the ingredients with the exception of the salt, pepper and lime juice and bring to a boil. Reduce to a medium simmer for 1-1 ½ hours. Take out the chicken breasts and shred with two forks. Strain the broth and return the shredded chicken to the pot. Add salt, pepper and lime juice. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Garnish with avocado slices, halved grape tomatoes, cilantro leaves, roasted corn, queso fresco, rice, and lime wedges.

Recipe: Elote

Serves 4

4 ears of sweet, white corn, shucked

1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Kosher salt

Lime wedges

In a dry skillet over medium-high heat, roast corn until charred, turning occasionally, about 10-15 minutes. Brush with mayonnaise and sprinkle with cayenne pepper, kosher salt and lime juice.

Recipe: Watermelon Aqua Fresca

Serves 4

4 cups of cubed, seedless watermelon

Juice of 1-2 limes, depending on taste

In a blender, blend watermelon until smooth. Pass through a sieve and add lime juice to taste. Serve chilled.

SOUTHERN SOUP FOR THE SOUL

Southern Vegetable Stew | for the love of the south

During the holidays, my entire eating régime is thrown out the window and onto its head. In between Thanksgiving and Christmas time, something peculiar occurs. Chewy, salted caramels are magically an acceptable excuse for breakfast, rich hot chocolate topped with malleable marshmallows replace my normal honey lemon water before bed, and a decadent beef roast needs buttery mashed potatoes as its only trimming (maybe there will be a little emerald scattering of parsley as a garnish, maybe.)  Sticks of butter, heavy whipping cream, and a gallon of whole milk line the door of the fridge. Mason jars filled to the brim with leftover gravy and duck fat stare at me with their seemingly innocent hues of ivory and beige.  Leftover salted caramel apple pie hides guiltlessly under a thin blanket of tin foil, confronting me in the middle of the night as I sneak out of bed for a “drink of water.”

Outside of dawdling about in the kitchen during the holidays, I do enjoy my daily jaunt to the post office to find festively wrapped packages, Christmas cards from loved ones and tin upon tin of homemade cookies. There is only one entity I do not look forward to receiving in the post this time of year.

I’m one of those people who hides January issues of food magazines, which come in the mail in the middle of December; teasing me with holy clear broth soups, detox strategies and religiously pointing out my bad holiday eating habits, which I loathe considering I have a Christmas cookie halfway hanging out of my mouth at this very moment. But, honestly, there are some days when I need deep, dark leafy greens to get me through this time of year. That is when this Southern vegetable stew makes its way to my hob. It’s speedy, stress-free and is solely satisfying, keeping you warm and content during this season of family, friends, and excessive cookie consumption.

Recipe: Southern Vegetable Stew

Serves 4

Note: If you want to make this dish completely vegetarian, omit the bacon and douse a few splashes of Tabasco Chipotle Pepper Sauce in with the vegetable stock to give the stew a nice smoky flavor without having to add smoked meat to the dish.

4 cups of loosely packed, washed, stemmed Southern greens (I use a mixture of collard, mustard and turnip greens)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

2 slices of bacon (or add a few dashes of Tabasco Chipotle Sauce instead)

1 medium carrot, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of fresh parsley, finely chopped, leaves only

½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (Add more if you like heat!)

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed

3 cups of low-sodium vegetable broth

¼ lb. of frozen baby butter beans, speckled butter beans or lady peas

4 sprigs of thyme

Salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Shredded Parmesan, for serving

Cornbread Croutons, for serving, recipe below

Pepper Sauce, for serving, optional

 

Hand-tear the greens into small, bite-sized pieces.

In a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, add the olive oil and slices of bacon. Cook the bacon, if using, until crispy and drain on a paper towel, reserving as a garnish for the dish. Add carrot, onion, garlic, parsley leaves and red pepper flakes to the oil. Lightly season with salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, 8-10 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes to the vegetables and cook, stirring frequently for 10-15 minutes. Add broth, beans, greens and thyme sprigs to the pot. Season slightly again with salt and pepper. Bring to boil and reduce to a simmer for 40-50 minutes (covered with the lid askew) or until the stew has thickened slightly.

Remove sprigs of thyme from the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with Parmesan cheese, cornbread croutons, reserved bacon and pepper sauce (if desired!)

Cornbread Croutons: Inspired by Nothing But Delicious

½ of a cornbread round (This is my favorite recipe!)

Cajun Seasonings, to taste

Olive oil, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Cut cornbread into1-inch cubes, drizzle with olive oil and dust with Cajun seasonings. Toss to coat.

Place seasoned cornbread cubes onto a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 5-10 minutes, or until golden and slightly crispy. Serve alongside stew.

 

 

 

FAREWELL SUMMER

Fresh Sweet White Corn | for the love of the south

While driving down a long, dusty road in North Alabama, towering stalks of corn inched away on my right and fields of soybeans lazily waved to me on my left. As they edged further and further in the distance, I became entranced by the jade landscape and was immediately reminded of the few fleeting summer days that were drawing further and further away from me.

Fresh Corn on the Cob | for the love of the south

Summer has served me well with its beautiful, charming produce that never ceases to inspire, endless days spent reading and writing on the river and the ability to devour countless blackberry snoballs without feeling the least bit guilty.  It’s been a good summer.

So, in honor of its last few days, I made a heart-warming soup with summer gold as the star. Sweet white corn is gently cooked with aromatics, simmers gently for just a few moments, and then puréed to perfection.

Farewell summer, it’s been golden.

Sweet White Corn Soup | for the love of the south

Recipe: Serves 4 as an appetizer| 2 as an entrée

Note: If you want a smooth corn soup, just strain the soup after it has been blended and discard any solids left behind. Also, you can garnish the soup with sliced cherry tomatoes, slices of grilled avocado, tortilla strips or salsa if you like!

2 tablespoons of butter

1 ½ tablespoons of olive oil, plus more for garnishing

1 medium onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, sliced

4 ears of sweet corn, shucked and kernels cut off cob

1 pinch of red pepper flakes

5 sprigs of parsley, plus more for garnishing

2 ½ cups of water

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter and oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook, stirring often until the onion has softened and become translucent. Add sweet corn kernels, red pepper flakes and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the corn begins to soften.

Add parsley sprigs and 2 ½ cups of water to the pot. Bring the corn mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the corn is soft. Discard parsley sprigs.

Using an immersion blender (or a regular blender), purée corn mixture and season with salt and pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with olive oil and parsley. Enjoy!

A Turtle Named Bacon

Turtle Soup

On a frigid Louisiana day, there are few dishes that can warm the soul like turtle soup. I don’t mind eating turtle. The meat is lovely in texture and taste. For those who feel terrible about eating the slowest reptile alive, I have a story for you. Traipsing through my grandmother’s flooded backyard one day, I found a poor, diminutive turtle. My heart broke watching the reptile struggle through the cold mud. I knew the tike needed my help. As I stepped closer, I realized that it was a snapping turtle. Against my better judgment and my parent’s warnings against touching snapping turtles, I picked up the trooper and nestled it on the porch for safety and warmth. Carefully picking the creature up by the underbelly, I observed his facial features. The one attribute that stood out the most was his nose, which was shaped like a snout on a pig. Accordingly and appropriately, I named him Bacon. I was beyond thrilled with my new best friend.

Greens were Bacon’s favorite. I watched him chew on a piece of iceberg for hours, and we both seemed quite content. Then, on that fateful day, Bacon got greedy. Tired of greens, he slinked into his shell, refusing to make an appearance. As I went to brush mud off his shell and entice him to reconcile, his head plunged forward and he attempted to nip the end of my pointer finger! I sat on the porch yelling, “Bacon, I am not a vegetable!” He didn’t seem remorseful so I allowed the unrepentant beast to escape in a ditch behind my grandmother’s house. That was the last time I harbored a turtle. So, now you may be able to understand why I am untouched by the idea of ladling into a bowl of turtle soup, and slowly, purposefully biting into the delectable turtle meat with a smile. This bowl is in remembrance of Bacon.

Turtle Soup

Recipe: Serves 6

6 tablespoons of butter

1 pound of diced turtle meat, or ground sirloin if you can’t find turtle meat

1 onion, diced

3 stalk of celery, diced

6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 ½ bell peppers, chopped

1 teaspoon of ground oregano

1 teaspoon of thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

8 cups of veal or beef stock

½ cup of flour

2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce

1 lemon, juiced

1 ½ cups of whole San Marzano tomatoes, chopped

6 ounces of fresh spinach, stems removed and roughly chopped

3 eggs, hard-boiled and roughly chopped

Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add meat to the pot and cook with butter until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. Season meat with salt, pepper and cayenne. Add vegetables, oregano, thyme and bay leaves to the pot and cook until the vegetables brown, about 25 minutes. Add the stock to the pot, season and bring to boil then reduce to simmer for about 30 minutes.

While the stock is simmering, make the roux in a separate saucepan. Melt remaining 4 tablespoons of butter on low heat. Slowly add the flour until all of the flour has been added. Cook the roux until it smells nutty and is pale in color. This should just take a few minutes. Set aside.

Once the soup has simmered for 30 minutes, add the roux slowly into the soup with a whisk to prevent lumping. Let the soup simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning at the bottom of the pot. Add the Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, tomatoes, spinach and eggs. Bring to simmer and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve with a good Sherry on the side if desired!

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup has a special place in my heart. It was the first meal my mom ever let me make by myself. Let me rephrase, it was the first time my mom allowed me to use the microwave by myself. Yes, my tomato soup memories may have come from a Campbell’s can but that little silver can was a symbol of freedom. I craved independence, so having full control over the microwave at five years old to make my own lunch was earthshattering. In our tiny kitchen, I grabbed a stool and sat on the cabinet. I grabbed the can of liberty from the cupboard and carefully opened it with the automatic can opener on the counter. I snatched a small, white bowl and poured out the red-orange contents into my vessel of choice. I covered the bowl with a paper towel per mom’s request. Apparently, the splatter of tomato soup in the microwave was a serious offense worthy of severe punishment. After the soup had time to get warm and snuggly, I used two strawberry potholders and carefully took the soup to my spot at the table. I said grace and lunch was served! I enjoyed my meal to the last drop and skipped away smiling with a red tomato soup moustache. Freedom never tasted so good!

 

Recipe: Inspired by Martha Stewart’s Tomato Soup Recipe

Serves 6

6 Tbs. butter

2 Onions, sliced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 can of San Marzano tomatoes

3 cups of chicken stock

Salt & pepper to taste

Melt butter in a large pot. Add onions and garlic to the butter. Season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Let sweat until translucent. Add can of tomatoes to the vegetables. Season with salt and pepper. Let the tomatoes cook with the onions and garlic for about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, season with salt and pepper. Let boil then reduce the heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Using an emersion blender, puree the vegetables until creamy and silky. Enjoy!

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Gumbo is as diverse and unique as its cook. Every woman in my family makes the dish differently. My grannie’s gumbo was always dark, rich and smoky; my grandma’s was light and simple. Grannie used okra as a thickener with dark roux and grandma used homemade roux and nothing else. Two very different women, two very different tastes, one spectacular dish… gumbo.

Sunday lunch meant gumbo at grandma’s house. There was always a nutty perfume that met me in the garage on those days (yes, the heavenly smell of her roux permeated through walls). I would rush to the door, eager to eat and eager to take off my itchy white socks that I was forced to wear for church. I am still convinced that little girls’ church clothes are a form of cruel and unusual punishment in the South. Nonetheless, the endurance had its reward, and the incentive came in the form of a bowl of chicken and sausage gumbo. Grandma kept the leftover roux in a small, glass-measuring cup on the counter. The roux always looked like chocolate sitting there, daring me to stick my finger in for a lick. Thankfully, it was Sunday and I was never sneaky or inquisitive enough on Sundays. I waited my turn in line, grabbed a bowl, filled it with white rice and ladled the light liquid straight from the pot. God blessed the pot my grandma used to make gumbo in. No matter how many people showed up for lunch, this little silver pot could feed everyone at least two meals. Loaves and fishes came in the form of gumbo right before my very eyes. God bless gumbo!

Recipe:

Makes about 12 servings

2 – 2 ½ cups of homemade roux (recipe below)

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

3 large smoked sausage links, cut into ½ inch rounds

2 large onions, diced

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 green onions, green and white part sliced on a diagonal

1 gallon of water

To make roux:

Add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of vegetable oil in a glass-measuring cup, or any other microwave-safe container. Stir well. Heat the mixture in 1-minute intervals and stir each time. The mixture will start to look like chunky peanut butter (sorry, that was the only comparison I can think of!). After the texture changes, heat in microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring each time, until the mixture resembles milk chocolate. Immediately take the roux out of the microwave and cool on counter. The mixture will continue to cook on the counter. Cool before using.

Gumbo:

Sauté sausage on medium heat until browned. Remove the sausage out of the pan and add the chicken to the pan. Season well and sauté till browned. Once the chicken has browned, take out and add vegetables to the pan. Season vegetables. Sweat vegetables for about 10-15 minutes. Add all of the ingredients to a large pot and add the roux. Mix to coat. Put the heat on high and add water. Season well with salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 3 hours. Season before serving.  Serve with rice and garnish with green onions.