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

 

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BEIGNETS, I LOVE Y’ALL

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

There is a bridge stretching over Lake Pontchartrain, a very long bridge, which connects Mandeville to Metairie, Louisiana, just outside of New Orleans. We made our way past the gilded Superdome, onto Poydras to Decatur St. The scent of boiled crawfish, brewed Abita beer and fried beignets pierced the air. There is a tangible excitement in the streets, an energy as the city marches to the beat of its own drum, king cakes baking, jazz pouring out of every nook and cranny, rod iron rails decorated with colorful beads. It’s Carnival Time! The occasion calls for a visit to one of my favorite spots in New Orleans, Café du Monde.

The emerald green and white striped awning greeted us, welcoming us to our home away from home with open arms … and café au lait and beignets! We found a spot at one of the speckled, sugar dusted circular tables. Visitors from all over the world came to celebrate the season. Piles of camera bags, men in less than flattering shorts, gluttonous pigeons and hot beignets covered in mounds of powdered sugar filled the open-air café.

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Immediately, I became captivated by my surroundings and began watching a businessman, most likely a local, talking on his cell phone in the middle of the café.“How in the world is he carrying on a conversation with all of this celebrating going on?” It was in that moment when I heard him say, “Hold on, a pigeon is about to fly on top of this girls head!” Before I could turn around to get my eyes on the ill-fated girl, I felt something brush the top of my head as I bit into my beignet. Exhaling out of pure shock (and unfortunately covering everyone around me in a cloud of powered sugar), the lively café came to a screeching halt as I began waving frantically, attempting to get the pigeon away from me. My effort completely failed as one of its tiny feet got caught in my ponytail. That’s when the real floorshow began. A flurry of feathers, blonde hair, skinny arms and sugar began to brawl right smack dab in the middle of Café du Monde. An uproarious laughter filled the café, the bird finally got its footing and made a quick escape to the rafters. Everyone cheered, plates full of beignets slapped the tables, coffee cups clanked together and everything went back to its harmoniously brassy New Orleans self.

Our waitress placed another plate of hot beignets in front of me with a smirk. I knew she had seen the spectacle, and I also noticed she gave us twice as many beignets as we originally ordered. I think she felt bad for me. I didn’t mind. An extra order of hot beignets at Café du Monde was worth the trauma and disheveled hairdo. I cautiously devoured my glorious “pity” beignets as I kept one eye on the hot fried dough and one on the greedy pigeons above me.

Across the way in Jackson Square, someone began playing “When the Saints Go Marching In” for the tourists. No matter how many times I hear this song being played on the streets of New Orleans, I’m always surprised how it bewitches me. I’ll always have the spirit of Mardi Gras in my pocket, carrying it with me wherever I go and maybe a beignet or two! Laissez les bon temps roulez!

Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets | for the love of the south

Recipe: Marvelous Grapefruit Beignets

Serves 6

Note: These buttery, sugar-covered beignets, are traditionally eaten on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, during Carnival season right before the season of Lent. But honestly, I love to serve them year round to keep the spirit of Mardi Gras alive!

If you don’t have superfine sugar, don’t worry. Just whiz up some granulated sugar in a food processor until superfine! Also, you can also substitute the grapefruit zest for lemon, lime or orange zest.

½ cup (100g) of granulated sugar

Zest of 1 grapefruit

2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking powder

6 tablespoons of unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature

3 eggs, room temperature

2 tablespoons of vanilla extract

Vegetable oil, for frying

Superfine sugar, for dusting

In a small bowl, combine sugar and zest. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with a batter attachment, combine flour, salt and baking powder with a fork. Create a well in the center and add the rest of the ingredients, including the zest-infused sugar. Mix until the ingredients are combined and begin to form soft dough. Shape the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 hours.

On a generously floured surface, roll the dough out until ¼-inch thick. Cut into 16×2-inch strips. Cut again on a diagonal, creating diamond shaped pieces. The dough is very delicate, so be as gentle as possible!

Over medium heat, pour 2-inches of oil in a large cast-iron skillet. Once the oil reaches 325oF, gently place the diamond-shaped pieces of dough into the oil, allowing them to get beautifully golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or paper bags and toss in superfine sugar. Devour immediately! If by some miracle there are any leftover, just seal them up in a plastic bag, stash them on the counter, et voilà! Breakfast is served!