The name is a contraction of “gumbo aux herbes.” 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. Tradition says you must have an odd number of greens, and that the number will equal the number of new friends you’ll make in the coming year.
More gumbo z’herbes is served during Holy Week than all the rest of the year combined. Depending on family tradition, one cooked gumbo z’herbes on either Holy Thursday or Good Friday. My inspiration for this recipe is the gumbo z’herbes made by Leah Chase, who goes through many gallons of gumbo z’herbes at her restaurant Dooky Chase every Holy Thursday. She uses quite a bit of meat in it. Other cooks affirm that there should be no meat in gumbo z’herbes; the purists say there shouldn’t even be seafood.
The most eclectic, authentic ingredient in gumbo z’herbes is “pepper grass.” This is a weed that grows in the neutral grounds of New Orleans avenues, the more hostile the better. Pepper grass has tight flowers that look to me like tiny cauliflowers.
- 1 bunch mustard greens
- 1 bunch collard greens
- 1 bunch turnips with greens
- 1 bunch watercress
- 1 bunch beet tops
- 1 bunch carrot tops
- 1/2 head lettuce
- 1/2 head cabbage
- 1 bunch spinach
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 lb. smoked sausage
- 1 lb. brisket, cut into large cubes
- 1 lb. chaurice (hot sausage)
- 5 Tbs. flour
- 1 tsp. thyme leaves
- 1 Tbs. salt
- 1 tsp. cayenne
- 1 Tbs. filé powder
- 4 cups cooked long-grain rice
1. Clean all vegetables in running water, making sure to pick out bad leaves, heavy stems, and grit. Cover with three gallons of water and boil for 30 minutes. Drain the vegetables but save the water. Chop all the vegetables fine.
2. Cut sausages into bite-size pieces. Put them and the brisket into a kettle with two cups reserved vegetable stock. Bring to a light boil for 15 minutes.
3. Cook the chaurice in a skillet until all the fat has been cooked out. Remove the chaurice and drain. Stir in the flour and cook over medium heat for five minutes, stirring constantly, to make a light brown roux. (Add a little vegetable oil if necessary.) Stir in enough vegetable stock to dissolve the roux, and add the pan contents to the kettle.
4. Add vegetables and about a gallon of the reserved vegetable stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.
5. Add chaurice, thyme, salt, and cayenne pepper; stir well. Simmer for 40 minutes more. Stir in filé powder, then remove from heat. Adjust seasonings, and serve in bowls over rice.