Gumbo Z’Herbes

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.

Gumbo z'Herbes

  • 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.

Serves 12-18.

4 Readers Commented

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  1. brian on January 6, 2016

    I don’t see any peppergrass in this recipe…what gives?

  2. michael rosenfeld on January 7, 2016

    Do you pick peppergrass on the side of the road or buy it from a supplier????

    • Tom Fitzmorris on January 7, 2016

      Peppergrass is not commercially harvested. It wilts the second to cut it off the ground. It is a foodstuff for poor people, which my mother considered we were, hence her use of the herb. These days, it’s something that’s more about culture and folkways than a practical ingredient. When I die, nobody else will ever talk about it again.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  3. michael rosenfeld on January 7, 2016

    I will tell my grandchildren about you and peppergrass. And I’ll save your response above. That will add at least another 75 years to “talking about it.” I’ll see to that. Culture and folkways must be preserved.