As in most culinary cultures, religion has an impact on the dishes of South Louisiana with gumbo z’herbes being an example. In the predominantly Catholic region of Acadiana, meat is consumed sparingly during the Lenten season leading up to Easter and this “gumbo of herbs” has become an alternative usually served on Good Friday. The African callaloo and the French potage aux herbes are similar dishes rooted in religious origin.
Over the years, gumbo z’herbes has become a tasty addition to every good Louisiana cook’s gumbo repertoire since it is a smart way to turn inexpensive root vegetable greens into a delicious dish. These days, it is just as common to see a long-simmering pot of z’herbes in the fall made with smoked andouille, salt pork, and tasso for a heartier fare.
Many great Louisiana cooks – my friend Marcelle Bienvenu being at the top of the list – have their own unique way of making gumbo z’herbes. And although recipes vary, it should always be a variety of smothered bitter greens (odd number of greens for good luck) along with a roux base adding that unmistakable gumbo depth of flavor.
My wife Roxanne and I have been experimenting lately with Swiss chard and it has become a vital part of our gumbo z’herbes pot. We have fallen in love with it for two reasons. First, it is healthy. Research shows that chard leaves are chock full of antioxidants with an acidic property that actually lowers blood sugar. And just as importantly, chard is full of flavor and when cooked down in this green gumbo, the bitterness melts away into a mellow sweetness.
If done right, with this vegetarian gumbo you’ll never miss the meat.
- 1 bunch fresh spinach leaves
- 1 bunch fresh kale
- 1 bunch fresh Swiss chard
- 1 bunch fresh collard greens
- 1 bunch fresh mustard greens
- 2 cups fresh green leaf lettuce
- 1 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 cup diced yellow onion
- 1 cup diced green bell pepper
- 1 cup chopped red bell pepper
- 1 cup diced celery
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 4 tablespoons dark roux
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Acadiana Table Cajun Seasoning Blend, see recipe here
- 6 cups cooked Louisiana long-grain white rice, such as Supreme
- 1 cup diced green onion tops
- Filé powder
- Wash dirt from the greens and trim the leafy greens from any hard stems. Chop greens into large pieces and place in a large, cast-iron pot with a heavy lid. Add all the other vegetables and herbs and cover with vegetable stock. When the pot begins to boil, add the roux, lower the heat to simmer and cover. Stir occasionally and cook for about 1 hour until the greens wilt and the flavors meld together.
- Add salt, black pepper and Cajun seasoning to taste and serve over cooked white rice with a sprinkling of diced green onions and a light dusting of filé powder.
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