Gumbo z’herbes, a smothered greens dish, is often served on either Holy Thursday or Good Friday during Lent. It’s a great way to use up vegetable greens such as beet or carrot tops, though feel free to experiment with different combinations—original versions contained seven different cooking greens for good luck. The roux base adds so much depth, you won’t miss the meat. In fact, this vegetarian gumbo was the most popular among our kitchen staff, beating out shrimp-tasso and chicken-andouille versions. Make it a New Orleans-themed night with our King Cake recipe.
What to buy: Store-bought Cajun seasoning will work fine in this recipe, or you can make your own.
- Yield: 8 to 10 servings
- Difficulty: Medium
- Total: 1 hr 40 mins
- Active: 45 mins
For the greens:
- 5 bunches greens, such as collard greens, chicory, dandelion greens, mustard greens, spinach, parsley, beet tops, carrot tops, or turnip tops (enough to equal about 3 pounds)
- 3 cups water
For the gumbo base:
- 2/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 medium yellow onion, medium dice
- 1 bunch scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced, green tops reserved for garnish
- 1 large green bell pepper, medium dice
- 4 celery stalks, medium dice
- 1 large garlic clove, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
- 2 cups water or low-sodium vegetable broth
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (see What to Buy note)
- 2 whole cloves
- 3 allspice berries
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon minced marjoram leaves
- Green Tabasco
For the greens:
- Rinse and trim the greens, removing any dried-out parts or tough stems that don’t break easily. If you’re using collards, remove the tough inner rib that runs up the center of each leaf.
- Fill the sink with cold water and submerge all the greens. Leave undisturbed for about 5 minutes, then lift from the water and place in a colander. (Don’t drain the sink with the greens still in it: Soaking the greens allows all the sand and grit to settle to the bottom of the sink—if you drain it, your greens are left sitting in the silty stuff.) If necessary, repeat this process.
- Chop or tear the greens into large pieces and place in a large saucepan or pot with a tightfitting lid. Add water and season generously with salt; place over medium-high heat. When the water in the pot begins to simmer, tightly cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook the greens, occasionally turning with a pair of tongs, until they are very soft and wilted, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Strain the greens, being sure to reserve the cooking liquid. (You should have about 3 1/2 cups.) Allow the greens to cool slightly, then chop them into 1/2-inch pieces. Take about half of the chopped greens and purée them in a food processor or blender (if the greens will not blend, add a little of the reserved cooking liquid to help them along); set aside.
For the gumbo base:
- In a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. When it is hot, slowly sprinkle in the flour, stirring constantly with a wire whisk to prevent any lumps from forming. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook the roux, stirring constantly (and taking care to scrape out the corners of the pan), until it is a nutty brown color (the color of peanut butter) and emits a toasted aroma, about 10 to 15 minutes.
- Use a wooden spoon to stir the onion, scallions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic into the pot. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are softened and the garlic is no longer raw-smelling, about 5 minutes.
- Add the reserved cooking liquid along with the vegetable broth or water, stirring well to incorporate. Increase the heat to medium high and bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir in the measured salt, Cajun seasoning, cloves, allspice, and bay leaves and simmer, stirring often, until the gumbo base is soupy and thick and the vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes.
- Stir in the chopped and puréed greens and marjoram; cover the pot and simmer 10 minutes. Add Tabasco to taste and serve over cooked white rice, garnished with thinly sliced scallion tops.
Beverage pairing: Broadbent Vinho Verde, Portugal. Green, green, green. It’s in the dish, so it may as well be in the wine too. “Green wine” from Portugal has bright acidity and leafy, herbal flavors that will not clash with the intense spicy bitterness of the dish.