I got this gumbo recipe from an old copy of The American Heritage Cookbook. Gumbo Z’herbs is an old creole recipe for Lent, when you are not allowed to eat meat. However this recipe includes meat stock and sausage or smoked ham bone for flavouring, so that is confusing to me….. Maybe this is only a distant relative of the original. I like this recipe because it embraces ANY kind of leafy greens or herbs that you may have on hand. Those of you from Vancouver, stop snickering you know that I am talking about official, legal vegetables. It’s a good way to use up radish tops, fennel or leek greens and other vegetable trimmings that most recipes don’t call for. The original recipe is not very detailed (it assumes that you know how to make a roux). I will include more detailed directions. I do not recommend making this recipe in a non-stick pot (I do not recommend non stick pans in general). You have to be able to scape the bottom of the pot without fear of scraping bits of coating into your food.
Gumbo Z’herbs is marvelous served with cornbread for a simple meal. I have also served it as one course in a full on Creole menu (it’s very good with fried catfish). I will include my cornbread recipe which is from an old issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. Cook’s Illustrated is an excellent resource if you are interested in food science and American cuisine. I’ve made it for a very long time so I’m not sure if I have altered it or not. This is a southern cornbread (savory and dense instead of sweet and crumbly) and I love it!
- 7 bunches of leafy green vegetables. I like to balance the spicy, tough greens with the soft, mild greens. A variety is good. Here are some options…. Collard greens, Spinach, Kale, Chard, Watercress, Beet Greens, radish Greens, Mustard Greens, arugula, dandelion Greens.
- Homemade meat stock
- 1/2 cup oil
- 2/3 cup flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour mix)
- Any or all of the following fresh herbs (the more the merrier)….Onion, Scallions, Dill, Tarragon, Chives, Thyme, Parsley, Fennel Greens, Leek Greens, Celeriac or Celery, Sage, Garlic
- Smoked ham bone or a few links of Andouille Sausage
- Salt and pepper in good quantity
- smaller amounts of cayenne, cloves and allspice
- Wash and trim the heartier greens (collard greens, kale, mustard, dandelion, radish tops ect) and place them in a large pot along with some homemade meat stock. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil. When the greens have wilted down make sure that they are just covered by the stock. If necessary add more water. If your stock is not salted add some salt to the liquid. Allow the hearty greens to simmer in the liquid, uncovered while you prepare the softer greens
- Wash and trim the softer greens (spinach, chard, watercress, beet greens, arugula ect). Add them to the pot, cover it again and allow the greens to wilt into the liquor. While the greens cook, prepare the herbs.
- Wash and mince all of the fresh herbs that you are using. Combine them in a big bowl, toss with some salt and set aside right next to the stove.
- Strain your parboiled greens reserving the pot liquor for later. Mince the parboiled greens and set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pot.
- When the oil is very hot (but not smoking) add the flour. Stir the mixture vigorously to combine. Scrape the bottom of the pot continuously to prevent sticking. It will form a thick goo. As the goo cooks the flour will start to turn a golden colour and break down into a liquid. Keep scraping the bottom of the pan a couple of times a minute, but let the flour alone to change colour for a few seconds between stirs.
- When the roux turns from golden to light brown begin stirring more vigorously again. I don’t know why, but it developes more quickly at this point. Sometimes I turn the heat down a bit to slow it up. Allow the roux the reach a very dark brown mahogany colour. Do not chicken out and settle for light brown.
- As soon as the roux is a dark, rich brown dump all of the herbs into the pan. Stir the herbs and aggressively scrape the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. After a couple of minutes the herbs will release their liquid and this will become less difficult. The salt helps them do this.
- Once the herbs are wilted, add the minced greens, the pot liquor and the ham bone or sausage (if you are using it). Let this simmer over medium heat for a while. You can make the cornbread while it simmers! Don’t forget to season the gumbo with salt, pepper, cayenne, cloves and allspice before serving.
- 1 generous tablespoon bacon grease or butter
- 1 cup stone ground yellow cornmeal
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/3 cup boiling water
- 3/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 large egg, beaten lightly
- Adjust the oven rack to the lower middle and turn the oven to 450. Set an 8″ cast iron skillet with the bacon fat or butter in the warming oven.
- Measure 1/3 cup cornmeal into a medium bowl. Mix the remaining cornmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a small bowl and set aside.
- Pour the boiling water all at once into the 1/3 cup of cornmeal. Stir to make a stiff mush. Whisk in the buttermilk, breaking up the lumps until it is smooth, then whisk in the egg.
- Stir the dry ingredients into the mush until it is just moistened.
- Check to make sure that your skillet is very hot and that the butter is melted. When it is, remove the skillet from the oven and swirl the hot grease around to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Pour the remaining melted butter (or very hot bacon grease) into the batter and stir to combine. Pour the batter into the hot skillet.
- Bake for 20 minutes then allow to cool for 5 minutes before turning it out of the pan. Your greens should be ready by now! Don’t forget to season them before serving.