Gumbo Z’herbes (Gumbo with Herbs/Green Gumbo) is one of Louisiana’s lesser known, but definitely interesting gumbos. It is particularly popular in the predominantly Catholic region of Acadiana (L’Acadiane) in southern Louisiana during the Lenten season and the Holy Week (Holy Thursday/Good Friday) before Easter. This greens and herb-packed gumbo seems to have its origins from the West African Callaloo and the French Potage aux Herbes. Those who don’t abstain from meat will often add smoked ham, hot sausage, or meat stock for extra flavoring.
Gumbo Z’herbes may not have the the most beautiful coloring, but this is made up for with a healthy dose of veggies and a bit of heat. I used a combination of spinach, collard greens, parsley, swiss chard, and kale, but you can mix and match with your favorite greens. Just make sure they are fresh and that there is an odd number of greens added for luck. The more added, the better. Seven to fifteen or so different types is not uncommon. Other possibilities include mustard, beet, dandelion, turnip, chicory, carrot, arugula, etc.
This gumbo isn’t overly complicated, but cleaning and cutting the greens seemed to take forever. Some even remove the greens after they have been simmered for a bit and puree them before adding back to the gumbo for a more concentrated and smooth flavor.
Season the gumbo with hot sauce and cayenne pepper according to your heat preferences. I tend to scale back for myself and the children, so Chad always adds a bit more hot sauce to his bowl. I mixed in about 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1 1/2 teaspoons of hot sauce and it still had some kick for me.
When making the roux (the oil and flour) for gumbo, it should be a deep brown. The roux will add more flavor as it darkens, but it will also lose some of its thickening power.
Filé Powder (Gumbo Filé) is made from dried, ground leaves of the sassafras tree and was introduced by the Choctaw people. It is used as a thickener for the types of gumbo without okra. Don’t add filé to gumbo until after removing it from heat to prevent a stringy texture. I was able to find it in most larger grocery stores when I lived on the Gulf Coast (United States), but haven’t seen it here in Virginia. I ordered mine from Amazon: Pure Ground Gumbo Filé.
Gumbo Z’herbes (Louisiana Gumbo with Herbs)
Adapted from Saveur
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 large yellow onions, chopped
3 ribs celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded, stem removed and chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
8 cups water
1-2 teaspoons hot sauce (Tabasco or Louisiana)
1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 bunch fresh spinach, tough stems removed and chopped
1 bunch collard greens, tough stems removed and chopped
1 bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped
1 bunch swiss chard, tough stems removed and chopped
1 bunch kale, tough stems removed and chopped
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Filé powder
Cooked long grain white rice for serving
In a large pot, drizzle oil over medium low heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until darkened to a deep brown, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the onions, celery, and bell pepper. Cook, stirring often, until softened, 8-10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until just fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Pour in the water and season with hot sauce and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the chopped spinach, collard greens, parsley, swiss chard, kale, and bay leaves, in batches if needed. Once the mixture returns to a boil, reduce heat to medium and season lightly with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and tender, about 1 hour.
Remove from heat and season with filé powder and more salt and pepper if needed. Remove the bay leaves.
Serve hot with cooked white rice and a sprinkling of more filé powder and hot sauce.