(ve)G 4 Life: Gumbo Z’herbes

I wish I was in New Orleans. The last time I was in Louisiana, I was told that there are two ways to make gumbo ““ the New Orleans way, and the right way. (I also found out that seafood comes from the Mississippi River. Go figure.) As far as I could tell, in NO they cook it Creole style, i.e. with tomatoes. Cajun cooks consider this sacrilege.  Cajun gumbo gets its color from a dark roux only ““ no tomatoes never ever. There are other very important distinctions, but I don’t pretend to understand all the nuances (one can have chicken?). This is the limit of my knowledge of le scandale de la daube.

There’s a third kind of gumbo, gumbo z’herbes, and this one is vegetarian friendly. It’s fun to eat and fun to say (like “zab”, rhymes with “grab”). It’s a traditional Lenten dish, which explains the no-meat. Please note, I am but a heathen Yankee, and this recipe is totally non-traditional and inauthentic. Real gumbo z’herbes uses file powder (sassafras) as a thickener (I don’t like the taste, YMMV).

Make the Mirepoix

1 onion}
1 green bell pepper} or whatever amounts give a ratio of 1:1:1
3 stalks celery}
2 Tbsp oil or butter

Peel the onion, wash the celery, and halve the pepper and remove the seeds. Chop it all as fine as possible. If you aren’t that good at dicing, don’t worry ““ you’re going to cook the heck out of it. Heat the oil in a saucepan, then add the vegetables and turn the heat down to low. Cook until onions are clear, stirring as needed (at least 10 minutes). The heat stays low, don’t let them brown at all.

Make the Roux

2 Tbsp flour
2 Tbsp oil or butter

Roux can be tricky, so you may have to practice this step. It’s really easy to burn the flour. Keep the heat low and stir constantly, watching as it darkens. Darker = more flavor (12-30 minutes). If it gets burnt, throw it away and start again.

Make the Gumbo

6 cups vegetable stock or salted water
7 cups (5 bunches) greens, like spinach, collard greens, watercress, kale
½ green cabbage
½ cup fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning
1 tsp black pepper

Throw the mirepoix in with the roux. Stir in a little bit of the liquid. Add all the vegetables and wilt them (5-10 minutes). Stir in the Tabasco and seasonings. Add all the liquid, then heat to simmering. Cover and cook for 2 hours (reduce heat as needed) until soup is thick. Season with salt and Tabasco to taste. Not optional: serve over white rice.

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