Gumbo z’Herbes- New Orleans Green Gumbo
Last spring, while interviewing Ms. Leah Chase, the subject of Gumbo z’Herbes, New Orleans’ gumbo of mixed greens, arose. A Gumbo z’herbs (a contraction of Gumbo aux Herbes, and pronounced something like “Gumbo Zaab” in NOLA) dinner is a tradition at Ms. Chase’s restaurant Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans on Holy Thursday. My mother tells me that it was traditional to make Gumbo z’Herbes with 9 different greens on Holy Thursday- 9 being a holy number of sorts in the Catholic Church (one of my NOLA expatriate neighbors just told me a couple of days ago that they still visit 9 different churches on Good Friday). One of the traditional greens that went into Gumbo z’Herbes in New Orleans was pepper grass, a green that grew wild, as you’ll hear Ms.Chase mention (in case you’re wondering what the heck “the neutral ground” is, that’s what New Orleanians call the grassy center areas-known as the median in other places-of the wide boulevards. And btw, as I mentioned in my last post, Gumbo x’Herbes just happens to be my favorite gumbo (after okra, of course), and as a bonus, it’s less expensive to prepare than the traditional gumbo loaded with all that pricey shell fish.
Gumbo z’Herbes is a dish directly descended from the West African dish, Palaver Sauce, variants of which also appear in other outposts of the African diaspora- i.e. Callaloo throughout the Caribbean islands. I have been aware of this fact since my college days, when my good friend, Fran Osseo-Asare (you can visit her blog on African cooking at betumi), introduced me to West African food, but was reminded last year when I received a request to prepare African greens for an inauguration party. It had been years since I had looked through my African cookbooks, and I was struck once again at how similar they are.
Listen to what Ms. Chase and I discussed below, and then below that, take a look at the two recipes -the West African and New Orleans versions of a pot of greens. I hope you’ll give this delicious gumbo a try. You’ll need a big pot or two for both recipes, and lots of hungry friends to feed.
Here are recipes for both. You compare…
Palaver Sauce (from A West African Cookbook by Ellen Gibson Wilson)
- 1/2 pound tripe or 1 salted pig’s foot (okay- I left this out when I made mine)
- 2 pounds stewing beef, i.e. brisket or chuck roast, or 1 pound beef and 1 pound smoked fish (I use smoked whitefish, which I find is readily available in major metropolitan areas of the U.S.)
- 1 3/4 C. Peanut Oil
- 2 pounds Spinach, or other greens or a mixture of greens (fresh, if possible, but frozen is acceptable if fresh greens are not available)
- 2 large onions
- 2 tomatoes
- @10 hot green or red chile peppers, or 1-2 t. ground red cayenne pepper (use more or less according to your taste)
- 2 tablespoons oil
- 1 cup egushi (ground melon seed which is traditionally used in African cooking to thicken). Ms. Wilson gives several substitutes ( i.e. 2 beaten eggs, 4 C. finely chopped hard boiled eggs, 2C. mashed navy beans). I pureed the greens in a blender which thickened the sauce enough for me. In New Orleans, it’s the roux that’s been adapted as a thickener.
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg, grated (optional)
1. If tripe is not bought precooked, wash thoroughly and boil several hours. If pig’s foot is used, soak an hour before cooking.
2. Cut the beef into 1 inch cubes, and put it into a large pot with enough water to cover well. Add 1 t. pf salt, and set over high heat. Cut the tripe into small squares or thin slices, or cut up the pig’s foot, if using and add it to the beef. Bring it to a boil, skim, and reduce the heat to moderate. Cover and let it cook for about 45 minutes.
3. Add the oil and boil briskly about 10 minutes,uncovered, then reduce the heat to simmer.
4. Prepare the spinach by washing thoroughly, breaking off the tough stems, and chopping. Heat 1 cup of water in another pan with 1 teaspoon of salt. When the water boils, drop in the spinach. Cover and cook, on reduced heat, until it is very tender (Ms. Wilson says until “well done”). Drain the greens, reserving the liquid, and put them through a food mill (again, I used a blender). Add the spinach to the stewed meats.
5. Peel the onions and tomatoes, and stem and seed the fresh peppers. Grind them all together. Heat 2 teaspoon of oil in a frying pan, and cook the onions, tomatoes and peppers together several minute before adding to the spinach and meat stew. This is the point to add one of the thickening agents, if using, and then the nutmeg and smoked fish.
6. Simmer the Palaver Sauce about 1 hour, uncovered, so that most of the water evaporates leaving only the oil for liquid, stirring it occasionally.
In West Africa, it is traditionally served with Foofoo. I serve it with rice, like a good New Orleanian.
2 bunches each:
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Tops of 2 bunches of beets
- @1/3 C. vegetable oil
- 2 C. smoked ham, chopped
- 1 1/2 # smoked sausage, sliced
- 3 cup onions, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3-4 tablespoons flour
- 1 large potato (optional)
- 2 turnips (optional)
- a very healthy pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- a few drops of hot sauce
1. Soak the greens in a sink full of water to remove any grit, then lift greens out of the water and into the pot to steam (I do this one set of greens at a time i.e. collards first, then mustard, then turnip etc.- rinse, steam, rinse, steam), until all the greens are wilted. Remove each set of greens to a large bowl along with the reserved liquid (known in the South as pot likker).
2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to the pot to heat, then add sausage to brown lightly. Remove to a bowl, then add the ham to brown slightly.
3. Add another tablespoons or two of oil if needed, then add onions cooking until softened.
4. Grind steamed greens and onions together in a food processor in several batches.
5. Add 3 tablespoons of oil to the pot to heat, then stir in 3-4 tablespoons flour whisking continuously to make a light roux. The roux doesn’t have to brown.
6. Add the pureed greens and onions to the roux, then add the sausage and ham. Simmer on low heat for an hour or even two. (hey, these dishes were made to be left on the stove while the women were cleaning, washing and ironing. Longer cooking just means more melding of flavors. That’s also why it’ll be even better the next day).
7. After about an hour, add the potato and turnip (that is if you can find some turnip greens with the turnips still attached- turnip greens with no turnips, beets with no greens- what’s wrong with this picture!) to the greens, adding a bit more water if needed.
8. Serve in a bowl over steamed white rice.
Yield: at least 10 servings
BTW, it should be noted that this dish is flexible. Ms. Chase, in her recipe, adds 1 pound of stewing beef and 1pound of brisket, along with sausage and ham (making it closer to the Palaver Sauce recipe). The Creole and Acadian Cooking installation of the old Time Life series uses 1 pound veal stew meat (a tradition in old New Orleans, many of the older generation tells me they never had beef until they came to L.A.-of course, they add, the veal they used was older and pinker than what we know as veal today) and ham, but no sausage.
Enjoy! and please visit my other blog: smallpleasurescateringblog
And for more African influenced Creole cuisine see: Calas-the Search for a Lost Food Tradition