Got a mess of farmers market greens? Try green gumbo from New Orleans
Have you run out of ideas for collard greens other than cooking them down with bacon? Do you slice off the vibrant tops of farmers market carrots and feel guilty tossing them into the compost heap? Have you ever wondered if you could cook lettuce?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, what you need is green gumbo.
Green gumbo, often known by its French Creole name "gumbo z'herbes," is traditionally served in Louisiana during Lent, the season of sacrifice between the wild party of Mardi Gras and the holy season of Easter. But the delicious gumbo variation can be made any time of the year. The recipe is flexible and can include whatever green, leafy vegetables are in season, including collard greens, turnip greens, lettuce, carrot tops and spinach.
Even though green gumbo is a staple of Lent in Louisiana, when many people give up meat, most recipes include beef or pork for seasoning.
More:Black chefs stirred the pots for New Orleans' cuisine. But today, they are hard to find.
How green gumbo got famous
One woman gets credit for making green gumbo popular in recent years: Leah Chase.
Chase, who died in 2019 at the age of 96, oversaw the legendary New Orleans restaurant Dooky Chase's. Chase transformed the restaurant, which was started by her husband's family, from a neighborhood spot into a white tablecloth destination for Black diners at a time when the South was still segregated.
More:Queen of Creole Cuisine Leah Chase dies at 96
Dooky Chase's was a meeting place for Civil Rights leaders such as Ernest “Dutch” Morial, Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King Jr. Chase, always blunt spoken, herself became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement and a pillar of the city.
The Thursday before Easter, New Orleans gathers at Dooky Chase's Restaurant for fried chicken and bowls of green gumbo. The tables are filled with politicians, musicians, civic leaders and locals of all stripes.
Chase, until the end of her life, personally oversaw the preparation of green gumbo for Holy Thursday and always made a speech to the crowds. And the prominence she gave to green gumbo made the dish more popular in New Orleans year-round.
The odd secret of green gumbo
Poppy Tooker, a New Orleans cookbook author and host of the radio show "Louisiana Eats!," often cooked with Chase when she was alive.
"It was just thrilling because she was absolutely, positively fearless in the kitchen," Tooker said.
Tooker remembers once helping Chase make crab bisque. Chase plunged her hands into a sink full of live, snapping crabs to pull out the ones she needed.
Green gumbo does not have many rules. Chase's only requirement was that every batch include at least seven different kinds of greens, and the more the better. And it had to be an odd number of greens.
"Leah would say, 'The more greens you put into your gumbos, the more new friends you would make in the coming year,'" Tooker said. "And then she would pause in her inimitable way and say, 'And you've got to hope one of them's going to be rich.'"
The one green that Chase always included was peppergrass, which grows wild in New Orleans on the levees and street medians, known in the city as "neutral grounds." Peppergrass is part of the mustard family. Customers would collect it and deliver it to Chase in paper bags.
Tooker recommends watercress as an easier to find substitute for peppergrass.
"You want something that will give it a spicy kick," she said.
Leah Chase's green gumbo
Chase, who ran Dooky Chase's Restaurant in New Orleans with her family, made green gumbo each Holy Thursday. Lining up to eat her gumbo with fried chicken was an annual ritual in New Orleans. Although the dish is traditionally served during Lent, it is delicious all year and offers a great way to use greens from the farmers market.
- 1 bunch mustard greens
- 1 bunch collard greens
- 1 bunch turnip greens
- 1 bunch watercress
- 1 bunch beet tops
- 1 bunch carrot tops
- 1/2 head lettuce
- 1/2 head cabbage
- 1 bunch spinach
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, mashed and chopped
- 1 pound smoked sausage
- 1 pound smoked ham
- 1 pound spicy chaurice sausage (can substitute fresh Portuguese linguiça)
- 1 pound beef stew meat
- 1 pound boneless brisket
- 5 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon filé powder (optional)
Wash and clean vegetable well, since greens can often have grit or dirt. Discard any bad leaves. Put all the greens along with the onion and garlic in a large pot, cover with water and boil for 30 minutes. Strain and reserve boiling liquid.
Cut meats and sausage into bite-sized chunks while the greens boil.
Fill a large stockpot with 2 cups of the reserved boiling liquid and the smoked sausage, ham, stew meat and brisket meat. Steam for 15 minutes.
Put chaurice in a pan over medium heat and cook until the fat has rendered out of the sausage. Remove sausage from the pan and set aside.
Puree the vegetables in a food processor. Warm the rendered fat from the chaurice, add flour and cook for 5 minutes while stirring to make a roux. Add roux to the stock pot with meats and stir to combine. Add puréed vegetables and 2 quarts of reserved liquid that was used to boil the vegetables. Simmer for 20 minutes.
Add cooked chaurice, thyme, salt and cayenne pepper. Simmer for 40 minutes. Add filé power, if using, and stir to combine. Serve the gumbo over rice.
Todd A. Price covers food and culture in the South. He can be reached at email@example.com.