There is an old Creole saying, “Jardin loin, gombo gâté,”which means, “When the garden is far, the gumbo is spoiled.” This phrase best depicts the dishes I grew up eating. Most of the vegetables on our table were plucked straight from own backyard or from the local farmer down the road. Our produce never strayed far from our property line, much less the Calcasieu Parish borders. Beginning with crisp, fresh produce is key when preparing gumbos, étoufées and fricassées, which simmer and stew for hours. So, you can image my delight when I found bins brimming with beautiful greens at the farmers market the other day. I brought back a basket filled with lovely leafy greens to make a dish I only make this time of year: a pot of green gumbo that’s steeped in tradition.
In New Orleans, gumbo z’herbes is a meatless dish traditionally served on Fridays during Lenten season when folks abstain from eating meat. Gumbo z’herbes, like all gumbos, starts with a nutty roux and the Holy Trinity: onions, celery and bell pepper. Its bulk comes from tons and tons, or at least a few pounds, of seasonal greens. Custom says that the number of greens represents the number of friends you are going to make that year, and you must use an odd number of greens for luck.
Lenten rules alter on the Holy Week, the week leading to the celebration of Easter Sunday. On Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday), which is the day before Good Friday, gumbo z’herbes is served with the same amount of greens but is matched pound per pound with rich meat. In preparation for a day of fasting on Good Friday, every bite of gumbo z’herbes contains lots of spicy, smoky sausage and chicken to sustain hunger and greens to nourish the soul, local greens, of course, or else the gumbo is ruined!
Note: Feel free to pick your favorite greens and add them to the pot. As long as you end up with 3 pounds of greens, that’s all that matters.
P.S. If there are any leftovers this gumbo freezes beautifully.
1 gallon cold, filtered water
- 1 gallon cold, filtered water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 bone-in chicken thighs, both sides lightly seasoned with kosher salt
- 1 pound smoked sausage, cut into ½-¾ inch coins
- ¾ pound ground sirloin
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¾ cup canola oil
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
- 1 medium-sized green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 1 medium-sized Serrano pepper, deseeded, finely chopped
- 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper