Thursday, April 9, 2009

Veggie Might: Holy Gumbo! (Gumbo Z'Herbes)

Written by the fabulous Leigh, Veggie Might is a regular Thursday feature about all things Vegetarian.

This is a big week for monotheism. Two of the three big guys are having major blowouts at the same time—as they should of course. The Last Supper was a Passover Seder, after all.

Because of this alignment of the theological stars, I was debating between vegetarian matzo ball soup and something Easter related for my post this week. Well. The Heavens decided; and you are spared my goytastic attempt at the Passover classic.

While my broth has been coming out great, my matzo balls are still pretty leaden. If anyone would like to help a sister out, I’m open to tips and suggestions. Instead, I’ve got a Holy Week wonder that will knock your socks off.

Gumbo z’Herbes, or green gumbo, is traditionally prepared on Maundy Thursday to be served on Good Friday, when Catholics refrain from meat. Of course, all the recipes I found call for a hamhock, veal, six kinds of sausage, and “stew meat” to flavor the greens. It’s all about semantics people.

I love this dish for two reasons.

One: reading the ingredients reminds me of my favorite song from Into the Woods. Of “parsley, peppers, cabbages, and celery, asparagus and watercress and fiddleferns and lettuce,” you can use up to six of these veggies in your gumbo z’herbes and still have room for more.

Two: essentially, gumbo z’herbes is just a big ol’ mess of greens served over rice. Now that’s my kind of Easter food. I’m used to eating only the yellow/beige foods (mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, deviled eggs) at big family meals. The thought of sitting down to a helping of something healthy and delicious sends me reeling.

I culled several online recipes to create my own gumbo z’herbes recipe. Of course, Emeril was among the chosen, but, surprisingly, his recipe does not call for roux. Everything I know about gumbo tells me there must be roux, so I kept looking.

Leah Chase, of Dooky Chase’s in New Orleans, has roux in her recipe (plus like 10 pounds of meat), so I was getting closer. The recipe at Gumbopages, where you can also find an encyclopedia of Cajun/Creole info, has really simple instructions.

Here are some fun facts I picked up:
  • You must use an odd number of greens for good luck, and the more the better.
  • Parsley can be one of the greens and an herb.
  • Roux is a must for gumbo, and it’s pesky. Consult this tutorial from Emeril. It took me four tries to get it right.
  • Filé powder, also called gumbo filé, is used for thickening. Only use it at the end of cooking, and do not let it boil. Things will get stringy and gross otherwise.
  • “Pepper grass” is a wild herb commonly used in gumbo z’herbes. From the photo and subsequent discussion on this blog, I realized I picked and ate pepper grass on the “Wildman” tour in Prospect Park. New Yorkers, go make gumbo!
Gumbo z’herbes, and probably any gumbo, is a labor intensive dish. It’s easily a three to four hour proposition. Here’s a time saving tip: chop the rest of your veggies and create your mise en place after washing the greens and start the boiling.

Roux takes at least 15 minutes of constant stirring (you’ll want the peanut butter colored variation) and that’s if you get it right on the first try. The timing also depends on the quantity, how much heat you apply, and the pan you use.

Once it’s all boiled, assembled, sautéed, and boiled again the whole shack shimmies, I mean simmers for a good hour. And it’s so worth it. The flavors of the greens mingle nicely with the warm spices—allspice, clove, and cayenne. I recently treated myself to tin of smoked paprika from the gourmet market. A couple of teaspoons added just the right note of smokiness.

The filé goes in at the end, either in the pot or at the table. People familiar with the flavor and thickening power of filé may want to add their own, but a first timer (like me) may need a little hand holding.

I started with a half tablespoon. The soupy mixture immediately took on the classic gumbo texture: kind of gooey and gelatinous. Encouraged, I added another half tablespoon. It was perfect. The flavor is unique; I can only describe it by saying, it tastes like gumbo.

Have a holy week and celebrate the people you (really) love with a big pot of Gumbo z’Herbes. It’s not much to look at, but Sweet Lady of the Lowlands, it is good stuff.

Gumbo z’Herbes
Serves 4–5
6 cups vegetable stock
5 small bunches of leafy greens, about 1–2 cups of each (Use an odd number of any of the following: spinach, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, dandelion greens, chard, beet tops, carrot tops, lettuce [romaine, red, or green leaf], watercress, parsley, sorrel, arugula) washed, destemmed, and torn
1/2 green cabbage, chopped

3 tbsp flour
2 tbsp nonhydrogenated shortening or canola oil

1/2 large white or yellow onion, diced
1/2 bunch scallions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1–2 ribs celery, diced
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 whole clove
1 allspice berry
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp gumbo filé

1) Wash greens thoroughly. Remove stems and tear into pieces. Remove outer leaves of cabbage, cut in half, and chop coarsely. In a large stock pot, bring to a boil vegetable stock and greens. Cover and simmer over medium heat for an hour.

2) While greens are cooking, wash and chop remaining vegetables and herbs.

3) When the greens are done, drain broth and set aside. Allow greens to cool, then chop finely, either by hand or in a food processor.

4) With flour and shortening or oil, make medium-colored roux in a heavy bottomed soup pot. It should be the color of peanut butter.

5) Add onions, scallions, celery, and garlic to the roux and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6) Add parsley and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

7) Add reserved broth, greens, and remaining herbs and spices to the pot. Cover and simmer for an hour. Stir occasionally.

8) Remove from heat. Let it cool for a minute, then add filé, salt and pepper to taste.

9) Serve over white rice, and sing hallelujah.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price per Serving
Per serving: 134.8 calories, 5.6g fat, $1.12 (5 servings)

6 cups vegetable stock: 120 calories, .6g fat, $1.20
1 small bunch spinach: 14 calories, .1g fat, $.99
1 small bunch collards: 22 calories, .1g fat, $.64
1 small bunch mustard greens: 15 calories, .1g fat, $.40
1 small bunch green leaf lettuce: 10 calories, 0g fat, $.50
1 small bunch watercress: 4 calories, 0g fat, $.50
1/2 green cabbage: 89 calories, .5g fat, $.50
3 tbsp flour: 66 calories, .2g fat, $.03
2 tbsp nonhydrogenated shortening: 220 cal, 26g fat, $.15
1/2 large white or yellow onion: 40 calories, .2g fat, $.50
1/2 bunch scallions: 32 calories, 0g fat, $0.33
6 cloves garlic: 25.2 calories, 0g fat, $.07
1-2 ribs celery: 10 calories, 0g fat, $.05
1 tbsp fresh parsley: 5 calories, 0g fat, $.07
4 sprigs fresh thyme: 2 calories, 0g fat, $.04
1 whole clove: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 allspice berry: negligible calories and fat, $.02
2 tsp smoked paprika: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tsp cayenne pepper: negligible calories and fat, $.02
salt and pepper to taste: negligible calories and fat, $.02
1 tbsp gumbo filé: negligible calories and fat, $.04
Total: 674.2 calories, 27.8g fat, $5.61
Per serving: 134.8 calories, 5.6g fat, $1.12


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