Meatless Monday: Green Gumbo

Almost as soon as the last piece of King cake is inhaled and the Mardi Gras beads are hung up to rest, so begins Lent, the Christian season of abstinence and reflection.

If you’ve ever been to New Orleans, you know all about gumbo, a stew in both the gastronomical and historical sense; its role is beautifully summed up in “The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook”: “Gumbo evolved not only from the city’s history of trade and commerce but also from the interaction between aristocratic and slave cultures. Black cooks, unable to find ingredients they had used in Africa, substituted others closer to hand in a process that produced new culinary sensibilities in a new world. When you taste gumbo, it is like tasting history.”

(Kim O'Donnel)

Now, gumbo being a stew meant it became whatever the cook (or the family) had on hand --- one day, it might be shellfish from a day fishing in the river; another day, it might be rich in poultry after a day of hunting wild game. Sometimes it’s thickened with file powder and sometimes it’s enriched with okra (aka ngombo in West Africa), but for flavor, a roux is undoubtedly part of the equation. Equal parts fat and flour, a roux is slowly (and some would argue, lovingly) cooked on top of the stove, deepening in flavor as it darkens in color.

Observers of Lent are familiar with the theme of doing without an object of pleasure or luxury, which for many, means meat. Although particularly symbolic during Holy Week (the days leading up to Easter), meatless meals are a fixture of the 40-day season. Enter Gumbo z’herbes, aka green gumbo, a hearty stew made with the roux and all the fantastic Creole fixins but without a drop o’ meat.

You’ll have a hard time believing there’s no meat in this pot, but I’m tellin’ you the truth, Ruth: This is good eatin’ -- and good for you too, with at least five different greens tucked inside. Ideal if you make with a partner to cut down the prep time, but still do-able if you’re an organized solo pot stirrer.

P.S. It gets better on Day 2…and Day 3…

Gumbo Z’herbes (Green Gumbo)
Inspired by “The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook”

Here’s the trick: Get everything cleaned, chopped and ready to go before you even touch that stovetop. Stock can be made days in advance to eliminate the step – and yes, I highly recommend making your own veg stock, as it’s so easy and makes a big difference in resulting flavor.

2 leeks, thoroughly cleaned, trimmed and roughly chopped
3 cloves whole garlic, peeled
6-10 black peppercorns
small handful of parsley stems
1 bay leaf

Add all ingredients to a large saucepan, plus four cups of cold water. Bring up to a lively simmer, then cook over low-medium heat for at least 25 minutes. Strain and return to saucepan and keep at a low simmer.

½ cup fat – either unsalted butter or safflower, peanut or canola oil
½ cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

In a saucepan or soup pot large enough to accommodate the entire gumbo, heat fat over high heat just until either smoke rises from oil or butter begins to actively bubble. Add flour and stir with a tall, heavy-duty wooden spoon to completely blend. Prepare to stand by the pot for at least 30 minutes, constantly stirring the mixture as it changes color from blonde to brown. The color you’re looking for is a burnt orange, on its way to a shade of chocolate. You can go as dark as you like; the darker the roux, the more intense flavor, but it depends on patience and persistence.

One of the foundations of classic French cooking is mirepoix, a mixture of diced carrots, onions and celery, which is used to flavor sauces and soups. Its influences are felt deeply in Creole cooking, and its “mirepoix” called the “Holy Trinity” -- a mix of onion, celery and bell pepper.

½ medium onion, chopped
½ green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped

Remove roux from heat and add the trinity, plus 2-3 cloves garlic, minced. Stir into the roux, return pan to medium heat and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.

Slowly add simmering stock to the roux, while stirring. Bring mixture up to a boil.

Gumbo seasonings and greens
Fresh thyme leaves, picked from approximately 4 stems (alternatively use 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, diced
¼ teaspoon white pepper (traditional for Creole cooking, but optional, in my opinion, if you use all the other forms of pepper listed)
2 pounds mixed greens, cleaned, stemmed (if necessary) and roughly chopped, of any combination: collard, mustard, turnip, beet, kohlrabi, sweet potato, carrot tops, kale, chard, sorrel, dandelion, chicory – I recommend using about five different kinds of greens
Salt and pepper to taste

Add thyme, oregano, cayenne, smoked paprika, chipotle chile and white pepper (if using). Stir in greens – don’t worry; they wilt quickly and will make room for themselves in the pot. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low-medium heat for about 40 minutes, until desired tenderness.

Serve over rice.

Makes about six servings.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 23, 2009; 7:25 AM ET Meatless Monday , New Orleans
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Hi Kim,
This sounds lovely. For the stock, should the parsley leaves be included as well, or just the stems? Thanks!

Posted by: Gburg2 | February 23, 2009 10:00 AM

Gburg2, typically I add only stems as they tend to hold up better while simmering than do the leaves, but it won't hurt if you do add the leaves, partic. if you're cooking stock for just a short while.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | February 23, 2009 11:02 AM

This sounded like a step too far for me, but I'm intrigued. The veg stock seems a little thin, but all the greens make up for that.

Ah, posting from my last days of eating local and getting to have mango, papaya, and pineapple. (Visiting family in Costa Rica). A warm pot of gumbo sounds like a good think to greet the winter chill.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 23, 2009 12:18 PM

Hello Kim

I'll have to try this. It sounds delish.

Just one caveat: I've been reading about canola oil online, and I get the impression that it's mildly poisonous. So I've removed it from my kitchen. I suggest you take a look at this issue. I've replaced it with known safe fats and oils (butter, olive, safflower, sunflower, peanut, and grapeseed).

Posted by: davidlewiston | February 23, 2009 2:05 PM

I've never liked the smell of canola oil and have avoided it accordingly. I wonder....

Posted by: davemarks | February 23, 2009 4:31 PM

Take it for what it's worth, but the poisonous canola oil rumors sound more like an urban legend to me. I certainly wouldn't use butter as a healthy substitute. Mind you, I'd use it as a tasty substitute, just not a healthy one.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 23, 2009 5:47 PM

Hello BB

Poisonousness of canola oil: Here's the url of one web reference on the subject

Posted by: davidlewiston | February 23, 2009 9:23 PM

Hello David,

Thanks for the link. The article does not say canola oil is poisonous, that's just in the preamble of claims made against canola oil.

Neglecting the studies in 1979 and 1982 (which precede the development of low eruric canola and are hence not relevant), the bulk of the work cited is oil vs. fats, not canola vs. other vegetable oils. For example, the study on rats bred for high blood pressure required canola as the sole source of fat in the diet. We're not talking about a 1/4 cup here or there.

The most important point is the lack of a refereed article comparing canola oil vs. an equivalent vegetable oil or a health warning by an organization such as the USDA, AMA, etc. I won't post further on the topic as I think it gets well away from the point of this blog. I just couldn't let "canola is poisonous" stand without being challenged. So, I've said my piece and anyone interested in the contrary view can hit the link.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 23, 2009 10:59 PM

sounds good, but I'd really like the nutrition stats for this. In other words, is it a well-balanced, healthy treat or an occasional indulgence, as is the typical gumbo?
I already eat a LOT of greens, yet love the spices -- what other heart healthy protein would go with this?

Posted by: urb-urbia | February 24, 2009 12:54 PM

Is it ok to mix the types of fat you use in a roux (e.g. half butter, half oil) or does it have to be all 1 type? Also, would it work if I used a gluten-free flour like spelt?

Posted by: owenshl | February 24, 2009 2:17 PM

Owenshi, I've never made a roux with a GF flour, but I say go for it and see what happens. The worst that happens is that it doesn't come together and you can start anew without ruining the entire dish. I am inclined to say use one kind of fat, but again have never tested it with two and if you do it, we'll post your results in this space.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | February 24, 2009 2:32 PM

I heard this interesting tidbit about trinity vs. mirepoix somplace: It seems that the heat and humidity of Louisiana made carrots hard to grow and harder to store, so they eventually were replaced by green peppers. It's all about adapting to the local climate.

Posted by: margaret6 | February 26, 2009 9:04 AM

Kim - I made this last night to mark the start of Lent (I'm going meatless). I kicked up the stock a bit with some onion, carrot and lemongrass. That was partly as I used the stock as the basis for a Caribbean accented risotto with black beans and coconut milk.

Getting all the greens was a little challenging. I hit one of the big Asian markets yesterday afternoon and scored mustard greens, collard greens, dandelion, and chicory. No turnip, beet greens, turnip greens or (sob) kale. I love kale. I wonder what sort of Asian greens might work here. In the end, I picked up some kale at the neighborhood market afterwords. As I said, I love kale.

I made a double batch as one problem with all these greens is they come tied together in ~1 pound batches. So, I had almost 5 pounds of greens. I'd probably hit a farmer's market for greens in future. Fresh and tasty and you can usually mix and match.

I had one bowl of it fairly late. It's pretty tasty. It didn't have the richness I associate with gumbo, but it was also a good deal healthier. Overall, this recipe goes into my playbook.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | February 26, 2009 12:55 PM

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