Gumbo Z’Herbes

This isn’t your typical gumbo. It has no okra, no shrimp, no andouille. This is a greens dish. I don’t know about you, but some times I crave meals like this.

The history of this gumbo is interesting. Catholics in Louisiana traditionally served it during Lent, and particularly on Good Friday when they were to abstain from meat. It typically has seven types of greens for good luck — mustard greens, collard greens, cabbage, beet greens, turnip greens, spinach and parsley. As time went on, Louisianans began sneaking in meat for added flavor. Some used seafood. This recipe calls for smokey ham.

This gumbo is a tonic. The greens — several pounds of them — cook down until they’re soft and silky, and then infuse your body with just about every nutrient and mineral imaginable.  Hot sauce is essential here. Even if you’re not a fan of heat, add a shake or two to your bowl and see what you think. It adds an extra layer of favor.

If you can’t find all the greens listed here (because they aren’t always available), don’t fret. Just add more of the other greens to compensate. Do try, however, to maintain the ratio of bitter and mild greens. The mix of  sweet and pungent makes for a more complex, though subtle, flavor. No matter the combination, however, this should turn out great.

Gumbo Z’Herbes
slightly adapted from Gourmet Today

4 quarts water
2 pounds meaty smoked ham hocks or shanks (2 medium)
8 large cabbage leaves
3/4 pound turnip greens, coarse ribs and stems discarded
1 pound mustard greens, coarse ribs and stems discarded
1/2 pound beet greens, including stems (from 1 large bunch beets)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
2-3 small (2- to 3-inch long) fresh hot red chiles (to taste), minced, including seeds
10 ounces baby spinach
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

ACCOMPANIMENTS: White rice; hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Bring water and ham hocks/shanks to a boil in a 5- to 8-quart heavy pot. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until meat is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

With tongs, transfer ham hocks to a cutting board to cool;  reserve cooking liquid. When cool enough to handle, discard skin, bones, and fat and finely chop ham.

Add cabbage to reserved cooking liquid, bring to a simmer, and simmer, covered, until tender, about 10 minutes. With tongs, transfer cabbage to a colander set over a large bowl. Add half of turnip, mustard, and beet greens to cooking liquid in pot and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer greens to colander with cabbage. Cook remaining greens in same manner and transfer to colander; set pot aside. When greens are cool enough to handle, finely chop; reserve cooking liquid in bowl. Pour cooking liquid from the  pot into this bowl of cooking liquid from the drained greens. Add water if necessary to bring total to 8 cups.

Melt butter in cleaned pot over moderate heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes, until beginning to brown. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, until pale golden. Add cooking liquid in a slow stream, stirring constantly, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add chopped greens, ham, thyme, and chiles and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender, about 8 minutes.

Gradually add spinach and cook, stirring, until wilted. Stir in parsley and salt.

Serve gumbo over rice with hot sauce.

Serves 8 as a main course (makes about 12 cups)

*** The gumbo without spinach, parsley, and salt, can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then refrigerate, covered. Reheat before adding the remaining ingredients.


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