Green Gumbo

Another hearty stew from Hank Shaw. Enjoy! ~Elise

Green gumbo, or gumbo z’herbes, is a Lenten tradition in Louisiana. Ironically, it is not always vegetarian, as this hearty stew is often served on Holy Thursday to fortify the faithful for the Good Friday fast. Our version includes a ham hock and smoked andouille sausages, but you can leave them out to make a vegetarian gumbo.

The tradition for gumbo z’herbes is to include many different kinds of greens in the gumbo—and to always include an odd number. Why? Apparently for every different green you add, you will find a new friend in the coming year. Why and odd number? Not really sure, although I bet it has to do with old West African or French folklore. Gumbo zav, which is how its pronounced in Louisiana, appears to be related to the French potage aux herbes, or the West Indian callaloo, which in turn has its origins in West African cooking.

Which greens? Any you’d like. I used collards, turnip greens, lacinato kale, curly kale and dandelion greens. Other good options would be chard, spinach, parsley, mustard greens, arugula, the tops of radishes or carrots… you get the idea.

A word on the roux: Try to use peanut oil if you can find it, as it lends a particularly excellent Cajun flavor to the gumbo. Lard, while not vegetarian, would be my second choice. But regular vegetable oil will work, too.

The recipe below includes a Cajun spice blend that makes more than you need for this gumbo. You can save it for later, or serve it at the table with the file powder. If you’ve never heard of file (fee-lay) powder, it is the dried, ground leaves of sassafras. It adds a sweet flavor to the gumbo and will thicken it a bit, too. Only add the file at the end of cooking, though, or it will turn into nasty, goopy strings.

Green Gumbo Recipe

  • Prep time: 30 minutes
  • Cook time: 2 hours
  • Yield: Serves 10-12.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup peanut oil, lard or other vegetable oil
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp Cajun seasoning (see below)
  • 1 ham hock (optional)
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 pounds assorted greens (i.e. kale, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, spinach, chard, parsley, dandelion greens, beet greens), chopped (about 14 cups)
  • Salt
  • 1 pound smoked andouille sausage (optional)
  • File powder to taste (optional)

Cajun Spice Blend

  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 2 Tbsp sweet paprika

Method

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1 Start the gumbo by making a roux, which will add a lot of flavor and thicken the gumbo. Heat the cup of peanut oil or lard (both are traditional roux ingredients) over medium heat for a minute or two and then stir in the flour. Mix so there are no lumps. Cook the roux over medium-low heat until it is the color of chocolate. It is your choice how dark you let your roux go: The darker it is, the better, but once the roux gets dark it can burn easily, so you must stir constantly and keep and eye on it.

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2 While the roux is cooking, bring the 10 cups of water to a simmer. When the roux is dark enough, mix in the chopped onions, celery and green pepper and turn the heat to medium. Let this cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften. Add the garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes.

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3 Add the bay leaves, the Cajun spice and slowly stir in the hot water. The roux will seize up at first, but keep stirring and it will all come together in a silky broth. Add the ham hock and all the greens. Taste for salt, but remember the ham hock will be salty, so let the broth be a little undersalted for now. If you want to add more Cajun spice, do so now. Cover the pot and simmer gently for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

4 Check the ham hock. If the meat is falling off the bone, remove it, discard the bones, chop the meat and return it to the pot. If the hock is not ready, keep simmering the gumbo; ham hocks don't always cook at the same rate. Once the hock is ready, add the andouille sausage and cook for another 15 minutes. Serve with file powder at the table.

Links:

Green Gumbo with Clam Juice - from No Recipes
Green Gumbo with Fresh Corn and Okra - from Not Eating Out in New York
Wild Game Gumbo - from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook

33 Comments

  1. Burk

    I make a quick stock with the ham hock, bay leaves and trimmings from the onion and celery – just simmer for 30 mins to an hour, then use the stock instead of water. Great flavor, and the ham hock is sure to be tender. Works great for red beans, too.

  2. Embee

    Too funny — I was just reading about black nightshade greens traditionally being used for this very same dish! I love the versatility of the recipe and the way it can incorporate just about any sort of available greens. Thanks so much for sharing it. I can’t wait to give it a try (sans meats) this summer with some of the wild greens that grows around here (which do not count black nightshade among their number, for the curious) and what will hopefully prove to be the bounty of my future vegetable garden. I’m imagining some rutabaga tops in with the dandelions and wondering how fireweed leaves and chickweed might be in the dish. Only one way to find out! :)

  3. Jerry

    Looks amazing. I’m definitely a fan of using manteca (lard) for sauteing and I love the hock and sausage mix. I do kind of agree with Paul though; It’s not often that you see a gumbo recipe without okra. Is it a traditional omission, or was there no fresh okra available?

    LOTS of traditional gumbos do not have okra. As a general rule, okra is more of a Creole thing, and it omitted in many Cajun gumbos. ~Hank

    • Henry

      That’s correct. Okra, or gumbo, came to the Caribbean and the U.S. sometime in the 1700s, probably brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. Here in Louisiana, the Créoles (French/African/Indian) learned from slaves the use of okra (gumbo) to thicken soups and stews which is now an essential in Créole Gumbo. The Acadians, or Cajuns, adapted the vegetable for their own soups.

  4. SL

    Hooray! A gumbo without okra! I can’t eat gumbo normally because I am severely allergic to okra. Thanks for posting!

  5. homegrown countrygirl

    Thanks, Hank! You did it again! I have been looking for some way to make a vegetarian gumbo for my mother for a long time. I didn’t think it was even possible to capture the right flavor, so thank you so much for sharing this! I hope I have an odd number of greens growing when I make this because I won’t be able to decide which one to leave out!

  6. Keron

    When I make a vegetartian gumbo, I always add a little liquid smoke. It helps replace some of the flavor from the smoked meat, and adds depth. This is a great and versatile recipe!

  7. avis

    Hank you are correct about the okra. Gumbos can either be okra based or filé based but not generally both.

    “Jambalaya and crawfish pie and filé gumbo, ‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my
    ma cher amio…”

    Ohmigawd! LOVE that song! Sonofagun we’ll have big fun, on the Bayou! ~Hank

  8. Shannon

    Looks interestingly delicious. Although I will say, I’m Louisiana born and raised my whole life 43 yrs now and I’ve never heard of nor seen this. Must be a regional thing. I may have to try it sometime though.

    • Henry

      Try it, you will fall in love if you enjoy greens. My mother-in-law, from Iberia Parish, fixes this for me and can’t get enough with a nice chunk of cornbread. I use mustards, collards, turnips and kale when I make it.

  9. Gordon A.

    Gumbo typically has okra or file or both. So the admixture of file makes this gumbo. If you don’t add that, well, if it tastes good then….

    Signed: a cajun.

  10. MariaElena

    What is file powder? Recipe looks delicious!

    File (fee-lay) is powdered sassafras leaf. You can get it in places like Whole Foods… or anywhere in the Gulf States. ;-) ~Hank

  11. Shannon

    Sounds delish. I make a chicken and sausage gumbo on cold nights…takes me back to the days when I lived in NOLA. I always get my roux to a dark coffee color…mmmmmm. Patience is a virtue.

    For those okra lovers – it was rare to come across a gumbo in NOLA that had okra in it. Usually only as lagniappe when it needed to be used up in the kitchen.

  12. Brazos

    This may be sacrilegious but I saw it on Alton Brown’s Good Eats show. A shortcut to the roux is to mix the oil and flour and bake (with lid on) in a 350 deg oven, stirring every thirty minutes till it has the right color. I use a cast iron dutch oven. Perfect every time. While it’s in the oven I get all my prep work done.

  13. againstthegrain

    I’ve got gobs of CSA greens, a ham hock in the freezer, the file, even the lard, and can get the andouille sausage easily enough, but I need to figure out how to best make a decent gluten-free roux. I’ve got a number of GF ingredients that will thicken, but no idea if they will develop a good roux-like flavor. Anyone have a good GF roux suggestion?

    I don’t, but you should know that not all gumbos have roux. Gumbo has three traditional thickeners: a roux, file and okra. If you use 2 of the 3 you should be in good shape. ~Hank

  14. Christine

    I made a similar gumbo a month or so back! It was delicious, but goodness washing all those greens took forever and a day. I used arugula, turnip, mustard, kale and parsley greens…and next time I get a craving, I’m definitely looking for prewashed!

    Yum.

  15. Ring

    Mmm…I made this yesterday and it was delicious! I used okra instead of file to thicken it (and to squeeze more veggies in) and it tastes even better the next day. Thanks for the recipe!

  16. Carol

    The recipe looks amazing. I’m definitely going to make it today. Thanks for sharing it. Best regards!

  17. emily

    Hmmmm. I’m not sure what I did wrong, but after following the recipe, I had a LOT of grease… Is that normal? It seemed really excessive and in fact when I went to taste the flavor to see if I should add more cajun spices, all I tasted was grease. I ended up ladeling out a bunch of it.

    I wonder if it was from the ham hock? Is there a particular one I should have looked for? I picked up “smoked ham hocks” at the grocery store, but haven’t ever cooked with it before. Thoughts, ideas? Suggestions? Many thanks!!

    One possibility was that your stock or water was not hot when you added it to the roux. That can cause the roux to break, and grease will rise to the top of the gumbo. This happened to me a lot before I figured out that the water needed to be hot. ~Hank

  18. Henry

    This is awesome. I used mustard greens, chard, and kale, and it was fantastic. I also appreciated the proportions for Cajun seasoning, as the only kinds I can find around here have tons of salt and MSG in them. Thank you!

  19. Elaine

    Louisiana food is the best in this country. The variety of influences and flavors is unbeatable. You can’t go wrong. I’m making this dish tonight!

  20. Doris

    This recipe is sooooo good! I made this the other evening and surprisingly my boyfriend liked it too (he does not like veggies, lol)!

    For my version, I used turnip and mustard greens, and kale, added some left over carrots and red bell peppers, and 1 lb of hot italian sausage (casing removed and meat crumbled) in addition to the andouille.

    Since I didn’t have peanut oil, I render out the fat from the sausage, spoon out the meat, and used the fat to create the roux. This will definitely be our dinner rotation! Thanks! ^_^

  21. Diana

    1 cup peanut oil 1909 calories do you need that much to make a roux? I tried to compare oils and most are about the same. What do you think the calories would be for a bowl. It looks very good, but I would like some nutritional information too.

    Sorry, I don’t count calories, and providing accurate nutritional information is a lot harder than it might seem. ~Hank

  22. Nancy Long

    great recipe – as for okra & roux; I’ve been known to use both. Stopped using file powder years ago, it tends to make the gumbo gummy if reheated. Like to make my gumbo’s the day before so the flavors can marry. Liked the ham stock hint. My hint is that I save shrimp shells in the freezer until I have enough and make shrimp stock and freeze that in 1-2 cup containers for seafood gumbos and anything needing a seafood stock. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes and hints

  23. Sandra

    yum. I made this and it was delicious! The roux really added a lot of flavor. I didn’t use the file powder but it was already plenty thick.

  24. Shari

    I have a GF pot of this on my stove right now, nearly done simmering. I just tasted it and it is heavenly! For the person asking about flours for a GF roux, I used half sorghum and half millet flours. Next time I’d like to try it with sweet potato flour.

    Also, it really is a simple recipe, it just takes a little time to make. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon. I gave my kids a big dishpan of clean water and they had fun bathing the greens while I prepped everything else.

  25. Chris

    I made a version of this last winter using a link of Savoie’s smoked sausage and two smoked turkey wings. When the wings were done, I removed the meat from the bones and added it back. That mildly smoked turkey went great with the gumbo and did not generate the scum that ham hocks sometimes do.

    My experience suggests this dish is mainly a New Orleans thing. Many folks in the other parts of La have never had it or (often) heard of it.

  26. Jacob

    Wow, looks like a great way to use up all the greens from my garden. I’m not too familiar with celery seed though, is it supposed to be used whole or ground for the spice mix? Thanks

    Celery seeds are very tiny, so you just toss them in whole. ~Hank

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