In honor of the Easter season, Kit Wohl's Cookbook Studio presents this recipe for a feast of Gumbo z’Herbes. The recipe from Chef Leah Chase is courtesy of Kit's book New Orleans Classic Gumbos and Soups (Pelican Publishing). Kit appears regularly in the kitchen on the Sunday edition of Eyewitness Morning News, Sundays at 6 a.m.
Every Holy Thursday since the early 1950s, just about seven decades, Leah Chase has stirred up a gumbo z’herbes like none other. I must have been one of the lucky people who were represented in making a new friend for every green added to her huge pot. That adds up to a whole big bunch of friends for Miss Leah.
Leah Chase holds a large piece of my heart. She’s my touchstone for all things Creole, New Orleans history, history across the South and America. I pay attention to Miss Leah. She’s got quite a funny bone. She’ll make you laugh like crazy, and then she’ll make you think. What kind of lady grew up on a small farm moved to the big city then changed it? She has the strength of conviction, fortitude, talent and pure determination.
At Dooky Chase’s, her family restaurant, a tradition-minded crowd gathers every year. This gumbo recipe is one of the few that do not call for a dark roux. The ingredients include meat (veal, chicken, sausage, any kind of meat that’s available is acceptable), but an equally authentic version is made with greens only. Miss Leah uses nine greens. Always an odd number, she says. Even numbers would be bad luck. Don’t forget, everyone who eats a big bowlful of Leah’s love will make nine new friends this coming year.
Gumbo z’herbes (literally gumbo aux herbes) is, for Creole Catholics, a dish traditionally eaten on Holy Thursday, three days before Easter. It is the last opportunity before the meatless fast that ends on Easter Sunday.
Do make it at home. There’s enough time to collect all those greens. Don’t forget to check the farmer’s markets. And make new friends.
Leah Chase's Gumbo z’Herbes
Dooky Chase Restaurant
SERVES: 8 to 12
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch turnip greens
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch beet tops
1 bunch carrot tops
1/2 head lettuce
1/2 head cabbage
1 bunch spinach
2 medium onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped and mashed
1 pound chaurice*
1 pound smoked ham or two ham shanks
1 pound brisket stew meat
1 pound boneless brisket
1 pound hot pork sausage*
5 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon filé powder
*Chaurice is a peppery Cajun pork sausage. Any good-quality pork sausage, such as kielbasa, may be substituted.
Clean all the greens under cold water to remove grit. Pick out all bad leaves and discard. With a knife, or by hand, shred all the greens into rough 1/2-inch pieces. Put all greens, onions, and garlic in an 8-quart stockpot, cover with water, and boil over high heat for 30 minutes.
While the vegetables are boiling, boil the smoked ham or ham shanks. Remove from the pot and cut all meats into bite-size pieces. Set aside, keeping the pieces of sausage separate.
After boiling for 30 minutes, remove the pot from heat and strain the vegetables out of the liquid, but retain the broth. In a 12-quart stockpot, place all meats—except the sausage—and 2 cups of the reserved broth. Cook the meats with the broth over high heat for 15 minutes.
While the meats are cooking, place the sausage pieces in a skillet over high heat and sauté until all fat is rendered, about 10 minutes. Remove them from the skillet and retain the rendered fat.
In a food processor, purée all vegetables. Reheat the fat rendered from the sausage over high heat.
Gradually stir the flour into the fat to create a white roux, cooking the mixture and stirring constantly for 5 minutes, or until the flour and fat are well combined. Pour the roux over the meat mixture in the large stockpot and stir well.
Add the vegetables to the large stockpot, along with 2 quarts of the reserved broth. Place the stockpot over a low flame, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes. Add the sausage, thyme, salt and cayenne, and stir well.
Simmer for 40 minutes over low heat.
Add filé powder, stir well once again and remove from heat. Serve over steamed white rice.