Gumbo Z’Herbes

published Feb 26, 2023
Gumbo Z’Herbes (Greens Gumbo) Recipe

This hearty gumbo, chock full of peak winter greens, represents warmth, community, and love.

Serves10 to 12

Makesmakes about 7 quarts

Prep1 hour

Cook1 hour 50 minutes

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Gumbo z'herbs plated with rice.
Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

To me, gumbo represents warmth, community, and love. Whenever I think about wanting to feed a group of people something easy but dynamic and full of flavor, it always comes to mind. After my mom got married, she started a tradition for post-holiday gumbo parties. I was away in the military, so I never got to attend. But I was always fascinated by the idea because, while our family is from East Texas and gumbo is something I grew up eating, I didn’t know she could make it. Gumbo always seemed so complicated to make and extremely fancy. But when I eventually started making it myself, I realized it was a lot simpler to make than I had previously thought. And everyone I served it to found it to be all the things that I thought it was: impressive, dazzling, cozy, seasoned, unexpected, warm. 

Although I love what you typically think of as traditional gumbo — andouille sausage, chicken, okra, and seafood with Cajun spices — when developing my own recipe, I wanted something a bit more specific and meaningful to me. I knew there were different types of gumbo out there, so I went poking around. Lo and behold, I came across legendary Creole cooking auntie Leah Chase’s Gumbo Z’herbes. The star of Gumbo Z’herbes is greens! The dish is traditionally served meatless in observance of Good Friday, but I like making it during winter. It feels decadent and special. Plus, it’s a great way to get nutrients from the last of winter greens while the winter months drag on. 

Credit: Photo: Murray Hall; Food Stylist: Jessie YuChen

I wanted to make this a thick and hearty soup, so I chose to incorporate a deep, dark Cajun roux, with butter as the base. Roux — flour that gets browned in oil or fat — is the base of all gumbo recipes. Greens are the star of this dish, but I added some meat for heartiness. You can use any combination of greens that you want in this stew — just make sure you honor tradition by using an odd number of greens. Odd numbers are often considered lucky, and there are lots of theories about the significance of using an odd number of greens. One theory that spoke to me was the idea that the number of greens represents how many friends you’ll make in the new year. 

Making this gumbo is a labor of love. Standing over the pot stirring and coaxing the butter and flour until they turn into a smooth, chocolate-colored paste is a moving meditation. Wilting the greens and letting everything cook down until the flavors meld into a harmonious whole takes time and patience and attention. 

But the time and effort is worthwhile when someone digs into a bowl of my gumbo and says that eating it makes them feel cared for. All I ever want is for people to feel taken care of by me, and food is the way I communicate that.

Gumbo Z’Herbes (Greens Gumbo) Recipe

This hearty gumbo, chock full of peak winter greens, represents warmth, community, and love.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 1 hour 50 minutes

Makes makes about 7 quarts

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds

    combination of greens, such as collard, turnip, mustard, beet, carrot tops, broccoli rabe, Swiss chard, escarole, romaine, kale (all kinds), arugula, spinach, endive, frisée, radicchio, cabbage, watercress

  • 1

    medium leek (about 8 ounces)

  • 2

    small turnips (6 to 8 ounces total)

  • 1

    medium green bell pepper (about 6 ounces)

  • 1

    small yellow onion (4 to 6 ounces)

  • 2

    medium stalks celery (4 ounces total)

  • 5 cloves

    garlic

  • 1/3 cup

    celery leaves (optional)

  • 1/3 cup

    fresh parsley leaves

  • 2 teaspoons

    dried thyme

  • 2 teaspoons

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried dill

  • 2 pounds

    andouille and smoked sausages

  • 1 pound

    smoked turkey legs, wings, or tails

  • 2 tablespoons

    neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable

  • 3 tablespoons

    Cajun seasoning with salt

  • 2 sticks

    (8 ounces) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup

    neutral oil, bacon fat, or ghee

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 6 cups

    low-sodium or homemade ham, chicken, or vegetable broth

  • 1 tablespoon

    gumbo filé powder

  • 1 to 2 teaspoons

    red pepper flakes (optional)

  • Kosher salt

  • Cooked white rice, for serving

Instructions

  1. Trimming off any thick stems, coarsely chop 3 pounds greens. Cut the white and light green parts of 1 medium leek crosswise into 1/8-inch thick rounds (about 1 cup). Rinse and dry all the greens and leek.

  2. Cut the following into small dice, adding each to the same medium bowl as it is completed: 2 small turnips (peel first, about 1 3/4 cups), 1 medium green bell pepper (about 1 cup), 1 small yellow onion (about 1 cup), and 2 medium celery stalks (about 1 cup).

  3. Prepare the following, adding each to the same small bowl as you complete it: Finely chop 5 garlic cloves (about 2 tablespoons), 1/3 cup celery leaves if desired, and 1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves. Add 2 teaspoons dried thyme, 2 teaspoons black pepper, and 1 teaspoon dried dill.

  4. Cut 2 pounds andouille and smoked sausages on a slight diagonal into 1/8-inch thick rounds. Cut the meat from 1 pound smoked turkey and chop into small pieces (if there isn’t much meat, just leave whole). Discard the skin and reserve the meat and bones.

  5. Heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Cook the sausages and turkey meat in 3 batches: Add to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned in spots, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to the same large plate.

  6. Add the bell pepper mixture to the pan (no need to wipe out). Sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic mixture and sauté for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons Cajun seasoning with salt.

  7. Melt 2 sticks unsalted butter in a very large pot or Dutch oven (at least 8 quarts) over medium-low heat. Add 1/4 cup neutral oil, bacon fat, or ghee and stir to combine. Add 1 cup all-purpose flour and cook, whisking often, until deep brown-copper in color, 15 to 20 minutes. If flour is browning too quickly, reduce the heat and continue stirring.

  8. Add 6 cups low-sodium chicken, vegetable, or ham broth and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking often. Add the onion mixture and stir to combine. Add the greens and leek in a few additions, stirring until wilted. Add the sausages and smoked turkey meat and bones and stir to combine.

  9. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pot, until the greens are tender and the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 45 minutes to 1 hour. (This is a good time to make steamed rice.)

  10. Remove and discard the bones. Add 1 tablespoon gumbo filé powder and stir to combine. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes for spice if desired. Taste and season with kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Serve with cooked white rice.

Recipe Notes

Halving the recipe: This recipe can be halved and made in a 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven.

Make ahead: This can be made up to 1 day ahead. Let cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring back to a full simmer over medium heat.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.