Gumbo Z’herbes

When Catholics were expected to abstain from eating meat during Lent, a meatless variety of gumbo, known as gumbo z’herbes (literally “gumbo with herbs”), was often served.

This variety combined a large number of greens – typically including turnips, mustard greens, and spinach. The greens were cooked to mush and strained through a sieve to produce a thick green liquid. Preparation for this variety of gumbo was time-consuming, and as Lenten restrictions have relaxed, the dish has become less popular.

It is very rarely served in restaurants. In modern times, ham or crabmeat is occasionally added to this type of gumbo.

Gumbo Z'herbes
Cuisine: Creole, Cajun
Recipe type: Stew, Soup
Serves: 6 servings
  • 2¼ tablespoons rendered bacon fat
  • 1 ham hock, about 900 g, with several 1 cm slits cut into it
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 1½ tablespoons minced garlic
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 assorted bunches of greens, such as spinach, collards, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, chicory, beetroot tops, carrot tops, or radish tops, washed, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch spring onions, chopped
  • ½ small green cabbage, chopped
  • 2 litres chicken broth or water
  • salt and pepper
  • file powder
  • cooked white rice (for serving)
  1. In a stockpot or large saucepan, heat the bacon fat. Add the ham hock and onions and cook for 10 minutes, until onions are softened and slits in ham hock have begun to open up.
  2. Add garlic, bay leaves, thyme, and cayenne pepper and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add chopped greens, parsley, spring onions and cabbage and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until greens are wilted.
  4. Add broth or water and increase heat to high. Bring to a boil, skim surface, and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 2½ hours, until greens are very tender.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and add file, to taste, just before serving in large bowls over or with hot white rice. (Do not allow gumbo to boil after adding the file powder.)

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