Key Ingredient

Eatymology: Gumbo z’Herbes

A greens-laden gumbo traditional in Louisiana during Lent

Life in New Orleans is marked by ritual, from Monday’s staple supper of red beans and rice to the brassy, rollicking revelry of second line parades. If food and drink don’t comprise a tradition itself, more often than not they’re indistinguishably intertwined with it. February in the city means Mardi Gras, and all the king cake, milk punch, and bon temps that come with it. It’s a hedonistic celebration in advance of the Lenten season—a time when Crescent City Catholics exercise restraint in anticipation of Easter. True to form, there’s a meal made for the period: gumbo z’herbes. Sometimes called green gumbo, it’s marked by its inclusion of a dozen different greens, give or take. The gumbo’s preparation is dictated by the day on which it is eaten. On Holy Thursday, it’s also laden with meat. But on days of fasting, the dish is strictly vegetarian. “Food is very much connected to Catholicism in New Orleans,” says Tory McPhail, the executive chef of Garden District powerhouse Commander’s Palace. He shares recipes for the two iterations of gumbo z’herbes, both of which start with a rich, flavorful stock. “It’s the backbone of any great gumbo,” McPhail says. His is anchored by the warm, umami flavor of smoked mushrooms, a nontraditional addition that plays off the star of the stew: the plethora of fresh greens added to the pot at the end of cooking.

Smoked Mushroom Gumbo z’Herbes

This recipe makes a vegetarian gumbo z’herbes, traditional during times of fasting.

Smoked Mushroom and Andouille Sausage Gumbo z’Herbes

The greens used in this recipe could be substituted with others you have on hand, as long as they’re fresh. 

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