Meatless Monday #25 (Guest Post) – New Orleans Style Gumbo Z’Herbes

Trix (Tasty Trix) and I probably started blogging about a month apart. I think we hit it off blog-wise almost instantly. I love her style of writing – simple and very personable. She totally won me over when she wrote an a series of “12 Days of Feasting: Medieval Meals for Your Holiday Table” over the Christmas festive season last year. It was brilliant and what a great insight of the sort of dedicated and real person she is.

She took us along on her travels to Vienna and Budapest. It was an education of places, foods and goodies that I have never seen or heard before. To top it up, I was over the moon when she tried my chai tow kway recipe and it worked beautifully. It is always nice to know that a recipe worked and someone else out there love it.

Here is a short interview just to get to know her a little better :)

1. Why do you blog and what is your inspiration?

I blog because it allows me  to  be creative – as a writer, I often must convey a professional persona or voice, and it’s so liberating  (and fun!) to be able to say whatever I want.  I also love to challenge myself to cook new things and take better photographs. Of course I am inspired by the many talented bloggers out there. But personally, travel is what really motivates and inspires me – I come home from a trip incredibly excited to try to recreate the flavors I have experienced.  I only wish I could afford totravel more.

2. Name 3 ingredients. Pick one and please share how you would use it

My 3 favorite ingredients are: garlic, kosher or sea salt, and olive oil.  With just  these 3 simple things, you can create flavor in any dish, and that’s why I love them.

3. Please describe your last meal and who you would have it with?

My last meal would probably strike some as simple: a sandwich of ripe Maryland tomatoes, mayonnaise, and salt and pepper, on freshly baked sunflower seed bread, with a side of Utz brand potato chips and a pickle. Except for the fresh bread, this is a favorite lunch my mom made for me growing up, and now that she’s gone, it brings me great comfort. She may not have been much of a cook (by choice, I assure you), but she made a mean sandwich – and she made it with love. I would of course share this meal with my husband (Poppa Trix). He is the person I most love to share a meal with, and the person I cook for!

And also I need to thank her and her talented partner for designing the beautiful logo for our International Incident Party. Awesome yes?

When Penny aka Jeroxie asked me to do a guest post for Meatless Monday, a million ideas went through my head all at once.  Even though I am by no means a strict vegetarian (I eat seafood, and adopt a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy when it comes to many soup stocks) most of the time my meals are meatless, and  I love to demonstrate that losing the meat does not mean losing any of the flavor.

There were so many dishes I could have chosen to make, but ultimately I decided that making something from my favorite U.S. city  – New Orleans – was the perfect choice.  After all, many food historians would argue that New Orleans is home to the only true American cuisine, and I agree. While the food in many regions  of the country has its own wonderfully distinct flavor, style,  and personality, New Orleans Creole cuisine – a blend of French, Spanish, Caribbean, African, and Native American influences – is truly its own thing, a complete culinary system.  It’s passionate and exuberant, as are the people who cook and love it.

Of course, when Penny asked me to do this post, I could not have predicted the devastation that the BP oil spill would bring to the Gulf region, threatening indigenous plants, wildlife, sea life, habitats, and humans.  I can only hope that the places, dishes, and people I love so much will survive this travesty (I say travesty because tragedy implies something that couldn’t have been avoided, and BP could have avoided this if they weren’t so cheap and greedy).

But back to the food.  (A good New Orleanian – or New Orleanian in spirit, like me –  always brings things back to the food.) While most gumbos contain meat or seafood, gumbo z’herbes is completely vegetarian. Traditionally, it was made on Holy Thursday for consumption on Good Friday, a day when, according to Catholic tradition, meat was forbidden. This makes sense, as I have found that making it a day ahead really intensifies the flavors – so make this on a Sunday for your Meatless Monday gumbo feast!

The first thing you need to do is start with a variety of greens. Lots and lots of greens:

You’ll want to use at least 5 different types – I used seven, though I have seen recipes that use as many as 15 different kinds! I used one entire bunch each of: collard, mustard, red dandelion, parsley, escarole, spinach, and beet tops. You should  use whatever you like, but the more you use, the more flavor you’ll get.  You’ll also need:

  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup white flour
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 3-4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1-2 tbsp Creole seasoning mix: 6 parts paprika, 2 parts black pepper, 2 parts white pepper, 2 parts garlic powder, 2 parts onion powder, 1 part thyme, 1 part cayenne pepper, 1 part salt
  • 1 tbsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tbsp cayenne (plus extra for seasoning)
  • 1 tbsp sweet paprika
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 3 large sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 glug of dry vermouth
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Keep in mind that except for the roux (more on that in a minute) this isn’t an exact science – you need to layer your flavors and keep tasting.

First, clean your greens – I soak them in water and vinegar to get the dirt off – remove the stems, and boil them in about a gallon of water for 2 hours. Before you tell me that I’m boiling away all the nutrients, let me assure you that this is not the case: You’ll save the water for your stock.  Once the greens have boiled drain them – saving the water! – let them cool, and chop very fine.

Next up: the roux. Some gumbos use filé powder to thicken the stock, which is a Native American contribution; other use okra, which came from Africa; while others, this one included, use a roux made from flour and fat, and for this we say merci to the French. The thickening power of the roux  is determined by the color –  a blonde (light) roux has the most thickening power; a dark one has the least.  For this gumbo, you’ll make a light brown one.

First, heat the oil over medium high in a heavy bottomed stockpot until a tiny bit of flour sizzles in the fat. Now add the flour all at once and start whisking:

Whatever you do, don’t stop whisking! If it starts to smoke, I take it off the heat for a few seconds, but I keep whisking. I let my roux go from this blonde color:

To this peanut butter color:

It will smell incredibly nutty at this point. Now I add what they call the trinity – the onions, bell pepper, and celery (think of it as the New Orleans version of mire poix) along with my cayenne, Creole seasoning, paprika, and marjoram:

Stir for about 10 minutes or so, and add the liquid, the greens, and the other herbs and spices:

Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover and simmer – for at least a couple of hours. Check and taste the broth frequently  – you want to keep layering flavors. Add more cayenne, Creole seasoning, salt, pepper – don’t be afraid to pile it on!   I like to add a glug or two of dry vermouth somewhere in the cooking process, and a tiny dash of liquid smoke never hurt anything either.

As I mentioned, cooking this the night before really allows the flavors to develop. Serve with long grain boiled white rice and some crusty French bread. You must also have a nice hot sauce on hand – I prefer Crystal:

And of course a cold beer is crucial! If you can get Abita Amber from Louisiana, I highly recommend it.

Thank you Penny for having me guest post, and if you’ve made it this far, thank you to her readers. Laissez les bon temps rouler! <– You are very welcome and I am very happy for you to be my guest blogger! :)
Please remember to head over to her blog – Tasty Trix and say Hi!