Gumbo Z'Herbs (Thinking of Mrs. Leah)
Source of Recipe
From "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Foose
"Preparing this gumbo makes me think of Leah Chase, proprietress of Dooky Chase's Restaurant, on the corner of Claiborne and Orleans Avenue in New Orleans. Not much more than five feet tall, if even that, with a magisterial voice, Mrs. Leah Chase has commanded the cherished establishment for decades, receiving countless awards for her cooking and community commitment. In my eyes, she is the undisputed 'Queen of Creole Cuisine.' This thick, verdant filé gumbo, like the one at Dooky Chase, is often served on Holy Thursday and Good Friday and throughout Lent, when it is prepared without meat, as it is here. The number of greens included in a batch may vary from cook to cook. Some use seven, as it is the 'number of completion' throughout the Bible. Others choose seven types of greens to represent the seven African powers. Some use twelve, representing the number of apostles, while others choose as many as possible with the belief that with every green you add to your gumbo pot, you will make a new friend. Leah has added untold numbers of greens to her well-seasoned gumbo pot and has the friends to prove it. Remember, as the Grande Dame says, if more friends drop in for gumbo than anticipated, you have to baptize the gumbo by stretching it out with a little water."
List of Ingredients
◦ Approximately 12 cups roughly chopped greens (no stems, please) of at least 5 of the following: spinach; collard; turnip; beet, or carrot tops; mustard; chicory; kale; watercress; pepper grass; poke sallet; cabbage; sorrel; or leaf lettuce
◦ 1 large onion, diced
◦ 3 cloves garlic, minced
◦ ¼ cup vegetable oil
◦ ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
◦ 6 green onions, white and green parts, chopped
◦ 1 cup chopped parsley
◦ 2 bay leaves
◦ 2 sprigs thyme
◦ 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
◦ 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
◦ ½ teaspoon sugar
◦ ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
◦ 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
◦ 1 tablespoon filé powder, plus extra for seasoning
◦ 4 to 5 cups cooked white rice
In a 2-gallon stockpot, simmer the greens, onion, and garlic with one gallon water for 2 hours, or until all types of greens are tender. Strain the greens, reserving the liquid, or fish out most of the greens with a sieve and set aside.
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Whisk the flour in slowly until no lumps remain. Continue to cook and stir for two minutes, or until about the color of a paper grocery sack.
Add the green onions, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, salt, cayenne, sugar, and allspice. Cook for five minutes. Add the greens and the vinegar, and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Add the reserved cooking liquid and cook for one hour over low heat.
Remove from the heat, adjust the seasonings, and add the filé powder. Stir well. Remove the bay leaves.
Serve in bowls over a little rice with a sprinkling of filé powder over each.
Serves 8 to 10
• Filé is ground sassafras leaves. Introduced into Creole cooking by the Choctaws who lived around Lake Pontchartrain, filé has become a signature ingredient of the region. It derives its name from its improper use; when the powdered leaves are added to a boiling liquid, its mucilaginous qualities come out, forming threads, or 'fils' in French. Never add filé until the end, when there is no chance of the liquid returning to a boil—filé will gently thicken the gumbo as it sits.
• The taste of filé powder is a little like mild marjoram. The sassafras powders available in some herb emporiums are made of the roots and bark and should not be confused with filé powder, which is made from the ground leaves.
• If you are intending to freeze or reheat this gumbo, add filé only to the portion about to be served. Add approximately 1 ½ teaspoons of filé to 4 cups of liquid.