Citizens, I am proud to offer you my personal version of this rarely-sampled classic New Orleans recipe!
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 often added to this type of gumbo.
This is a traditional Holy Thursday meal for Creole families in New Orleans. The Nine Greens represent the Nine Churches visited on Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus’ walk to be crucified.”
Gumbo z’herbes may have originated with the French, Germans, or West Africans. It has similarities to the French dish potage aux herbes (“soup with herbs”), as well as to the African callaloo.
The meatless dish also bears striking resemblance to a dish often eaten in Germany on Maundy Thursday. German Catholics, obeying the Lenten rules, often served a stew made of seven different greens on this date.
This gumbo is delicious and is actually better the day after it’s made and it goes very well with cornbread.
With the relaxation of Lenten rules, most gumbo z’herbes made today has a lot of meat in it, much like regular gumbos. For a vegetarian version, just leave out the meat, use water or vegetable stock and vegetable oil in place of sausage fat. My meat-laden version is one that I am very confident you will enjoy, Citizens! 😀
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