“Taste this,” I said to my husband. I had just finished making a giant pot of Gumbo Z’Herbes (Green Gumbo), and was thrilled about how delicious and savory it turned out, especially since I’d intentionally excluded meat from my recipe.
“Wow,” he said, as he went for a second bite. “It’s amazing. And exactly what I need right now.” He’d just come in from making a snowman with our son after our first snowfall, and was happy to have something hearty and warm to fill his belly. He was also slightly hungover from one too many peanut butter whiskeys and very much in need of some detoxifying greens.
So what exactly is Gumbo Z’Herbes? It’s essentially a Cajun soup-like dish featuring a plethora of green vegetables and, usually, a few different kinds of smoked meat. If you want a “meaty” recipe, check out Leah Chase’s here.
But if you’re looking for something lighter and a bit easier on the ticker (and – let’s be honest – your badonkadonk), you’ve come to the right place. While I do cook and eat meat, I personally feel best when I don’t eat too much of it. And I already have a hearty chicken and sausage gumbo recipe that I love, so making another meat-heavy one just seemed to defeat the purpose of all those nutrient dense greens.
For those of you who are familiar with the ingredients and steps to making a traditional gumbo, you might notice my process for this gumbo is a bit different. However, you should trust that my recipes are legit because I’m Cajun enough that I’ve actually been bitten by an alligator.
(A baby alligator. On my finger. But still.)
Jokes aside, I’ve cooked enough vegan meals to know that it is absolutely possible to mimic a savory “meaty” flavor without meat, but it is nearly impossible to do without caramelizing vegetables, adding tomato at some point, and/or using smoked spices. If you follow these steps, I promise, you won’t be disappointed!
Love, peace, and a little less grease,
PS – If you want to get your kids to eat more vegetables, get their little butts off of Paw Patrol and have them help you destem the greens. They will bitch about it at first, but keep a positive attitude. Say things like, “Look at how vibrant the colors of these veggies are!” and “Do you know that these greens basically give you superpowers and make you smarter?! And faster! And stronger!”
Because, first of all, this is true. And second of all, your kid will be much more likely to eat what you cook if you involve them in the process and share your passion for nutritious meals with them. My 9 year old ate his entire bowl and asked for more because it was delicious, and because he knows there’s absolutely no chance in hell I’m making chicken nuggets if he doesn’t like what I cook.
And, finally, with so many ways for us to escape the present moment, I cannot imagine a better way to reconnect with those you love than by working together to transform a piece of the world into something better than it was before you touched it.
Green Gumbo (Gumbo Z'Herbes)
- Food processor or blender (optional)
Dark "Mini" Roux
- 1/4 cup high heat oil (I like avocado oil, but any high heat oil will do.)
- 1/3 heaping cup flour
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 leek, just the whites, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 4-5 stalks celery, chopped (about 1.5 cups)
- 1 cup red chard stems, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 tablespoons jalepeno, diced
- 3 tablespoons garlic, minced (about 4-6 toes)
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- pinch or three cayenne
- 3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (Regular paprika will do, but smoked is best for this dish if you can find it. It helps with creating that savory flavor we're shooting for.)
- 1.5 teaspoons Cajun Seasoning (Slap Ya Mama is my favorite.)
Remaining Gumbo Ingredients
- 4 cups vegetable broth (chicken or beef also work, if you're not vegan)
- 6-8 cups water (I suggest starting with 6 and then add more later to get the soup consistency that you like.)
- 3 tablespoons Bragg's Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce (I prefer Bragg's but Soy will do. Not traditional for a gumbo, but we're going for that savory flavor without meat, and that's what these ingredients provide.)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano leaves (or 1/4 teaspoon dry)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 head red chard (SAVE STEMS), destemmed, rough chopped
- 1 head green chard, destemmed, rough chopped
- 1 head collard greens, destemmed, rough chopped
- 1 head purple kale, destemmed, rough chopped
- 1 head curly kale, destemmed, rough chopped
- 2 stalks green onions, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped (or about 2ish tablespoons dried)
- 1.5 teaspoons File Powder (File powder is just ground sassafrass leaves. Some grocery stores in the U.S. carry it, but many outside of Louisiana do not. If you can't find it, click the link above to order on Amazon.)
- salt, to taste
- black Pepper, to taste
- 3 cups steamed long grain white rice, cooked to package directions
Rinse, destem, and chop greens and other vegetables
- Rinse, drain, destem and chop the red and green chard, purple and curly kale, and the collard greens. Save and chop stems from red chard. Set aside.
- Chop remaining vegetables (yellow onion, leek, celery, red bell pepper, jalepeno, garlic, green onions, and parsley as outlined above). Note: You are adding these vegetables at different times, so be sure not to just pile them all together in one bowl.
- Gather remaining seasonings and herbs and have them ready to go so you're not running around the kitchen flustered while trying not to burn your roux.
- Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pan on medium high heat. Once that oil claps back at you, it's ready. (Meaning, when you flick a little water or flour at it, it fires back at you).
- Add onions, leek, celery, red chard stems, red bell pepper, and jalapeno. Cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until vegetables start to caramelize (onions are a golden translucent color, and have very little remaining crunch when you try one). Note: If your vegetables start to blacken or stick to the pan, lower your fire, and/or add a bit more oil. Every stove is different, so just play around a little bit until you find that "goldilocks" level of heat for caramelizing your veggies. For me, it was medium high most of the time.
- Add garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes before adding tomato paste, cayenne, smoked paprika, and Cajun seasoning. Stir while cooking another 3-5 minutes.
- Remove vegetables from heat and place in a large soup/stock pot (I used a 5 gallon pot, but 4 gallons would have worked too). You'll need something that's pretty big to hold all the greens!
Make dark "mini" roux
- Every Cajun knows that the first steps to making a roux are to, first, tell everybody to get the hell out of the kitchen and, second, consider removing a layer of clothing b/c shit's about to get real. After you do that...In the same pan you caramelized your veggies (because who needs more dishes?!), turn the heat up to high and add 1/4 cup oil. When that oil claps back, slowly sprinkle in the flour with one hand while stirring like hell with the other (it's like patting your tummy and rubbing your head at the same time - awkward, but you'll feel proud of yourself when you do it). Stir until your arm starts to hurt, THEN KEEP STIRRING. I like to use a whisk, but a wooden spatula works too. Whatever you use, just make sure the handle is long b/c the oil is really fucking hot and you don't want to screw up this dish for a trip to urgent care. NOTE: Do not answer your phone. Do not step away from the pot because you need to pee. Do not ponder the meaning of life. Do not try to grab a tissue to blow your nose (just sniff really hard over and over like your kids do when they want to DRIVE YOU BATSHIT CRAZY EVEN THOUGH THE TISSUE BOX IS RIGHT THERE). Whatever you do, just DO NOT STOP STIRRING.
- After a few minutes, when the roux starts to look like a MILK chocolatey brown color (not too dark!), smells a little like popcorn, and you're starting to worry that you might have screwed it up, it's done. (You can also get a thermometer and see if it's in roughly in the 380's Farenheit).
- When the roux is done, turn off the heat and IMMEDIATELY remove from pan and into your pot of caramelized veggies. Yay, you did it!!!Note: There are a few types of roux Cajuns use - blond, brown, dark brown, sometimes with oil, sometimes with butter. I picked this one b/c I thought it would work well with this dish, but if you're nervous, just go for a lighter roux that's more of a dark golden blonde color.
Put it all together
- Place soup/stock pot on burner and turn heat to medium. Stir roux with veggies, and begin to slowly add broth, 1/2 cup at a time. Stir while you pour, otherwise your roux mixture may clump up.
- Next, add some water (start with 4-5 cups). Add Bragg's Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce), thyme, oregano, and bay leaves.
- Once liquid reaches a low boil, add all 5 of your greens and green onions. If you don't have enough water, add a little more, but not too much because your veggies will wilt soon and take up less space.
- Bring liquid back to a low boil, then reduce heat to maintain a low boil. (I cooked mine on medium the entire time, but again, every stove is different).
- Cook for about 35-40 minutes with the cover slightly ajar. Stir every 5 minutes or so, adding a bit more water as needed to get the gumbo to a soup-like consistency that you like.
- Turn off heat. Add parsley, file, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Totally optional: If you have a food processor or blender, consider removing 3 cups of the soup and blending for 15-20 seconds, then stirring liquid back into the pot. This will allow your soup to thicken a bit, and have a little less "brothy" of a consistency.
- Finally, with the heat off, cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes before stirring once more. Serve gumbo over steamed long grain white rice.
How to get kids to try it
- I personally like the bite-sized pieces of greens in the gumbo, but most kids likely will not. For my son, I just removed 1.5 cups of the gumbo, blended it for 10ish seconds in my Vitamix blender, then put it in his bowl. He gobbled it up, but that may be (partly) because he helped destem the greens and caramelize the veggies. The more kids help in the kitchen, the more likely they will be to be a little more adventurous in their eating.
- Another idea to consider (thanks Meghan!) is to blend the gumbo AND add a little mashed potatoes to the bowl. My son loved this when we had leftovers on day 2. I used Bob’s Red Mill Instant Mashed Potatoes because mama needed a break after making this giant gumbo!
- Finally, kids aren't going to love every dish we make, especially vegetables. Our rule at home has always been "try at least one bite." Most kids need to try a vegetable at least 10-20 times before they are ready to consistently eat it. And if my son says something like, "I hate beets," I always follow-up with, "You don't like beets yet. Someday, you might. Taste buds change over time." (I think it also helps that I never say that I "hate" things.) Kids model our behavior: All. The. Time. The more we model a "growth mindset" with regard to food, the more likely it is that they will experiment with new dishes (and ideas, and adventures) in the future.
What goes well with gumbo?
Two words: Potato Salad.
Does Green Gumbo (Gumbo Z’Herbes) freeze well?
Yes, very well. (But rice does not.) Stick any leftover gumbo in a freezer safe container and save for a rainy (or snowy) day. To defrost, simply add gumbo to an appropriate sized pot with a tiny bit of water at the bottom, turn heat to low-medium, cover, and stir occasionally until it’s ready.
What’s a better idea than freezing the leftovers?
Making Gumbo Pot Pies!