Gumbo Z'Herbes

by Mary Tutwiler

Start off the Lenten season with Green Gumbo, a soup that will cure the excesses of Fat Tuesday.

"Everything in moderation, nothing in excess" may be the only Lenten resolution you need. That way we can work off our Mardi Gras gluttony by reveling in new pleasures ' eating things that are good for you and taste good at the same time. Impossible? Not when the gumbo is laced with green leafy vegetables that supply the body with vitamins K and C, good for the bones, blood and liver. How do you make that taste good? Add andouille of course.

Gumbo z'herbes, which translates as "gumbo made with pot herbs" is a soup served traditionally during Lent. Seasonally, winter in Acadiana is prime time in the kitchen garden for leafy green vegetables such as mustard greens, turnip greens, collards, kale, spinach, cabbage, green onions and foraged herbs such as dandelions and poke weed. The bouquet of greens stand in for the forbidden meat. Recipes for this dish, meatless and made without roux, truly sound like penance. While the greens purify the body, the spirit goes wanting until, as we all know, we break down and eat an entire box of fudge.

Happily, Paul Angelle, who owns Paul's Pirogue in Carencro, comes from a family that preferred good food to saved souls. "My grandmother made this dish," Angelle says. "Back when she was cooking you couldn't buy greens, you had to get them out of the garden. Everybody had a garden, and about now it's greens time. Salt meat, smoked sausage, potatoes, white beans, collards, mustard greens. That's what we had to eat in the winter."

Green gumbo is a belly-filling bowl full of earthy flavors that is simple to make. Not satisfied with perfection, Angelle created a variation that is absolutely sinful. Called the "original crab pirogue" on his menu, a steaming bowl of green gumbo is topped with lump crabmeat sautéed in butter. It's extravagant. It won't hurt you. Eat hearty.

If you want to try Green Gumbo at Paul's Pirogue, it's located at 209 East Saint Peter St. in Carencro, 896-3788. Hours: lunch, Mon.-Fri. 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner daily, 5 p.m.-till.

Green Gumbo, 6-8 servings
1 pound smoked sausage
1 pound tasso
1 link andouille
1 can of new whole potatoes or about 6 peeled new potatoes
1 can great northern white beans
2 cans mustard greens or 2 pounds of fresh mustard greens, steamed until wilted and chopped (spinach, or a mixture of available greens can be substituted)
1 big onion, cut fine
1 bell pepper, cut fine
1 celery stalk, cut fine
1 carrot, cubed (optional)
1 1/2 gallons water
1/2 pound fresh lump crabmeat
4 tablespoons butter

Put all ingredients except crabmeat and butter in a large soup kettle. Bring to a boil and simmer for 3 hours, adding water if the soup gets too thick. It should have the consistency of a creamy bean dish. Season to taste only after soup is finished; the sausage should supply most of the seasoning. Sauté crabmeat in butter, being careful not to break up lumps. Spoon soup into bowls, top with crabmeat and serve with French bread.

For a variation containing nine fresh greens, this recipe comes from Leah Chase, owner of Dooky Chase's Restaurant in New Orleans. Chase is the grande dame of New Orleans Creole cooking, but Dooky Chase's has not yet reopened since Hurricane Katrina. This recipe was published by John Folse on his Web site,

Gumbo Des Herbs
1 bunch mustard greens
1 bunch collard greens
1 bunch turnips
1 bunch watercress
1 bunch beet tops
1 bunch carrot tops
1/2 head lettuce
1/2 head cabbage
1 bunch spinach
3 cups onions, diced
1/2 cup garlic, chopped
1 1/2 gallons water
5 tablespoons flour
1 pound smoked sausage
1 pound smoked ham
1 pound hot sausage
1 pound brisket, cubed
1 pound stew meat
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
1 tablespoon filé powder

Clean all greens under cold running water, making sure to pick out bad leaves. Rinse away any soil or grit. The greens should be washed 2 to 3 times. Chop greens coarsely and place in 12-quart pot along with onions, garlic and water. Bring mixture to a rolling boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Strain greens and reserve the liquid. Place greens in the bowl of a food processor and purée or chop in a meat grinder. Pour greens into a mixing bowl, sprinkle in 5 tablespoons flour, blend and set aside. Dice all meats into 1-inch pieces and place into the 12-quart pot. Return the reserve liquid to the pot and bring to a low boil, cover and cook 30 minutes. Add puréed greens, thyme and season with salt and pepper. Cover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally until meat is tender, approximately 1 hour. Add water if necessary to retain volume. Add filé powder, stir well and adjust salt and pepper if necessary. Serve over steamed rice.