Nissa’s Gumbo Z’Herbes

February 20th, 2012 § 0 comments

When Jimmy’s No. 43 came-a-calling with their Gumbo contest in celebration of Mardi Gras and benefitting Chefs for the Marcellus, an organization of food professionals who are fighting against hydrofracking for natural gas in NY in order to protect food and water supplies, I knew I needed something special.  Certainly it is “my thing” to want to offer a unique take on any recipe, so I started my quest to come up with the perfect gumbo for this event, something that represented me and the region we are trying to protect.  Staying true to who we are is important and for gumbo in NYC and in February, it can be tough, when there isn’t a lot of fresh okra and peppers, and not much of any local produce in general.  With this in mind, through my research I came across a traditional recipe called Gumbo Z’Herbes, a version of gumbo often served during lent when Catholics abstain from meat.  This was a great idea for me, as not only is the traditional Gumbo Z’Herbes filled with greens (which our local farmers do have right now) and herbs (which is “my thing”), but it is also a vegetarian and vegan dish, and I always try and prove that eating less meat is possible and when I get the chance to prove that meat can be vacant from even the meatiest dishes, I take it. The idea of winning a gumbo contest with a vegan entry, I thought seemed quite radical!  Gumbo Z’Herbes is made with a variety of greens and like mustard, turnip, beet, kale spinach and kale. Also included in the dish are plenty of herbs like arugula, parsley, chives and often some of the more unconventional greens like cabbage, carrot tops and even lettuce. There are a few rules that I learned exist in a typical Gumbo Z ‘Herbes: the number one rule that you must use an odd number of greens for good luck and an opportunity to make a new friend. Second, you must puree at least half the greens as it is supposed to be like a big bowl of tasty mush.  And third, it is made like a traditional gumbo with a roux and file powder as an extra thickening agent.  My version is obviously loaded with fresh herbs and adds extra depth by using a deep and rich roasted red onion stock.  I also added a pop of color to my version with some carrots I found that are arriving a bit early this year because of our mild winter.  I will let you know if it wins or places, but the moral of the story is to stay true and learn something new and eat less meat when you can!

UPDATE: Winner of Most Creative Gumbo

Nissa’s Gumbo Z’Herbes
Serves 12


8 cups roasted red onion & herb stock (recipe follows)
2 cups of each of the following greens, destemmed (stems can be used for stock) and chopped fine: collards, beets, mustard greens, turnip greens, cabbage, kale and chard
Canola or grapeseed oil
5 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 yellow onions, chopped fine
2 red chili peppers, deseeded and chopped fine
1 medium leek, halved and sliced thin (green and white parts)
3 medium carrots, chopped small
3 ribs of celery, chopped fine
2 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
½ cup dry vermouth or white wine
½ cup brown mustard roux (recipe follows)
1 ½  cups of each of the following (leaves only) parsley, watercress, rocolla, romaine lettuce (chopped) and spinach
3 fresh bay leaves
File powder (optional)
Fluffy white rice
Spicy red or green hot sauce


Place the roasted onion stock and hearty greens in a big soup pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a medium low boil and continue to cook until tender, about 30 minutes.  Strain, reserve liquid and set greens in a bowl on the side.  In a clean, large soup pot, heat enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan generously to a medium high heat.  Add the garlic, onions and chili peppers and sauté until the onions are just beginning to brown, or about 5 minutes.  Add the leeks and continue to cook for another 3 minutes.  Next add the carrots, celery, fresh thyme and oregano and continue to sauté for a few more minutes.  Add all of the spices, making sure you are still stirring well and that all the spices have time to incorporate and cover the vegetables.  Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or white wine making sure to scrape all the little stuck “bits” to the bottom of the pan to “loosen” everything up.  Turn the burner to a medium heat and slowly start to spoon a little of the brown mustard roux into the vegetable, stirring well until all the roux is incorporated.  Allow the mixture to cook a little longer, stirring the entire time.  Add the remaining greens into the mixture and stir.  Add the reserved liquid (the roasted red onion & herb cooking stock). Stir the mixture well and if necessary use a whisk to make sure the roux is incorporated nicely.  Bring the gumbo to a low boil and allow to cook for about 15 minutes.  Take about 4-5 cups of the mixture and puree in a food processor (carefully as it will be hot) until smooth and creamy.  Place the pureed mixture back into the pot and mix well.  Turn the heat off and let stand for about 10 minutes. Serve over white rice with a pinch of file powder and Cajun Picadillo and hot sauce of choice!

Roasted Red Onion & Herb Stock
Makes about 8 cups of stock


2 medium red onions, quartered
1 leek chopped
Olive oil
Black pepper
9 cups water
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Handful of chives
Handful of parsley
Stems of greens


Pre-heat the oven to 450° F.  Place the onions and leeks on a baking tray and season with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Place in the oven and bake until just beginning to char.  Remove and place in a soup stock with 9 cups of water and the fresh herbs.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer, allowing to simmer for 15-20 minutes maximum.  Take off heat, strain and discard stock ingredients, reserving liquid.

Brown Mustard Roux
Makes 1 cup

Let’s face it, a roux is not easy to make.  Anyone can definitely do it and it’s certainly worth the process.  I have found a few tricks that help me make my roux “fool proof”, one of which is based on the goldilocks theory of not making too much and not making too little, but finding just the right amount. Roux is a simple two ingredient dish, flour and oil in equal parts.  I find that 1 cup is the perfect amount for me.  Another trick I like is using a cast iron pan. I have a much higher success rate with roux by using cast iron pans, although I don’t know the reason or science behind why.  Never use olive oil, typically canola oil is the best, but I will admit that I’ve had good luck with grapeseed oil as well. Lastly, the best tip I ever received was to make sure the pan is cold when you start.  Because I like to make things a little tricky for myself, sometimes I like to put some of my flavoring agents for whatever dish I am making in my roux. I feel like it gives an underlying subtly of flavor to my dish when done this way, but I am a gambler in the kitchen, unlike most!


½ cup canola oil
½ tablespoon brown mustard seeds, crushed fine with a mortar and pestle
½ teaspoon all spice seeds, crushed fine with a mortar and pestle
2 cloves, crushed fine with a mortar and pestle
½ cup flour


In a medium-sized (well seasoned) cast iron skillet, place the oil, spices and flour.  Heat the pan to low and stir. You will stir for what feels like forever but you cannot stop until it is finished!  This can take between 20-30 minutes.  The roux will move through various stages of color, from a light yellowish to a brown to a deep amber brown.  Make sure you continue to stir and that you do not burn the mixture, keep the burner on very low.  Once the roux takes the right color on, the deeper the color the richer the roux, take it off the heat and continue to stir for about 3-4 minutes while it cools, ensuring that it does not brown. The mixture should not be too thick; it should resemble a cream of wheat cereal texture.  The mixture can then be stored in the refrigerator or used right away.

Nissa’s Green Chili Tabasco
Makes 2 cups


2 green bell peppers, deseeded and chopped
3 jalapeño peppers, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic
½ cup water
1 cup citrus champagne vinegar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 3 lemons
5 serrano chili peppers, deseeded and chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 teaspoons white pepper
1 tablespoon salt


In a medium sauce pan, combine bell peppers, jalapeño, garlic, and water.   Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Allow to cool. Place in a blender and vinegar, lemons, lemon zest, fresh herbs and spices and blend until super smooth.  Strains using a fine mesh strainer and pushing all ingredients through.  Season to taste with salt. The sauce will keep up to 3 months in the refrigerator.

Ger-Nis Louisiana Hot Sauce

Makes 2 cups


2 red bell peppers, deseeded and chopped
3 red cayenne peppers, chopped (seeds included)
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup champagne vinegar
½ cup water
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup white onion, chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
2 teaspoons celery seeds
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon smoked alder salt
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper, crushed
3  red cayenne peppers, roasted, peeled and chopped


In a medium sauce pan, combine red bell peppers, raw cayenne peppers, garlic, salt, vinegar and water. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 5-7 minutes. Allow to cool. Place in a blender and add lemon juice, lemon zest, white onion, spices, herbs and roasted cayenne peppers. Blend until super smooth and then push through a fine mesh strainer.  Season to taste with salt and or lemon juice.  The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

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