I finished 2014 by making Gumbo Z’Herbes for the first time for New Year’s Day. Leon Soniat writes it’s the greatest of all gumbos and John Besh raves about it, but after a day and a half of shopping and cooking, I’ve got a different opinion.
First, setting my goal of 15 greens for 2015 might have been a bit unrealistic. But remember, for each green added, Creole legend says the cook gets a new friend. So I went to the biggest produce stand around and shopped under the watchful eye of the Jolly Green Giant but only came away with five greens – collards (1), Italian parsley (2), cabbage (3), kale (4) and Swiss chard (5). They didn’t have any other prewashed greens and I don’t like to knock away snails, cut off turnips and wash the greens because I never can get all the sand, grit and bugs out.
Short ten greens, I headed straight to the Publix Grocery freezer
section to implement my back up plan. Uh oh. No frozen turnip greens or mustard greens – not even an empty space for them — just more collards. Fortunately in produce I found prewashed turnip (6) and mustard (7) greens, arugula (8), watercress (9), tarragon (10), beets with greens (11), and spinach (12).
I couldn’t find carrot tops (13) anywhere, which I thought would be the easiest to find. I could see them in my mind’s eye. In reality, I forgot about the chicory (14) but knew I had celery tops (15) at home.
Now I had more than 17 pounds of greens for a recipe that calls for three (3) pounds. But I know they wilt to a little bit of nothing so I wasn’t worried about a pot big enough.
I was a worried, though, about adding too much of one kind of green, so I used a pound of collards, half pound of mustard greens, half pound of turnip greens, then sort of mixed the other pound from remaining greens.
I made the simple roux — then added the measured greens and cooked and cooked, following the recipe precisely, adding both the
cayenne pepper and the Tabasco – a first for me. Even though I was tempted, I didn’t add meat, salt pork, bacon, broth or sugar. I cooked until midnight (Happy 2015!) and then refrigerated it, only to cook four more hours the next day. The greens were finally tender. Time to add a splash of apple cider vinegar and finally, the filé.
But folks, I didn’t have gumbo. What I had cooked was my grandmother’s “mess of greens.” That’s Southern-speak for a big pot of cooked greens, like a “mess of turnip greens.” The best way to serve my Gumbo Z’Herbes is like my grandmother served her mess of greens — with a big wedge of cornbread. Forget the rice.
Like gumbo, this mess of greens tastes better on the second and third days. It’s pretty tasty
for greens, and has a little kick from the cayenne and a unique fragrance from the tarragon. But I don’t consider it gumbo. Plus, I forgot to substitute for chicory and only had 14 greens (an unlucky “even” number) in my pot. If I don’t get any new friends and have bad luck in 2015, I’m blaming the chicory.
But right now I’ve got a more pressing problem. What am I going to do with 14 pounds of uncooked greens in the outside refrigerator?