The Gumbo Issue

Simply Z’Best

GUMBO Z’HERBES (pronounced gumbo zab)

There are so many types of gumbo on the Gulf Coast. You can find them made with everything from chicken and turkey to seafood and sausage — and sometimes even rabbit or squirrel! But there is one gumbo that is truly the king of them all, and that’s gumbo aux herbes or gumbo z’herbes.

This unique gumbo is believed to have originated with Creoles, particularly on Good Friday when, it was believed, you would have good luck for the coming year if you ate seven greens and met seven people during the day. Some folklore says that, for every green put into the gumbo, a new friend would be made during the coming year. Since it was typically eaten on Good Friday, no meat was added, although oysters were often added to the pot.

But in Acadiana, it was not the traditional Good Friday meal, since the gumbo z’herbes was usually prepared with salt meat or ham, and devout Catholics don’t eat meat on Good Friday. In our family, it was typically a hearty gumbo, often prepared by my Aunt Grace when the hordes of aunts, uncles and cousins flocked to her house on weekends.

As with all the other types of gumbo, there are many versions of this green gumbo. Some recipes call for cabbage, radish tops, turnips, mustard, spinach, watercress, parsley and green onions (a total of eight greens). But other recipes for gumbo z’herbes claim you will have good luck for the coming year if you eat seven greens and meet seven people during the course of the day. Those recipes often include collard or mustard greens, spinach, beet or turnip greens, chicory, cabbage, watercress, parsley, along with the green tops of carrots and radishes.

The late, great, beloved Leah Chase made her gumbo z’herbes on Holy Thursday. She always used nine greens, which I understand was to represent the nine churches visited on Good Friday in remembrance of Jesus’ walk to be crucified. And since it was served on Holy Thursday, hers also included several kinds of meats.