Expert Tips For Making Vegetarian Gumbo Like An Executive Chef

Gumbo may be known for its hearty chunks of shrimp, chicken, or sausages, but vegetarian gumbo holds a strong place in classic New Orleans food. Mashed spoke to Edgar "Dook" Chase IV, an expert on this subject, and learned that vegetarian gumbo already exists in Louisiana cuisine as green gumbo. Chase is the executive chef of Dooky Chase's, located just outside of New Orleans' French Quarter. Throughout the restaurant's 80 years in business, only Chase's grandmother (the late Leah Chase) and great-grandmother have preceded him as executive chef.

Whereas a typical gumbo recipe uses tomato for a stew base, green gumbo is a medley of leafy veggies. Collard greens, mustard greens, spinach, carrot tops, and Swiss chard are just some of many vegetables that come together to make this stew such a vibrant shade of green. Although the type and amount of vegetables used can vary, there is only one rule. "The key is to use an odd number of greens," Chase explains, adding, "That is the superstition coming out of our tradition and culture." Whether you use five, seven, or nine, some believe that the number of greens represents the number of new friends you'll make. To make a green gumbo, Chase recommends parboiling the greens (partially cooking them in water) and saving the brothy water left over after removing the greens, or the potlikker. "Grind those greens up and bring it back to cooking with the potlikker, and you got a great green gumbo, vegetarian," says Chase.

The history of green gumbo

Also known as gumbo z'herbes, green gumbo is just one of many variations of the dish. For vegetarians, a green gumbo is ideal because it provides the full flavor of New Orleans cuisine without the need to alter a recipe or omit ingredients. Green gumbo is also rich with tradition, and that's part of the reason each Louisiana gumbo is different from the last.

Traditionally, green gumbo is a staple vegetarian food during the 40-day period of Lent when observers abstain from eating meat on Fridays. However, Edgar "Dook" Chase IV tells us that green gumbo also has a meaty version that's traditionally made on Holy Thursday. "We have a lot of meat we put in because the Holy Thursday meal is the last big meal you have before you fast on Good Friday," Chase says. This version could have mixed seafood (like in our Louisiana seafood gumbo recipe), chicken, or andouille sausages. In fact, Dooky Chase's is well-known among New Orleans residents for its yearly tradition of serving green gumbo on Holy Thursday. However, for year-round vegetarians, omitting the meat is all it takes to get a rich plate of traditional Louisiana food.