Category Archives: Southern

Gumbo z’herbes

I have, sadly, never been to New Orleans, nor am I Catholic, but when a friend gave me a huge bagful of fresh greens the other day, my first thought was to make that Creole Lenten specialty gumbo z’herbes. I did my usual Internet recipe research and discovered, as I expected, that there was a great deal of variation in how to make the dish–no consensus even on such basics as whether to thicken it with a Creole-style roux or with file powder. In fact, some of the recipes didn’t seem all that Lenten to me, containing impressive amounts of meat and sausage.

The one common denominator: greens, and lots of ’em–everyone recommended using a variety, preferably seven different kinds for luck. I was good for that: my friend had given me kale, beet greens, turnip greens, Asian mustard greens, and three different colors of swiss chard. A quick supermarket trip turned up no Creole sausage, but I got some Mexican longaniza that stood in quite well.

And then, on to cleaning and chopping all that vegetation. Every recipe said to discard all the stems from the greens, but I hate throwing out good food, which the stems are if you treat them right. I did remove them all, but only so I could simmer them separately, putting a little extra heat under them to get them as tender as the leaves. The chard stems especially were a great addition, as they’re so tender to start with; but even the kale stems got nice and soft with my treatment.

Cooking greens are notorious for hiding grit in all their nooks and crannies. To wash them properly: pile them all in a sink, fill with cold water, agitate the greens in the water as best you can, then pull them out and pile in a colander before draining the sink. Drain and rinse away all the grit left in the bottom of the sink, then repeat at least one more time, or until there is no more grit left in the sink when you drain it.


  • Several generous bunches of fresh cooking greens, preferably seven different varieties, but in any case as many as you can manage–anything from collards, kale, and mustard greens to cabbage and lettuce counts
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup light-flavored vegetable oil (I used canola)
  • 1 large onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced fine
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 lb. spicy sausage, cut into 3/4″ slices
  • 1 dried red chile pepper
  • several whole black peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 heaping tsp. poultry seasoning (I was out of marjoram)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt to taste


  1. Thoroughly wash all the greens as described above, then roughly chop into 1-inch strips. If you’re also using the stems, chop them into 1-inch segments too, and keep them separate.
  2. In a large heavy pot with a well-fitting lid, bring about a quart of water to a high rolling boil. Turn it down to a still very active simmer, and then add the greens (just the leaf parts). If they won’t all fit at the first go, don’t panic; just put the lid on the pot and let the first batch cook down a bit, then unlid and chuck in more greens, repeating till you get them all in. Turn the heat to low, cover, and let simmer until very tender, at least an hour. If using the stems, bring some more water to a boil in another pot, place the stems in, cover, and turn heat to medium-low, letting them cook till they too are tender.
  3. Drain the cooked greens and stems, reserving all the cooking liquid (the “pot likker”). Chop all the greens and stems finely and reserve.
  4. Rinse out and thoroughly dry your large heavy pot, and place back on the stove. Add the oil and heat on high until you can see the surface of the oil rippling. Add the flour gradually, whisking thoroughly after each addition so that all the flour is incorporated with no lumps. Cook this roux on medium-low, whisking continuously and watching that it doesn’t scorch, until the roux turns a golden peanut-butter brown, which can take a good 20 or 30 minutes.
  5. When the roux is ready, start adding the greens cooking liquid gradually, again whisking in each addition thoroughly so as to prevent lumps. Once all the liquid is incorporated, turn the heat up to medium, stirring frequently, until the thickened liquid bubbles but is not yet boiling. Now add all the rest of the ingredients, stirring as best one can so that everything is well combined. Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer at least another hour.
  6. Stir again and adjust seasonings. Serve in large soup plates over mounds of steamed white rice. Makes 8 servings.

Notes: Feel free to use more or other meats (ham, pork, veal, a ham-hock or ham-bone, etc.), and to vary the seasonings. You can also leave out the meat altogether to make this vegan, in which case I’d up the seasonings even more, and maybe add some of that vegan soy-chorizo to preserve a sausage-y note. The flavor will also change depending on which kinds of greens you use–because of the kale in mine it tasted very green-y, which since I love greens is a very good thing. For a smoother texture, you can run some or all of the simmered greens through a food processor before adding to the thickened cooking liquid.



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Filed under Difficulty - Sous Chef, Dinner, Southern, Spring

Shrimp and Grits: a variation on a homey southern supper


as prepared by author

Having lived several years of my life in the American south, I discovered the pleasure of eating grits.  Admittedly grits are not something that everyone considers a gastronomic pleasure. In reality, this coarsely ground corn of Native American origin, is generally just a vehicle for the other seasonings around and in it. Most often one finds grits on the breakfast table or buffet; however, based on the growing number of times grits are listed in dinner entree recipes now, it appears that they are becoming nearly as popular as their sister, thick, maize-based porridges from around the world like polenta and farina.

Those who have lived in the south have no doubt heard many praises for this homely starch.  The state assemblies of both Georgia and South Carolina have made proclaimations about the southern staple. As well,  an article in the Charleston, South Carolina Post and Courier proclaimed in 1952, “An inexpensive, simple, and thoroughly digestible food, [grits] should be made popular throughout the world. Given enough of it, the inhabitants of planet Earth would have nothing to fight about. A man full of [grits] is a man of peace.”(1)

I have often needed to defend the joys of eating grits as others wrinkle their faces at the mere mention of the ingredient.  I contend that those who have protested so much have yet to taste well-prepared grits.  So now, I challenge you, regardless of your geographic location, to try this delicious seafood and grits meal.  Its hardiness is simply perfect on a cool fall or cold winter day, and yet, it is just as appropriate for al fresco service on a spring or summer night, given the bright notes & acidity from the lemon juice, parsley, and scallions.

This recipe will serve 4 and takes approximately 15 minutes preparation time and 25 minutes cooking time.

•    4 cups water
•    Salt and pepper
•    1 cup stone-ground grits (not instant or quick cooking)
•    3 tablespoons butter
•    2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
•    1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
•    6 slices bacon, chopped
•    4 teaspoons lemon juice *
•    2 tablespoons chopped parsley *
•    1 cup thinly sliced scallions
•    1 large clove garlic, minced
Bring water to a boil. Add salt and pepper. Add grits and cook until water is absorbed, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in butter and cheese.
Rinse shrimp and pat dry. Fry the bacon in a large skillet until browned; drain well. In (some of the) grease, add shrimp. Cook until shrimp turn pink. Add lemon juice, chopped bacon, parsley, scallions and garlic. Saute for 3 minutes.
Spoon grits into a serving bowl. Add shrimp mixture and mix well. Serve immediately.

*Sometimes I will use lime juice and cilantro instead of the lemon and parsley to very good effect.  I like serving maragitas on the rocks in salt-rimmed glasses with this variation on the recipe.


Served with pears drizzled with Academia Barilla D.O.P. Riviera Ligure extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, and manchego cheese

Wine Pairing Possibilities:

My particular favorite with this dish is Cupcake Vineyards Chardonnay. The winery describes this variety as “soft and creamy with apple, tropical fruits, vanilla and spice”, which I find spot-on.  The smoothness is a lovely complement to the dish when using the theory of a full-bodied wine with a full-bodied meal.

If you’d like your wine to cut through the fattiness of the bacon, you may wish to serve this along with a Pinot Grigio or even a Prosecco.  The Prosecco is particularly a good choice if you are making this for small-bites prior to seating at a dinner party.  (The recipe would make more than 20 appetizer portions looking particularly stunning in an Asian soup spoon plating.

If you prefer a red wine, which I often do, a dry fino sherry, sangiovese, or grenache may provide a nice synergy to the flavors of the meal.



(1) South Carolina General Assembly 113th Session, 1999-2000, Bill Number: 4806

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Filed under Dinner, Grains, Seafood, Southern