Leah Chase's Gumbo Z'Herbes


The story of Leah Chase reads like a social history of New Orleans. Creole-born across Lake Pontchartrain, she started waitressing in 1941—part of the first group of female servers in the French Quarter—when the men were off at war. In '46, she began working at her in-laws' restaurant, Dooky Chase's, where jazz greats such as Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, and Sarah Vaughan would congregate. "There was no place else for them to eat when they came to town," Leah said. Then in the 1960s, with desegregation, Leah began "learning what they were doing on the other side," in places like Commander's Palace, where her clientele now had the opportunity to dine. For her, the strength of the SFA is its ability to transcend borders and bring people together over food. Every year on the Thursday before Easter, she used to cook up to 100 gallons of her Gumbo Z'Herbes, made with nine different types of greens. All of New Orleans, from Catholics to Jews, whites to blacks, would flock to her gumbo pot en masse. "The best way to know people is through food," she says. "Get them to talk about food. Talk over food. It might be about food, but you're also talking about issues."

Hands On Time:
55 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 50 mins
10 to 12 servings


  • 5 cups chopped mustard greens

  • 5 cups chopped collard greens

  • 5 cups chopped turnip greens

  • 3 cups chopped beet tops (5 oz.)

  • 2 cups chopped cabbage

  • 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce

  • 2 cups chopped watercress

  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped spinach

  • 1 cup chopped carrot tops (1½ oz.)

  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped

  • 1 medium onion, chopped

  • 1/2 pound smoked sausage, diced

  • 1/2 pound smoked ham, diced

  • 1/2 pound uncooked beef brisket, diced

  • 1/2 pound dry Spanish chorizo or andouille sausage, diced

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

  • 2 teaspoons table salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon filé powder

  • Hot cooked rice


  1. Combine first 11 ingredients and water to cover in a 15-qt. stockpot; cover. Bring to a boil over high heat (about 20 minutes). Uncover; boil, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Drain, reserving cooking liquid. Coarsely chop greens.

  2. Combine smoked sausage and next 2 ingredients in pot with 2 cups reserved cooking liquid. Bring to a boil. Boil, stirring once, 15 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, cook chorizo in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon; drain on paper towels, reserving 3 Tbsp. drippings in skillet.

  4. Make a roux: Stir flour into reserved drippings with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until flour is medium brown (about 15 minutes; see "Master the Art of Making Roux," page 5, as a guide). Add flour mixture to mixture in stockpot, and stir well. Add chopped greens mixture and 5 cups reserved cooking liquid. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Stir in salt, thyme, red pepper, and chorizo. Cook, stirring occasionally, 40 minutes. Stir in filé powder; stir vigorously. Serve over hot cooked rice.

    Leah Chase Gumbo Z'Herbes
    Robbie Caponetto
Related Articles