Writers in Residence: Cooking Gumbo Z’herbes with Fatima Shaik
Where can we look to find joy amidst the chaos of our present moment? The Writers in Residence at-home video series from the PEN America World Voices Festival gives readers a glimpse into leading writers’ interior lives and hidden talents beyond their writing desks. Whether cooking meals, crafting cocktails, strumming instruments, entertaining kids, or performing poetry in their living rooms, our writers-in-residence remind us of the little comforts of staying at home in a time of unprecedented dislocation.
In our first installment, writer and co-chair of PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee Fatima Shaik teaches us how to cook gumbo z’herbes (gumbo aux herbes), a traditional, nourishing dish she describes as “a dish of resistance and resilience.”
Gumbo Z’herbes Recipe
Serves nice big bowls to four people (plus leftovers).
1.5 large bags of spinach
3 bunches of collard greens
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
7 garlic cloves, minced
0.5 cup olive oil (for cooking onions and garlic)
8 cloves, whole
1 tbsp. thyme
6 bay leaves
1 tsp. cayenne
1 lb. Andouille sausage, sliced 0.5 in. thick
2 tbsp. each of flour and butter or olive oil (for a roux)
2 heaping tbsp. tomato paste
12-15 shrimp with shells (no heads)
3 cups dry white rice
1. Shell and devein the shrimp. Refrigerate the shrimp while you boil your shrimp shells in a big pot of water (about 10 cups) for the broth. When the water has darkened, and the room smells like shrimp, the broth is done. It should take just about the same length of time as assembling the other ingredients below.
2. Take the stalks from the collards. Coarsely chop the collards and put them in a large pot, then boil them until they are soft.
3. In a separate pan, sauté the onion and garlic in oil until soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Pour some of the pot liquor (a.k.a. the collard water) off the collards, and add the spinach. If you want to use the collard water for broth in another dish or drink it at a later date, refrigerate or freeze it.
5. Drain the shrimp shells, and replace the collard water with the shrimp broth. Ideally, the water is about 3 to 4 inches above the leaves.
6. Add the bayleaf, thyme, and cloves.
7. Get the pot to a roiling boil, then lower the flame to medium. Let it boil slowly for about 20 minutes.
8. While the time is passing, perfect your roux. Basically, brown the flour in butter or olive oil until you get about one good tablespoon. Add that to the greens, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes.
9. Add the cooked andouille, onion, garlic, and tomato paste. Boil slowly for 20 more minutes.
10. Add shrimp. Boil for 8 minutes more (5 minutes if the shrimp are small). Make sure the shrimp is cooked thoroughly but not overcooked and hard.
11. Serve over rice.
Make a nice table by sitting yourself down to eat, and if possible, gathering your significant others.
Give thanks for the meal. Bless the cook, too.
About Fatima Shaik
Fatima Shaik is an American author whose writing explores the human spirit and the intersection of cultures. Her young adult books include Melitte, The Jazz of Our Street, and for adults, What Went Missing and What Got Found, which topped Goodreads’ Great African American Short Story Collections list. Her first nonfiction book, Economy Hall: A Radical Memoir (THNOC, Spring 2021), is the true story of a free Black family from the Haitian Revolution to the birth of jazz. She is the co-chair of PEN America’s Children’s and Young Adult Books Committee and serves as a Board member.