The absolute best part about living in South Louisiana is the food. There is no better place in the country to eat, and we prove this with gusto every day; Louisiana is, statistically, the fattest state in the nation. It’s a dubious distinction, but I promise we did not achieve it on Big Macs alone. Unfortunately, the recipes we’re famous for are difficult to replicate in other places because they rely heavily on local ingredients. Even if you find something labelled “crawfish” or “andouille” languishing in the back of your grocer’s freezer in Montana, my advice is not to eat it.
As my Christmas present to all our Dappled Things readers, I dug deep into the family recipe book and found a few gems that you should be able to make from the contents of any national chain supermarket. Whether you’re looking for a reprieve from yet another spiral-sliced Christmas ham or just a creative way to use the leftovers, here are a few suggestions guaranteed to please. You don’t even have to make a roux!
Once, I was invited to a dinner party where everyone brought a dish from his or her native country. The guests represented four continents, and my husband (then fiancé) and I were the only Americans. This is the dish I brought. It was the favorite of the evening, hands down.
4 or 5 chicken thigh or drumstick parts, seasoned on all sides with creole seasoning. See recipe below. (You can also use the turkey that’s still in your freezer from Thanksgiving.)
2 T cooking oil
1 or 2 onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 pods minced garlic
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 T flour
16 oz. tomato sauce (I use the no salt added kind)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup fresh sliced mushrooms (optional)
Seasoning to taste. Approximately:
A few dashes of your favorite hot sauce
½ tsp. creole seasoning
1 tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. sugar
1 tsp. dried parsley
½ tsp. dried oregano
3-4 bay leaves
Brown the chicken in the oil, a few minutes on each side. It does not need to be thoroughly cooked at this point. Set chicken aside and add onions, celery, garlic, bell pepper, and mushrooms to the pan, making sure to scrape and keep any browned juices from the chicken. Sauté until soft. Add flour, stir 1 minute. Then add tomato sauce, broth, and seasoning. Remove chicken from the bones (or buy boneless), cut into bite-sized pieces, and return it to the mixture. Simmer for 1 hour on the stove or put it in a slow cooker for several. If it’s too thick, add water or broth. If it’s too thin, add 1 T corn starch and stir until well-blended. Serve over a bed of white rice.
A muffuletta is an Italian-style sandwich invented in New Orleans. Strictly speaking, to be authentic, it should be round. However, real muffuletta bread is hard to come by, and it tastes about the same no matter what shape it is. Just make sure you use a high-quality French or Italian loaf (Pre-sliced sandwich bread is too thin to hold the dressing.)
1 loaf fresh French or Italian bread
Salami and/ or ham (this is where the leftovers come in), or use turkey for a lighter alternative
Deli-sliced mozzarella and/ or provolone cheese
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup chopped pimento-stuffed green olives
¼ cup chopped ripe olives
¼ cup fresh parsley or 1 T dried parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. minced garlic
(Some versions include diced carrots and cauliflower. I think, why ruin beautiful olives with cauliflower?)
Preheat oven to 350◦. Slice the bread lengthwise and place both halves on a cookie sheet. On the lower half, layer meats and cheeses as desired. Be generous. On the upper half, spread a layer of olive dressing. Place in the oven until the cheese is melted and the edges of the salami start to curl and crisp. If you’re making it without salami, be sure it heats all the way through. Remove from the oven, close the sandwich, and cut into desired portions. If you have any dressing left over, it’s also yummy tossed with pasta!
This one is from my grandmother, Eileen Bellard, a genuine Depression-era Cajun who learned how to make whatever scraps happened to be lying around taste like they ought to be on the menu at Commander’s Palace. Emeril has got nothing on Eileen.
The amount of the ingredients varies according to the size of your baking dish.
green bell pepper, chopped
medium cheddar cheese, grated
toasted bread crumbs
salt and pepper
3 pats butter or margarine
In an ovenproof dish, places slices of tomato in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, plus ½ tsp. sugar. Put onion and bell pepper on top of tomato layer. Sprinkle with grated cheese and toasted bread crumbs. Repeat the layers according to the depth of your dish. Top off with breadcrumbs and 3 pats butter or margarine. Bake at 350◦ for 45 minutes.
Variation: use goat cheese crumbles instead of cheddar. Nothing traditional Louisiana about that, but boy, is it good!
If those four words don’t make your mouth water, you should probably check your pulse. This is my own twist on a recipe from my aunt, Ann Bellard.
3 T butter, melted
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
1 cup light corn syrup
3 T bourbon whiskey
1 T vanilla extract
1 T flour
¾ cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup pecan pieces or halves
2/3 cup butterscotch chips
1 deep dish pie shell
Preheat oven to 325◦. Melt butter in a mixing bowl. Add salt, corn syrup, and mix well. Add bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, and flour; stir. Add sugar, mix well. Then add eggs one at a time and mix well after each. Place pecans and butterscotch chips on the bottom of an unbaked pie shell and pour batter over it. (Have the pie shell on a cookie sheet to contain any spills and for ease of getting into/ out of the oven.) Bake for 1 hour or until set. It’s a good idea to cover the crust edges with foil to prevent over-browning.
Granny’s Creole Seasoning
OK, you can cheat and buy this. There are plenty of commercial creole seasoning blends, and most people don’t bother to make their own. However, nothing you can get off the shelf is as good as Granny’s.
2 T salt
1 T ground red pepper
1 T chili powder
1 T garlic powder
1 tsp. black pepper
Place all ingredients in an empty spice bottle and shake to combine. Use to season everything–yes, everything. I am not kidding when I tell you that Louisianians routinely travel with this stuff in our purses and pockets. We have no qualms about pulling it out in fine Parisian restaurants when nobody is looking.
There you have it, friends: a little glimpse into the world of flavor I call home. Use it for Christmas or just for a break from the monotony of Tuesday pot roast. Feel free to experiment, substitute, add, or omit, but please come back and tell me if you create a really scrumptious variation! We love our food down here, but most of all, we love to share it. In this festive season, I hope you will take time to share God’s goodness through your own traditions, and laissez les bons temps rouler!