A big ol’ melting pot of classic “Loosiana” cuisine

Halloween has come and gone, and the dentists’ offices are making appointments by the boatload. All those sugary treats definitely played tricks on the teeth of many.
The next autumn holiday – sorry, we’re still technically in the fall season – is Thanksgiving. Typically, we will begin seeing recipes on turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing/dressing, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin pie.
We have our family favorites. We do the traditional Thanksgiving array. So, I’m going down the road less traveled once again and giving you something completely different.
Creole cuisine originated in Louisiana, primarily in the New Orleans area. It’s a melting pot of various cuisines: French, Portuguese, Spanish, Canadian (the Acadians, known for “Cajun” cuisine), Caribbean, Italian, Greek, Southern USA Native American, West Indies, and African.
These cultures were able to come together due to the various slave trade routes. The enslaved people brought not just their cultures to the United States, but also their food.
A basic ingredient for many Creole dishes is a roux. A roux, French for “brown sauce,” is a base used for gravies and sauces in Creole cuisine. When making a roux, using a saucepan or a skillet is dependent upon what recipe is being made and how much is needed.
It begins with equal parts of a fat (oil, butter, lard, etc.) and flour. The fat is heated on medium heat. The flour is stirred in until well incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
The color of the roux is dependent upon the flavor desired for the recipe, so it can be lightly browned to dark brown. This can take 15-30 minutes.
The mixture must be continually stirred and watched. If any black flakes appear, it has burned and must be started over. Once the desired color is achieved, additional ingredients can be added such as broth (stock), milk, cream, herbs, seasonings, etc.
Jambalaya is a Louisiana classic which can be claimed by the Creoles when it has tomatoes in it, or the Cajuns when it does not.
Either way, jambalaya consists of rice that has been cooked with shrimp, oysters, spicy sausage, ham, or chicken seasoned with spices and herbs.
It is similar to Spanish paella, popular at fairs and social events, and can be easily made in large quantities.
It can be also equated to the children’s story, “Stone Soup” where a little bit of this and that added to a large pot makes a wonderful meal for all. Any way you look at jambalaya, it’s a classic feast that pleases everyone.
Ingredients: 4 Tbsp. peanut oil, ½ lb. spicy sausage (Chorizo, Andouille or hot Italian), cut into ½ pieces, ½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into ½” pieces, ½ cup each of diced celery, onion, red bell pepper, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1 Tbsp. each minced fresh leaves of sage, thyme and parsley, 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste, 2 diced jalapeno peppers, 2 cups chicken broth, 1 cup long grain rice, ½ lb. large shrimp, shelled and deveined, ¼ cup diced green onion
In a large, deep skillet; heat oil on medium-high heat; brown sausage and chicken pieces; about 7 minutes. Mix in celery, onion, bell pepper, garlic and herbs; let cook for 5 minutes.
Mix in tomatoes, paste, jalapenos, broth and rice; bring to a boil. Stir together, cover and reduce heat to low; let cook for 30 minutes. Add in shrimp and cook additional 5 minutes. Garnish with diced green onion.
Makes six servings.
Since jambalaya can be either Creole or Cajun influenced, here’s something simply Creole, again, easy to create, and so very delicious in texture and flavor: First things first, the seasoning mixture to make it all come together.
Creole Seasoning Mix
While salt is usually part of this mix, it’s up to the person making it to decide how much to put in. If you like it salty, start with two tablespoons and add more if desired. Or add less or leave it out altogether. The cook is the boss.
Ingredients: 2 Tbsp. each of onion powder, garlic powder, dried oregano and dried basil, 1 Tbsp. each of dried thyme, black and white peppercorns, dried cayenne pepper and celery seed, 5 Tbsp. paprika
Using a blender, food processor, mortar and pestle or coffee grinder (labelled for herbs and spices only); grind all the ingredients together till well blended. Store in an air tight container. Makes 1 cup.
Shrimp Creole
This dish is often served over rice, but can be served over grits, polenta, or mashed potatoes.
Ingredients: 3 Tbsp. olive oil, ½ cup each of diced green bell peppers, onions and celery, 1 Tbsp. minced garlic, 3 Tbsp. flour, 1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes, 1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes, 1 Tbsp. hot sauce (add more if more heat desired), 1 Tbsp. Creole Seasoning Mix (add more if more spice desired), 2 lbs. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (chicken can be used instead)
In a large skillet on medium heat, heat oil. Add in peppers, onions, celery and garlic. Sauté for ten minutes. Add in flour and stir till well incorporated.
Add in tomatoes and hot sauce; reduce heat to low and cover; cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in seasoning mix and shrimp. Cook an additional five minutes (shrimp will turn pink and be opaque inside).
Makes eight servings.
The other cuisine, that is a staple of Louisiana, is Cajun. While Creole is a hodgepodge of different backgrounds, Cajuns hail from their Canadian ancestors, the Acadians.
I was introduced to Cajun cuisine by a former neighbor of mine, David Prudhomme, who happens to be a nephew of the famous chef, Paul Prudhomme. David, and his wife Sharon, owned The Lost Cajun Kitchen, once located in Columbia, PA.
They have since retired and sold the restaurant, but still cook up homemade Cajun dishes. Their restaurant is where I first tried a dish I never thought I would ever have – alligator. If cooked properly, it’s tender, and I believe it tastes like shrimp.
Here is my take on a Cajun dish, Etouffee, which means “smothered.” Normally is it made with crawfish, but good luck finding them, so I used shrimp instead.
(A Cajun dish normally done with crawfish, but works well with shrimp, scallops, langoustines, or lobster. Only one type of shellfish or scallops should be used for this dish.)
Ingredients: 8 Tbsp. butter, ½ cup each diced green bell pepper and onion, ¼ cup diced green onions, including tops, 5 Tbsp. flour, 1 Tbsp. paprika, 1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (add more if more heat desired), ¼ tsp. each salt, ground black pepper, dried oregano and thyme, 2 cups hot water, 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley, 2 Tbsp. minced garlic, 1 lb. of shellfish (peeled and deveined) or scallops (foot removed)
Melt butter over medium-high heat, in a large skillet. Sauté bell pepper and onions until peppers are soft and onions translucent, about ten minutes.
While vegetables are sautéing, in a small bowl mix together flour, paprika, cayenne, salt, black pepper, oregano, and thyme. Stir this mixture into the skillet and continue to stir as it bubbles to keep from clumping or burning.
Add one cup of water and mix thoroughly. Repeat with second cup of water. Stir in parsley and garlic; bring to boil. Reduce heat to low, add in seafood, cover and let cook for 7-10 minutes, depending on seafood used. Serve over rice.
Makes 4 servings.

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