Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Geography and Family History on a Plate

Is Louisiana cooking all fried seafood and boiled crawfish all the time? It definitely isn't where I come from. Since I'm a little shy about my internet presence, I won't say just where, but let's just say it is a small town in South Louisiana. You could blink and you'd miss it. It's the kind of town that still doesn't have a McDonald's and, hey, nothing is wrong with that!

There is lots of seafood to be had where I'm from. You can get tons of seafood fresh from the Gulf. You can eat fried seafood at nearly any restaurant around, and you can find boiled crawfish in season at lots of places, including at your neighbors' and friends' houses.

What do people in the area eat when they aren't eating crawfish or hunkering down over a seafood platter in a restaurant? Lots of things, including vast quantities of home-grown foods -- peas, beans, beets, preserves, etc. This is everyday food made by real people. I can write only about what I grew up with, and it is probably a bit different from what people in the next little town over ate. However, I am sure there are some common elements throughout.

A good start is a list of all the wonderful, uniquely Southern Louisiana specialties that my Mom cooked or that I had the pleasure of eating at my grandparents' homes. (I've meant to document these dishes for some time now for posterity's sake.)

What might be seen as side dishes (beans, etc) in most parts of the country are, instead, used as main dishes. Meats, fish, poultry, game, and sausages often round out the meal.

Also of note, is that there were some traditional dishes in our home -- spaghetti, macaroni and cheese (NEVER from a box), burgers, meatloaf, and barbecue (thanks, Dad!). However, most of the dishes below were in heavier rotation than most of those typical all-American dishes.

Here goes! I'm sure I won't remember everything, but I'll add as I think of things. I definitely won't forget the recurring theme of white rice.

Beans and peas (all served over rice):
  • Riz au fevre - a jambalaya of rice and field peas mixed together
  • Smothered green beans - with baby potatoes and bacon or salt pork
  • Red beans and rice - typically served with smoked sausage
  • White beans and rice - typically served with fried fish or rabbit
  • Field peas and snaps - typically served with fresh pork sausage
  • Butter beans with or without chicken
  • Dried butter beans (white in color)
  • Speckled beans (similar to a borlotti bean, but smaller and creamier)
  • Petit pois - cooked in a roux
Other rice dishes:
  • Red jambalaya - with tomatoes or tomato sauce
  • Brown jambalaya - no tomato
  • Dirty rice with ground beef and chicken gizzards
  • Yellow rice - leftover rice with eggs scrambled in
  • Rice and egg - fried egg atop rice
Other main dishes:
  • Mirliton (chayote) stuffed with shrimp or ground beef
  • Eggplant casserole with chicken or ground beef
  • Ground beef and carrots
  • Smothered turkey necks with onions and gravy
  • Smothered seven steaks
  • Roast (beef or pork) with rice and gravy
  • Dressing - ground beef with a combination of gizzards and bits of chicken breast; often served in a sandwich and very popular at wedding receptions
Soups and stews (all served over rice):
  • Crawfish bisque - with stuffed crawfish heads
  • Chicken and sausage gumbo
  • Seafood gumbo
  • Gumbo Verte (greens gumbo), sometimes contained salt pork
  • Sweet potato stew with green onions
  • Potato stew - often served with a cut beef, fresh sausage, or meatballs (on the side)
  • Shrimp stew
  • Crawfish etouffee
  • Crawfish stew
  • Blue crab stew (sometimes served over grits)
  • Chicken stew
  • Sauce piquant - dark reddish-brown tomato based "gravy" with shrimp, chicken, beef, turtle, squirrel, etc. (sometimes served over grits)
  • Turtle soup (no rice)
Some dishes that were popular at our table came from the German influence in our family and community:
  • Cabbage rolls (stuffed with ground beef)
  • Stuffed bell peppers (stuffed with ground beef)
  • Smothered cabbage with smoked sausage or andouille
  • Sauerkraut with smoked sausage (sometimes the whole dish was covered in tomato sauce)
  • Quickly-sauteed cabbage doused with vinegar after cooking
  • Chardon - trimmed and cut like celery (these are known as cardoons, or thistle, and are becoming popular with celebrity chefs) :>
  • Corn and tomatoes - similar to macque choux, though not as smothered
  • Smothered okra with tomatoes
  • Boiled okra with vinegar, salt and pepper
  • Smothered potatoes with green onions
  • Stewed tomatoes
Because my grandfathers and my Dad all grew vegetables, we had a garden salad nearly every day. There were tons of fresh beets and a lot of rocket around, too. (My grandpa was cool enough to grow this way before arugula became popular!)
  • Tomato and green bean salad
  • Beet and boiled egg salad
  • Rocket salad
Other than the French bread with butter, these things weren't eaten for breakfast every day. Just occasionally on weekends.
  • Grits (sometimes with a fried egg on top)
  • Fried bread dough with butter and cane syrup or sugar
  • Cathead (drop/angel) biscuits
  • Beignets with cane syrup
  • Pain perdu (lost bread) sort of like French toast, but made with stale French bread
  • Corn bread (sweet)
  • French bread with butter and homemade preserves (watermelon rind, fig, etc.)
Just a few of my personal favorites!
  • Peanut butter and cane syrup sandwich
  • Cheese and cane syrup sandwich
  • Cheese and fig preserves sandwich
  • Bread (usually stale) and milk sprinkled with sugar
I'll start posting soon about how to cook some of these dishes. Some, I have never cooked on my own and, instead, request them from Mom on my visits home. She is always more than happy to oblige.

Ca c'est bon!

0 red beans:

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