Skip the ramblings and head straight to the recipe
Now that we are settled in and the little fellow has gotten used to sitting longer hours all strapped up in his car seat, we have started traveling a bit farther and exploring beyond the 2 hour radius we normally stick to. We have been, without really planning to, visiting cities that are associated with different music genrés. Now I'm not a music aficionado by any means. I just enjoy music, without getting into the who, why and wherefores of it (much to N's irritation!). But our little trips to these cities have broadened my knowledge a wee bit at least or that's what I'd like to believe! Memphis, the closest to us, is a blues city. Beale Street is steeped in the history of Delta blues music and the numerous restaurants and bars that line the street have live blues music every night and a lively atmosphere any time of the day or night. Nashville is of course, home of country music and the Grand Ole Opry. There were four concerts spread over the three days that we were there, including Keith Urban, but with M & S in tow, attending concerts, especially in other cities, are a thing of the past (or future!). New Orleans, our most recent "music city" trip, is just alive and buzzing with jazz and blues.
We happened to visit New Orleans during the Satchmo jazz festival and got to soak some jazz, while eating po-boys and jambalaya from the stalls around. The food scene at New Orleans is a joy. Restaurants, fancy and regular, serving typical New Orleans fare, the confectioners, the farmers markets at French Market, small & big shops selling Cajun and Creole spices and seasonings - loved them all! If you are a seafood fan, like N is, New Orleans is heaven for you. For a mostly-vegetarian like me, I was glad to find vegetarian versions of all the foods that NO is famous for. Apart from the Creole and Cajun fare, stalls selling Vietnamese food - the Bahn mis in particular, seemed very popular too. And as to be expected, there are several Italian and Mexican options for dining as well. Alligator meat is a delicacy here, thanks to the swamps surrounding the area that the alligators call home. Apparently, there are over a million of them in Louisiana.(shudder! Though I can hear some going "yum!" for the same statement :) Not adventurous when it comes to meat, we did not try it. It tastes like chicken apparently.
[Click on the for a larger image]
One of the recommended must-haves were beignets, a deep fried pastry, at Cafe du Mondé for breakfast. Now, I'm not a sugar person, especially in the mornings. No waffles, pancakes and such for breakfast for me, if I have a choice. (I think I'm that way just to balance out all the sweet-toothed folks in my family. My sister D and cousin D are known to make all sorts of complicated sweet dishes from scratch at any time, day or night, when the craving hits! And my dad HAS to have something sweet after each meal. If nothing, he will at least have a piece of jaggery!) So we had the beignets as a mid-morning snack and they were so, so good and are best had hot. I thought they came with too much powdered sugar on top (see pic below), but then what do I know, the non-sweet-toothed person who finds most things too sweet anyway! :)
Pralines, a creamy-nutty fudge, are another NO specialty and I was glad to find a sugar and spice version, with hot Tabasco sauce. Delish!
The most foodie fun I had though, was at a shop called the Pepper Palace where they had rubs, jams, sauces, condiments and snacks with pepper variations (like habanero peach jelly and orange chipotle sauce). Very customer friendly, with a huge variety of sauces, jellies, butters, salsas all laid out with chips, spoons et al for sampling. I spent a lot of time here and ended up with a nice haul to bring back home. (The one thing N and I have realized is the need for us to have some exploring time of our own on these trips, so we get to do the stuff we want, without having to hasten through things because of the kids or lack of interest of the other. Just walking around the French Quarter, with its numerous attractions and taking in the lovely architecture and colorful walls, the beautiful ironwork balconies - was time well spent for me though all too short.) The beautiful trams and local buses make it super easy to see all the sights.
The one dish that screams New Orleans that I did not get to have there was the gumbo. So I decided to make it at home. While researching into it, I found that there is no "proper" way of making this dish. Some extol the use of a nutty roux and swear by it, while many recipes don't have a roux base. I always thought gumbo meant the presence of okra. But not so, apparently. Some have and some don't. But all have the "holy trinity" of Cajun and Creole cooking - onions, bell pepper and celery - in them. This recipe below is from here.
2-3 bunches of mixed greens (I used beet greens, spinach and a few sprigs of parsley. Collard greens, carrot tops, mustard greens are some of the others you could use)
1 small onion, medium dice
1 small bell pepper, medium dice
1 stalk celery, dice
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup vegetable broth or water
1 tbsp cajun seasoning
1 each clove, bay leaf
1/2 tsp allspice powder
1 tsp green Tabasco sauce
2 tbsp oil
1 tbsp all-purpose flour
salt to taste
Clean and finely chop the greens and cook them in a pot with water or in a pressure cooker, like I did. Strain and reserve the cooking liquid. Take about a three quarters and pureé and mix with the remainder of the chopped greens.
In a thick-bottomed pot, heat oil. When hot, slowly sprinkle the flour, whisking continuously so that no lumps are formed. Reduce to low and continue to stir until the color of the roux turns light brown.
Stir in the onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic into the pot. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until the vegetables are soft, about 3-4 minutes.
Add the reserved cooking liquid and vegetable broth and mix well. Stir in the cajun seasoning, allspice, bay leaf and cloves. Bring to a boil, then simmer, stirring often, until the broth becomes thick.
Add the pureed and chopped greens, season with salt. Cover and cook on low for another 10 minutes.
Finally stir in the green Tabasco and serve over plain white rice.