We’ve just returned from a month long trip to the United States. During our four weeks there, we got to experience a lot of local culture, meet some lovely, friendly people and of course try out American style food. What we also realised is that America is a really really huge country and four weeks does not do its hundreds of proud sights and delights any justice at all! In spite of this, we enjoyed our journey that began in New York and ended in Los Angeles. Along the way, we also did a little road trip through the Southern states more so for the warm climate and the promise of good food and we weren’t completely disappointed.
One of our stops along the way was at New Orleans, the famed food capital of the South. One of the activities we indulged in while there was to attend a demonstration session at the New Orleans School of Cooking. It was 2 hours of food talk led by the lively Peg who talked about the history and origin of contemporary Southern staples such as gumbo and jambalaya. Everything that was made was passed around to the guests so we had a complete meal during the session as well to make it doubly interesting ;)
The origins of Cajun food lie in the history of Louisiana. It was brought there by the Acadians (the word ‘Acadian’ becoming ‘Cajun’ over the years) – the original French settlers of Acadia in present day Canada. It was later influenced by African and Caribbean flavours and is now an enriched cuisine with a variety of herbs, spices and vegetables being added to any typical Cajun dish. If you’re interested, a rather comprehensive article on the culinary history of Louisiana can be found here.
We were shown how to make a roux (with flour and oil instead of the conventional flour and butter) that makes the base of gumbo, a rich soup dish that can also include any form of meat or seafood (the more traditional ingredient being andouille sausage) along with the ubiquitous ‘holy trinity’ of onion, celery and pepper. We also tasted ‘file’ powder made from sassafras leaves (apparently a Native American influence) and is used to thicken the gumbo to one’s taste at the table.
Next was the jambalaya – a very popular dish across continents by now (I’ve tried a few versions myself in Dublin) – this dish was tauted as the best way to use up any leftover bits of meat or seafood one might encounter in the refrigerator. It once again consists of a base made with the holy trinity, andouille sausage, roasted chicken bits and a home made spice mix (we weren’t told what this consisted of but were instead advised to buy it from their shop front store, which I actually did!)
Peg also demonstrated how to make the pralines that New Orleans is apparently famous for. These little rounds of creamy, nutty sweetness seemed easy enough to make and am going to give it a go myself sometime soon. They should be a perfect accompaniment to a cup of tea or coffee.
After over 2 hours of tasting simple yet tasty soul food, we left with a satisfied appetite and a grin on our faces. This session is a definitely good way of learning more about the local culture and is worth your while. So if you ever happen to find yourselves in New Orleans, do pay them a visit, I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.