Louisiana Food - Cajun and Creole
The following article is by Maida Owens of the Louisiana Division of the Arts. It was originally published in the Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook.
Returning home from south Louisiana's Grand Bayou, Cajun fishermen grin and greet their friends, wives and children as they unload 300 pounds of redfish and speckled trout from their boat. One man shows his wife and daughter-in-law a few flounder that he caught. The women suggest stuffing several for their guests as the other fishermen and their families fill the back yard to clean the day's catch in preparation for a party. Suddenly, everyone is busy, even the children, the older ones practicing the art of filleting the trout. Because 25 people will eat this afternoon, the cooks fry fish on large outdoor burners, make fish stew, and pull from the freezer stuffed crabs to bake with the few flounder taken in today's catch. Extra fish will be divided among the families and frozen for later use.
Similar gatherings of family, friends and neighbors occur every weekend in homes throughout Louisiana. The groups may be a couple and their children living on a bayou who pick crab meat from the shell to sell to a seafood market, neighbors gathering for a boucherie in a farming community on the prairies, or friends having a back-yard crawfish boil in a surburban neighborhood. Other days, people may gather to shell and can peas, preserve figs, butcher a pig or stuff boudin - all good, solid Louisiana cooking and eating activities.
A Longtime Borrowing
To fully appreciate Louisiana foods, one must remember that Cajun and Creole cooking are the products of 300 years of continuous sharing and borrowing among the state's ethnic groups. For example, the French contributed sauces (sauce piquante, étouffée, stew, bisque); sweets (pralines, a modified French confection with pecans instead of the original walnuts); and breads (French bread, beignets or square donuts with powdered sugar, and corasse, fried bread dough eaten with cane syrup).
The Spanish added jambalaya (a spicy rice dish probably from the Spanish paella). Africans contributed okra, barbecue and deep-fat frying and reinforced the tendency toward hot spices. Germans, who arrived in Louisiana before the Acadians, contributed sausages (andouille and boudin) and "Creole" or brown mustard. Caribbean influence is seen in the bean and rice dishes of red beans and rice and congri (crowder peas and rice). Native Americans contributed filé and a fondness for cornbread.
However, by no means is this a complete history of Creole and Cajun foods of Louisiana. Most families also enjoy Italian pasta and stuffed artichokes. In New Orleans, every ethnic group claims the muffuletta, a large sandwich with several meats and cheeses. South of New Orleans in Plaquemines Parish, Yugoslavs have contributed their knowledge of oystering and growing oranges. And most recently, the Chinese and Vietnamese have added their food traditions to state's culinary history - so much so that Asian restaurants enjoy enthusiastic support and Asian chefs have begun to use such Louisiana fare as crawfish.
This cultural complexity makes it difficult to define clearly or separate Cajun and Creole food. The task is made more difficult by considerable seasonal and regional diversity. For example, the coasts and bayous yield an abundance of seafood dishes, while the prairies of southwest Louisiana, where ranching is important, provide such beef dishes as tasso, a smoked meat used as seasoning, and grillades, beef smothered in a seasoned gravy. Other variations cannot be explained by regional or seasonal factors, however. Local cultural preferences are the most obvious reason why one is more likely to find a dark brown roux on the prairies and a lighter, more delicate one in New Orleans.
Gumbo and Good Gumbo
The pride that individual cooks take in developing their own distinctive styles also accounts for many differences within Louisiana. The incredible variations of gumbo illustrate the individuality of south Louisiana cooks. And while everyone makes gumbo, few cooks agree on what makes good gumbo. Frequently cooks disagree on ingredients or on how dark and thick the roux should be. Gumbo is a soup-like dish - descended from the French bouillabaisse and renamed from the West African word for okra, guingombo - that usually features two or more meats or seafood and is served with rice. The most common types of gumbo are okra gumbo and filé gumbo. Okra gumbo depends on the smothered, or sautéed, okra for thickening. Filé gumbo starts with a roux made with hot oil in which flour has been slowly browned. Before serving, filé (ground sassafras leaves) is sprinkled on top to thicken it. A third, less common gumbo, gumbo z'herbes, is meatless. Originally served during Lent, this gumbo uses a combination of seven greens. The most common gumbos are chicken and sausage and seafood gumbo (shrimp, crab and oysters), but turkey, duck, ham, squirrel and other meats are also used.
What is Creole? What is Cajun?
At one time, it may have been possible to say that Creole cooking was the fancier cooking of New Orleans with more European influences and Cajun cooking was the simpler foods of the country folk, but this is no longer true. Today it is difficult to distinguish between Cajun and Creole cooking as they are practiced in the home. In fact, the terms Cajun and Creole are frequently used interchangeably or together. When applied to food, Creole most often refers to the haute cuisine of New Orleans restaurants that developed from the intensive blending of the city's various food traditions, many of which originated with European-trained chefs. For example, Jules Alciatore of Antoine's Restaurant introduced baked fish en papillote (in paper) and oysters Rockefeller. The experimentation continues with such dishes as seafood pasta introduced by Ralph and Kacoo's, a more recent successful Cajun restaurant.
The word "Creole" itself is difficult to define. People within Louisiana apply it to different groups and their language and food. Some argue that the descendants of the French and Spanish colonists in New Orleans are the only true Creoles. But Creole also refers to those of Afro-French-Caribbean heritage, many of whom do not live exclusively in New Orleans. Still others use Creole to refer to French-speaking blacks in rural southwest Louisiana and to similar descendants who live along the Cane River in Natchitoches Parish.
Cajuns, by contrast, are descendants of Acadians who were expelled from Nova Scotia and found their way to Louisiana. Between 1765 and 1795 many settled on Bayou Lafourche, Bayou Teche and the prairies of southwest Louisiana. There, they lived in relative isolation, although each community absorbed a unique combination of Germans, Spanish and Anglo-Americans who learned French. Today, the Cajun culture blends all of these cultures.
The Isleños of St. Bernard Parish are neither Creole nor Cajun. These Spanish-speaking settlers arrived in Louisiana from the Canary Islands about the same time as the Cajuns. Until recently, they lived in relative isolation just to the southeast of New Orleans. They continue to speak Spanish and live off the land by trapping and fishing. Caldo, one of their favorite dishes, is a soup made with white beans, vegetables and meat.
Every Gathering a Food Event
Whatever their origin, the people of south Louisiana enjoy talking about food, exchanging recipes and collecting cookbooks. They argue about the best way to cook rice, how dark a roux should be, and whether tomatoes belong in a gumbo. And everyone enjoys experimenting with, preparing and, of course, eating food. Therefore, it is not surprising that the average cook possesses highly skilled culinary standards. And because both men and women take pride in their cooking - and enjoy any opportunity to show off their skills - every gathering becomes a food event. Family food events in particular become social functions. Through food, families maintain a sense of generation and extension. Older family members pass family lore to the younger ones, and individuals learn about their cultural identity as well as about their nieces, cousins and aunts.
A final glimpse of our Cajun fishermen a few weeks after their fishing trip shows clearly the social functions of food preparation.
The young woman walks next door to her mother-in-law's house while her children run ahead to hug their Maw Maw. After a cup of dark roast coffee, they begin preparing crawfish heads for bisque, a time-consuming task. The day before, they parboiled two hundred pounds of crawfish, scraped and cleaned the body portion of the crawfish - called the head - and peeled the tails. Today, they chop and cook onions, garlic, and celery to make a stuffing that is thickened with French bread crumbs. They then add the crawfish tails and cook the stuffing, remove the cooked stuffing from the heat, add raw eggs to hold together the mixture, fill each head with stuffing, roll it in flour, and put it aside to be frozen for later use.
While they cook, the children run in and out, stopping occasionally to help stuff the crawfish heads. The women catch up on family gossip, and the mother-in-law tells stories of her own childhood in the swamp, her marriage, and her family's move into the city when her son was young. As family lore is passed to the next generation, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law grow closer and the younger woman learns what it is to be a Cajun.
That night, crawfish heads are used to make crawfish bisque. After making a very dark roux, the women add onions, celery and garlic. Once these are sauteed, they add crawfish tails and the heads. Later, they will serve the bisque with rice to their families.
Another day, when family or friends drop by unexpectedly, the women will pull a package of crawfish heads from the freezer to make bisque for dinner. Everyone will be amazed that so excellent a dish could be prepared so quickly. The women will just smile.
The Evolution of Cajun and Creole Cuisine
By Chef John D. Folse
(Folse is a world-renowned authority on Cajun and Creole cuisine and culture. He owns an award-winning restaurant, Lafitte's Landing at Bittersweet Plantation in Donaldsonville, he has a catering company, and he hosts a cooking show that is aired nationally on PBS.)
Prior to beginning our adventure into the cuisine of Louisiana, it is imperative that I begin by outlining the basic principles, procedures and terminology that are unique to Cajun and Creole cookery. In the following pages, I'll be explaining stocks, sauces, rouxs and various other essentials in order for you to better understand how the rich heritages of the Cajuns and Creoles were adapted and developed in the New World to create the most exciting cuisine in America today. Certain Louisiana food customs, such as the boucherie, the cochon de lait, and the crawfish boil, will be covered for a better understanding of just how unique our cuisine and culture really is. After you read about the fascinating development of pralines, Cajun coffee, beignets, and hushpuppies, I know you will want to dig deeper and tackle the sections on gumbo and wild game.
It is important to realize that cultures and cuisine must constantly evolve. This evolution process is brought about when new ingredients and ideas are introduced into a region. Here in south Louisiana, the evolution process may be witnessed at every turn. The Cajuns today have more access to the outside world because of increased mobility, as interstates begin to cross the bayous and cities arise from our swamplands. An example of this process of change is the merging of cultures in New Orleans. Today it is difficult even for the locals to tell the Cajuns from the Creoles. However, we all agree that evolution is imperative, if our cultures and cuisine are to survive.
Though we will look into this evolution of Louisiana cuisine, I feel it is necessary to first understand from whence it came. Knowing the foundation of Cajun and Creole cooking will ensure a clear understanding of the direction we have chosen to take. As the young chefs of America travel into the bayous of Louisiana and walk the French Market area of New Orleans, their creative juices cannot help but flow. The volumes of crawfish, crab, shrimp, oysters, wild game and other local ingredients lend themselves perfectly to the evolution process at the hands of these young masters. So for a moment, let's look into the past. This certainly will place a bright spotlight on the future of our magnificent cuisine, a cuisine constantly evolving for the better in Louisiana.
The Cajun and Creole cultures are quite distinct and so are their cuisines. The Creoles were the European born aristocrats, wooed by the Spanish to establish New Orleans in the 1690s. Second born sons, who could not own land or titles in their native countries, were offered the opportunity to live and prosper in their family traditions here in the New World. They brought with them not only their wealth and education, but their chefs and cooks. With these chefs came the knowledge of the grand cuisines of Europe.
The influences of classical and regional French, Spanish, German and Italian cooking are readily apparent in Creole cuisine. The terminology, precepts, sauces and major dishes carried over, some with more evolution than others, and provided a solid base or foundation for Creole cooking. Bouillabaisse is a soup that came from the Provence region of France in and around Marseilles. This dish is integral to the history of Creole food because of the part it played in the creation of gumbo.
The Spanish, who actually played host to this new adventure, gave Creole food its spice, many great cooks, and paella, which was the forefather of Louisiana's jambalaya. Paella is the internationally famous Spanish rice dish made with vegetables, meats and sausages. On the coastline, seafood was often substituted for meats. Jambalaya has variations as well, according to the local ingredients available at different times of the year.
The Germans who arrived in Louisiana in 1690 were knowledgeable in all forms of charcuterie and helped establish the boucherie and fine sausage making in south Louisiana. They brought with them not only the pigs, but chicken and cattle as well. A good steady supply of milk and butter was seldom available in south Louisiana prior to the arrival of the Germans.
The Italians were also famous for their culinary talents. Since they were summoned to France by Catherine de Medicis, to teach their pastry and ice cream making skills to the Europeans, many Creole dishes reflect the Italian influence and their love of good cooking.
From the West Indies and the smoke pots of Haiti came exotic vegetables and cooking methods. Braising, a slow cooking technique, contributed to the development of our gumbos. Mirlitons, sauce piquantes and the use of tomato rounded out the emerging Creole cuisine.
Native Indians, the Choctaws, Chitimaches and Houmas, befriended the new settlers and introduced them to local produce, wildlife and cooking methods. New ingredients, such as corn, ground sassafras leaves or file powder, and bay leaves from the laurel tree, all contributed to the culinary melting pot.
I would be remised if I failed to mention the tremendous influence of the Africans in Creole cooking. The Africans brought with them the "gumbo" or okra plant from their native soil which not only gave name to our premier soup but introduced a new vegetable to south Louisiana. Even more importantly, they have maintained a significant role in development of Creole cuisine in the home as well as the professional kitchen.
Creole cuisine is indebted to many unique people and diverse cultures who were willing to contribute and share their cooking styles, ingredients and talent. Obviously then, Creole cuisine represents the history of sharing in south Louisiana. Early on in the history of New Orleans, the Creole wives became frustrated, not being able to duplicate their Old World dishes with New World products. Governor Bienville helped to solve this problem by commissioning his housekeeper, Madame Langlois, to introduce them to local vegetables, meats and seafood in what became the first cooking school in America. This school aided them in developing their cuisine in a new and strange land.
Creole cuisine, then, is that melange of artistry and talent, developed and made possible by the nations and cultures who settled in and around New Orleans. Those of us who know and love it, keep it alive by sharing it with the world.
The cuisine of the Cajuns is a mirror image of their unique history. It is a cooking style that reflects their ingenuity, creativity, adaptability and survival.
When the exiled French refugees began arriving in south Louisiana from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1755, they were already well versed in the art of survival. Their forefathers had made a home in the wilderness of southeast Canada in the land of "Acadie." Following their exile, these French Catholics found a new home compatible with their customs and religion in south Louisiana.
The story of "Le Grand Derangement" is memorialized in the epic poem Evangeline by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This love story tells of Gabriel and Evangeline, tragically torn apart when 10,000 Acadians were gathered and driven from their homeland. It took six days to burn the village of Grand Pre, and families were divided and put aboard 24 British vessels anchored in the Bay of Fundy.
The Acadians were forcibly dispersed, nearly half of them dying before a year had passed. Survivors landed in Massachusetts, Maryland, the Carolinas, Georgia (where some were sold into slavery, the French West Indies, Santo Domingo, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras and the Falkland Islands. The main tragedy lied in the fact that the men were exiled first, to destinations unknown, with the women and children following later. As time passed, the struggle to reunite these families, in most cases, proved futile.
A large contingency of Acadians returned to the coastal seaports of France, their initial homeland, and eventually came to south Louisiana. Some were sent to England while others made their way back to "Acadie" to Sainte-Marie and settled on the French shore. Word rang out across Europe, Canada and South America that reunion with their husbands and fathers could be possible in the bayous of south Louisiana.
As wave after wave of the bedraggled refugees found their way to yet another land, the Acadians were reborn. They were free to speak their language, believe as they pleased, and make a life for themselves in the swamps and bayous of the French triangle of south Louisiana. They were among friends, friends who enjoyed the same "joie de vivre," or joy of living.
Just as they had become such close friends with the Micmac Indians when they were isolated in the woodlands of Canada, so they befriended the native Indians in south Louisiana. Friends were quickly made with the Spanish and Germans as well.
The original Acadian immigrants had come to Nova Scotia from France beginning in 1620. They were primarily from Brittany, Normandy, Picardy and Poitou. These fishermen and farmers had learned how to adjust, survive and make a life for themselves in Acadie. Once again, they were faced with the task of survival. Rugged as they were, the Acadians learned to adapt to their new surroundings. Armed with their black iron pots, the Cajuns, as they had come to be known, utilized what was indigenous to the area. No attempt was made to recreate the classical cuisine of Europe. None of the exotic spices and ingredients available to the Creoles were to be found by the Cajuns in bayou country. They were happy to live off the land, a land abundant with fish, shellfish and wild game.
The Cajuns cooked with joy and love as their most precious ingredients, a joy brought about by reunion, in spite of the tragedy that befell them. To cook Cajun is to discover the love and experience the joy of the most unique American cuisine ever developed.
Cajun cuisine is characterized by the use of wild game, seafoods, wild vegetation and herbs. For their association with the Native Americans, the Cajuns learned techniques to best utilize the local products from the swamps, bayous, lakes, rivers and woods. Truly remarkable are the variations that have resulted from similar ingredients carefully combined in the black iron pots of the Cajuns.
Jambalaya, grillades, stews, fricassees, soups, gumbos, sauce piquantes and a host of stuffed vegetable dishes are all characteristic of these new Cajun "one pot meals."
From the Germans, the Cajuns were reintroduced to charcuterie and today make andouille, smoked sausage, boudin, chaudin, tasso and chaurice, unparalleled in the world of sausage making.
Cajun cuisine is a "table of the wilderness," a creative adaptation of indigenous Louisiana foods. It is a cuisine forged out of a land that opened its arms to a weary traveler, the Acadian.
So as you can see, Louisiana has two rich histories and two unique cuisines; the Creole cuisine with its rich array of courses indicating its close tie to European aristocracy, and Cajun cuisine with its one pot meals, pungent with the flavor of seafood and game.
No wonder you want to cook Cajun and Creole!
Introduction to Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen
(Paul Prudhomme is a world-renowned Cajun and Creole chef. The following is a foreword reprinted from one of his "Louisiana cooking" cookbooks).
When the taste changes with every bite and the last bite is as good as the first, that's Cajun. I'm a Cajun and that's Louisiana cooking.
Cajuns originated in southern France, emigrated to Nova Scotia in the early 1600s and settled a colony that came to be called Acadia. In the mid 1700s, the British drove them out of Nova Scotia and many of them migrated to Louisiana, where they were well received by the large population of French. They usually settled along waterways and turned to their traditional country practice of fishing, trapping and farming for a living. Two of my ancestors were among those Acadians who migrated from Nova Scotia to Louisiana. Some of their descendants settled around the area of Opelousas, where I was born.
I grew up the youngest of 13 children - 10 boys and three girls. My family worked the land as sharecroppers, farming on borrowed land and paying the landlord a third of the profits from the cotton and sweet potato crops. My father spent 42 years farming, following a pair of mules. We also raised our own vegetables and animals for eating.
Fabulous food is part of Cajun pride. It's our tradition to always celebrate with food and to welcome guests with food and coffee. I was seven years old when I began cooking with my mother, when my youngest sister got married. The most important thing to my mother was the health of her family and the joy of setting a good table, and she was an awesome cook. Everybody thinks his mother is the best cook - but mine really was! She had to be, to prepare interesting meals day in and day out for such a large family. Cooking with her was like working for a small restaurant. It was incredible what she could do, especially considering that the best food we raised was sold. My mother also was a great storyteller, and she talked to me a lot about food - its lore, the different kinds of food and how they're prepared. All of this is still an inspiration to me.
At the time I worked with my mother, I thought that it was just my job and that it was hard work. I know now that those years were a unique opportunity. The time I spent with her next to the stove, in the fields digging up roots and vegetables, and in the barnyards feeding and slaughtering animals provide me with an exceptional experience. As I've gotten older, I've realized how important living close to the land was and how real it was - not only for me and my family, but for all the people who live close to the land.
When I was 17, not fully knowing what was happening, not realizing why, I set out to become a cook. The only thing I knew for sure was that I enjoyed eating! I traveled around the country for 12 years, working full time at restaurants with chefs of every professional and ethnic background. In addition to learning new techniques and methods and the cuisines of various parts of the country, I shared my own heritage of cooking by fixing Cajun and Creole dishes. I was struck by the reactions to my food, from people all over the country. I began to understand how unique the traditional foods of my family were. I came to realize that the joy of cooking Cajun and Creole food was not just that I appreciated its goodness so much, but that there was this great pleasure I got from watching other people eat it and seeing the joy in their eyes. At the same time, I would notice when I returned home for visits that my Cajun family and friends didn't seem to recognize the uniqueness of their cooking. I felt it was one of those situations where if you see something every day, you don't see it; if you taste something every day, you don't realize that it's unique.
That's one of the things that led me back to Louisiana. And I decided that Louisiana was the place to cook, not only because it was important to me to keep the Cajun culture alive, but because the most creative cooking in the nation was going on in Louisiana. Cooks and cooking as an art were most appreciated here.
Louisiana is a terrific setting for a cook because of its bountiful natural resources, including a variety of wildlife and a wealth of fresh seafood that is extraordinary because of the state's diverse water resources: The brackish waters in the coastal wetlands and in many of the southernmost lakes, the salt water of the Gulf of Mexico, and the freshwater lakes and streams throughout the state. Also, our subtropical climate produces a taste in fruits and vegetables that is unmatched - when the taste is there, it's just really staggering!
It took me many years to understand that it was the use of local fresh products that was the single most important factor in good eating. One of my strongest memories of my mother's cooking is her use of only fresh ingredients. We had no refrigeration, so we'd go out in the fields to get what we needed. When we dug up potatoes, within two hours they'd be in the pot, cooked and eaten. I couldn't seem to get a potato to taste like my mother's until I realized that it wasn't anything that was done in the kitchen - it was just the freshness of the potato that made it completely different. This principle carries over to all foods.
The ingredients in Cajun food have always depended on what you could get, so it changed depending on where you were. If you lived near New Orleans or the coast, you used seafood. But where we lived, there was no salt water and no transportation to reach it, so we had crawfish, which live in sweet water; and we had an endless supply of game, and there was chicken, pork, beef and all kinds of vegetables.
Cajuns still make use of the plentiful crawfish, as well as chicken and pork (which is frequently smoked) and seasonal game. File powder, parsley, bay leaves, cayenne and black peppers and a variety of other hot peppers are the primary seasonings. Rice, an abundant Louisiana crop, is a staple of Cajun cooking.
People often ask me what's the difference between Cajun and Creole cooking. Cajun and Creole cuisines share many similarities. Both are Louisiana born, with French roots. But Cajun is very old, French country cooking - a simple, hearty fare. Cajun food began in southern France, moved on to Nova Scotia and then came to Louisiana. The Acadians adapted their dishes to use ingredients that grew wild in the area - bay leaves from the laurel tree, file powder from the sassafras tree and an abundance of the different peppers such as the cayenne, Tabasco peppers, banana peppers, and bird's-eye peppers that grow wild in south Louisiana - learning their uses from the Native Americans.
The evolution of Creole cooking, just like the Cajun, has depended heavily on whatever foods have been available. But Creole food, unlike Cajun, began in New Orleans and is a mixture of the traditions of French, Spanish, Italian, American Indian, African and other ethnic groups. Seven flags flew over New Orleans in the early days, and each time a new nation took over, many members of the deposed government would leave the city. Most of their cooks and other servants stayed behind. The position of the cook was highly esteemed and the best paid position in the household. Those cooks, most of whom were black, would be hired by other families, often of a different nationality. Of course, the cooks would have to change their style of cooking. Over a period of time, they learned how to cook for a variety of nationalities, and they incorporated their own spicy, home-style way of cooking into the different cuisines of their employers. This is the way Creole food was created. Creole cooking is more sophisticated and complex than Cajun cooking - it's city cooking.
Today, in homes, there is still a distinction between Cajun and Creole cooking; in restaurants, little distinction remains. That's why I've begun referring to the two together as one - Louisiana cooking.
I feel that food is a celebration of life. It's a universal thing - shared needs and shared experiences. It keeps us alive, it affects our attitudes, and it is a social experience. But there's more to it: Watching people eat something that they've never tasted quite so good, or eat something that they didn't believe could be that good, watching their eyes and their whole expressions change, and even their attitudes toward the cook change - that's what keeps me cooking! And I think that's what cooking food is all about, whether you're cooking in the commercial market or at home.
I think cooking is a very personal thing. You have to draw on the past, on what you've read, what you've tasted and what you've seen prepared. But I think that anyone can show imagination with food. First, you need to build your confidence. Start by reading cookbooks to see the different ways people combine foods. Keep in mind that there is only a limited number of foods available in this world to work with - which is fascinating, because people all over the world take these basics and make them taste completely different. People in your own neighborhood, the people next door, have the same products to work with, and yet each person ends up with a distinctive dish.
With all this in mind, use your imagination when approaching a single ingredient, like pepper for example. If you put pepper in a dish, you don't want to taste the pepper first - you want it there as an accent, but you don't want it to take over. And think about this one: I've found a lot of magic in working with a single ingredient to produce a redundancy of flavor. For example, if you're stuffing an eggplant, don't just stuff it. Hollow out a slice of the eggplant to put the stuffing in, then use the pulp in the stuffing and in the sauce. That's exciting!
If I could get across just one idea, it would be for you to treat each ingredient so that you bring out its best quality. If that's done, you can't fail to have a terrific dish. And don't be timid about it, just jump right in the skillet!
I try to make my food "round" in taste. We have a variety of taste buds in our mouths and when food is round, it touches all of them in turn. One way I make food "round" is to use red, white and black peppers in the same recipe different peppers excite taste buds in different parts of the mouth, and this makes you feel that you want another bite - that you just have to have another bite. The peppers also cleanse the palate and keep the food interesting by making it change with each bite. This keeps your taste buds happy!
You'll notice in the cookbook that I often call for the same combinations of vegetables, such as onions, celery and bell peppers, or onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic. The secret of getting different tastes from the same combinations is in the amount of each you use. For example, in one recipe you might see one cup of onions and one-half cup of celery, and then in another you'll see the reverse of that. That's typical of my Cajun cooking.
Something else I like to do with these particular vegetables is to add a portion of them in the early stages of cooking and then add the rest later. When you do this, you achieve levels of taste and texture. You'll notice this, for example, in some of the recipes that call for a portion of the vegetables to be "caramelized" (bringing out the sweetness and giving you a deep color) and the remainder to be added later (leaving this portion colorful and somewhat crunchy).
You may also notice the long cooking time in many of the recipes. This method stems from a tradition in old Cajun and Creole cooking - long, long cooking times. In the old recipes for such things as stuffed eggplant, stuffed mirliton and other stuffed vegetables - even foods like red beans and black-eyed peas and sometimes seafood - it's that long cooking time that establishes a taste you can't get any other way, a uniquely Cajun and Creole quality. I still use a variation of that method in some recipes.