Ribollita

Ribollita is a thick Tuscan stew. It features plenty of beans, dark greens, olive oil and day-old bread. It’s a nourishing and filling dish for the cold, winter days. Despite the level of depth this recipe brings out, it still takes less than an hour to make.

History of Ribollita

Ribollita is a Tuscan bread soup. It’s a hearty meal complete with vegetables and bread. The name literally means reboiled because you can throw just about anything in it. As with many Tuscan meals, this soup comes with a peasant origin.

Initially, it was created by merely reheating leftover vegetable or minestrone soup from the previous day. During the reboiling process, people would throw in some more fresh ingredients to enhance the flavor. It’s typically made with inexpensive ingredients that allowed it to be more affordable. Common choices include potatoes, onion, celery, chard, beans and carrots.

Some records show this soup was around during the Middle Ages as well. That’s when the servants gathered up the leftover food-soaked bread pieces from the banquets and used them in their family’s soup for dinner.

Unique Characteristics of Ribollita

A true ribollita is made several days before serving. You want to throw whatever leftover ingredients you have into it. Just because it’s traditionally vegetarian, it also works well with leftover meats such as salami, pancetta and ham.

The aspect that makes a ribollita different from other stews is the day-old bread that’s included. These bread chunks or croutons change the entire texture of the stew and set it apart from mainstream soups.

Ribollita Recipe

(from //www.101cookbooks.com/ribollita-recipe/)

Serves: 10

Prep Time: 15 mins

Cook Time: 25 mins

Total Time: 40 mins

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots or equiv. winter squash, chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 1 14- ounce / 400 ml can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound / 16 ounces / 450g cavolo nero (lacinato kale, Tuscan kale), stems trimmed off and leaves well chopped
  • 4 cups / 22 oz / 620g cooked white beans
  • 1/2 pound / 8 oz / 225g crustless loaf of bread
  • 1 1/2 + teaspoons fine grain sea salt
  • zest of one lemon
  • lots of well-chopped oily black olives

Directions:

Step 1

In your largest thick-bottomed pot over medium heat combine the olive oil, celery, garlic, carrot, and red onion. Cook for 10 -15 minutes sweating the vegetables, but avoid any browning. Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes, and simmer for another 10 minutes or so, long enough for the tomatoes to thicken up a bit. Stir in the cavolo nero, 3 cups of the beans, and 8 cups / 2 liters water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the greens are tender, about 15 minutes.

Step 2

In the meantime, mash or puree the remaining beans with a generous splash of water – until smooth. Tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Stir both the beans and bread into the soup. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the bread breaks down and the soup thickens, 20 minutes or so. Stir in the salt, taste and add more if needed. Stir in the lemon zest.

Step 3

Serve immediately, or cool and refrigerate overnight. Serve reheated, or “ribollita” meaning reboiled, the next day ladled into bowls. Finish each serving with a drizzle of olive oil and some chopped olives.

Rachael Ray shares her variation of this recipe on YouTube.

If you want to see the traditional method, Pasta Grannies also posted an informational video.

Variations

There are too many variations available to list; you can add or take out anything you want. It’s even possible to make it without the bread if you prefer. Just make sure you add some extra beans to create the thick texture.

If you want to increase the brightness and zest, add some lemon to the mixture.

It’s also helpful to know that this stew freezes well. Make an extra helping and put it in the freezer for a quick weeknight family meal. Just make sure you add the bread when you reheat it.

Enjoy the Meal

Imagine the smell of this soup as it reheats in a crockpot on a cold Sunday afternoon. It’s the perfect dish to bring your friends and family together in one place. Customize it until it becomes your own concoction.

Steak Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette

When it’s too hot to cook, or you simply want something light, a steak salad is perfect. Pair it with honey shallot vinaigrette to complete the fresh flavor. The beautiful thing about this easy salad is you can incorporate whatever is fresh and include it into your recipe.

History of Vinaigrette

It’s known that vinegar and other products like it were originally used to get rid of smells. In fact, there was a time that the filth in England was so rampant, that royalty and the wealthy would bathe in vinegar to remove the stench and ensure they remained disease-free.

As a food, vinaigrette was used on vegetables, originally. While it was commonly used, it didn’t get the term vinaigrette for many years. Now, it’s a standard sauce used for a multitude of purposes, but typically not bathing.

Unique Characteristics of Vinaigrette

Vinaigrette is a term used to describe a basic sauce with two or more ingredients. Vinegar is one of the elements mixed with other ingredients such as oil and mustard. This flavorful sauce works well for cold or hot dishes.

The name vinaigrette comes from vinaigre, which is the French term for vinegar. It’s not considered a stable emulsion, because it does separate. Still, it’s easy to re-blend the mixture just by shaking it.

Steak Salad with Shallot Vinaigrette Recipe

(from //theinspiredhome.com/articles/steakhouse-salad-with-honey-shallot-vinaigrette)

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

For the Vinaigrette:

  • 1 shallot
  • ½ cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of honey
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

For the Steak:

  • 1 lb sirloin steak
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

For the Salad:

  • 1 head of trimmed bibb lettuce
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach
  • 2 cups packed arugula
  • ½ sliced cucumber
  • 1 sliced radishes
  • ¼ cup sliced pepperoncini’s
  • 4 slices of prosciutto ham
  • 1 cup of sliced assorted cherry tomatoes
  • 1 ball of burrata cut into wedges
  • ¼ cup of crumbled blue cheese
  • ¼ cup of shaved Parmesan cheese
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

For the Vinaigrette:

Place the ingredients into a blender and blend on high until the salad dressing is emulsified and the shallots is finely chopped. Set aside.

For the Steak:

Season the steak on all sides with salt and pepper and sear it in a hot large saute pan on high heat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the steak until it is browned on the outside and to your desired internal temperature. About 3-4 minutes on each side for a medium-rare internal temperature.

Set the steak aside to rest for 2 to 3 minutes before slicing it.

For the Salad:

Place all of the ingredients into a large bowl or a large platter evenly spreading out the vegetables. Finish the salad by adding on the sliced steak and vinaigrette.

You can see this recipe being created on YouTube.

There’s also a variation with honey shallot raspberry vinaigrette to consider.

Variations

This recipe features a lot of flavors, but there are plenty of ways to enhance it further. While it already includes Italian meats such as burrata and pepperoncini, consider adding salami or prosciutto. You can also swap out the cheese and experiment with your favorites.

Choose fresh vegetables and add in anything nutritious that you enjoy. This tastes good with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. You can also play with the vinaigrette recipe itself. Replace the vinegar with any citrus or simply add it on top. You’ll be amazed at the flavors you come up with.

Enjoy the Meal

Because of the numerous possibilities available with this salad, it’s possible to make it countless times without ever having it the same way twice. Play with the flavors and incorporate items that you enjoy to create a light, summer dish for your family.

Beef and Cheddar Casserole

When your family demands comfort food, a great option is beef and cheddar casserole. It’s a four-step recipe that’s perfect for busy nights. Don’t be surprised if it ends up on your family’s favorite food list.

History of Cheddar Cheese

There’s no clear cut answer to the origin of cheddar cheese. A popular belief is that during the 1100s, a milkmaid left a milk pail in the cave. She meant to cool it, which was standard at that time, but she forgot about it. When she came back the following day, the milk hardened and turned into cheese.

While that story might not be more than folklore, we do know that cheddar cheese arrived in the United States during the 1800s. Cheddar producers began selling the cheese as a commodity. In the beginning, cheddar only got produced for the farm or as curds for manufacturers. Then, Jesse Williams changed everything.

Williams’s family built the first American cheese factory. He gathered milk from farms and produced curds and cheese onsite. It went from being a treat meant for farmers and their families to the factory. As the years went on, cheese making turned its focus to efficiency, which caused the quality to suffer. The manufacturers also worked to create a cheese that lasted longer.

Unique Characteristics of Cheddar Cheese

Cheddar cheese comes in a variety of colors, mainly based on the cows’ grazing habits and the time of year. Natural cheddar cheese doesn’t actually look that appealing to most people. That’s why many farmers began adding annatto seed to provide the consistent orange hue consumers are used to seeing.

For the past several decades, consumers got used to plastic-wrapped, smooth, processed cheddar cheese, but that’s not what real cheddar looks like. As more people become informed, the demand increases for natural products. That’s why you can now find more natural cheddar cheeses on the shelf that are perfect for recipes such as this.

Beef and Cheddar Casserole Recipe

(from //www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/beef-and-cheddar-casserole-recipe-2042594)

Total: 55 min

Prep: 5 min

Inactive: 10 min

Cook: 40 min

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking dish
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 cups wide egg noodles (about 5 ounces)
  • 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 12 ounces ground beef
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions (white and green parts), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • One 14 1/2-ounce can petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups grated Cheddar

Directions:

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil a 2-quart baking dish.

Step 2

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook to al dente according to the package directions. Drain and put in the prepared baking dish. Toss with the sour cream, Parmesan and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Step 3

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and cook, stirring, until no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Add the bell peppers and scallions and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Make a space in the pan, add the tomato paste and toast for a minute. Sprinkle with the Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the diced tomatoes, stir and bring to a simmer. Cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes.

Step 4

Pour the beef mixture over the noodles and sprinkle with the grated Cheddar. Bake on the middle rack until the cheese is melted and the edges are bubbling, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

The Food Network published a video illustrating how to make this delicious dish.

There’s also another YouTube video that shows the way to make this on the stovetop, in one dish, to make things even easier. In this recipe.

Variations

You can choose to use any type of pasta you want in this recipe. While the original calls for egg noodles, rigatoni, elbow macaroni and any other variety would work well.

It’s also simple to hide some vegetables in this dish, to trick your picky eaters. Consider chopping some zucchini, kale, spinach and other greens finely so they can’t be seen.

Finally, experiment with some various cheese options. You can add some extra mozzarella or Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Enjoy the Meal

Prepare to have your tastebuds jump for joy when you bite into this dish. It’s flavorful, comforting and warm – ideal for any busy, cold winter night.

Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto

When planning a modern, Italian dish, it makes sense to add pesto. Today, pesto comes with a variety of greens in it. The pesto itself doesn’t really relate to what’s included, but more about how it’s made. Instead of using basil for this pesto, you add pureed kale, olive oil, grated cheese and of course, garlic.

This isn’t a light meal, but it’s simple to make and a family favorite. Everyone will beg for more of this ooey-gooey dish.

History of Tortellini

The legends state that Tortellini came from the shape of Venus’s navel. This goddess was involved in a battle with Zeus against Bologna and Modena. The Italian story talks about how the involvement made the pair weary, so they ate a large dinner, got slightly drunk and shared a bedroom.

The innkeeper crept into the room, but all he saw was Venus’s navel. Spellbound by what he saw, he rushed to the kitchen to create a new pasta, thereby birthing the tortellini.

This ring-shaped pasta is also known as a belly-button shape. It comes from Emilia and often features a meat stuffing. In Italy, common inner options include pork loin, Mortadella, raw prosciutto, egg, nutmeg and Parmigiano Reggiano. You’ll find tortellini served in chicken broth as well as with traditional Italian dishes.

Tortellini comes industrially packed, dried, refrigerated and frozen, but it’s also homemade by many pasta enthusiasts.

Unique Characteristics of Tortellini

Tortellini is often confused for tortelloni, but the two are quite different. Tortelloni is larger and features a different method of closing the extremities. They also tend to come with ricotta and herbs inside instead of meat.

Furthermore, tortellini is typically cooked in broth and sometimes served with it. Tortelloni, on the other hand, gets cooked in water and then stir-fried with sage and butter. It’s normally served dry.

Baked Tortellini with Kale Pesto Recipe

(taken from //www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/baked-tortellini-with-kale-pesto-3562862)

Total: 40 min

Yield: 4 Servings

Ingredients:

  • Kosher salt
  • 1 12- to 14-ounce package spinach and cheese tortellini
  • 7 cups baby kale (about 8 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup sliced sun-dried tomatoes (not oil-packed)
  • 3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

1 – Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook as the label directs. Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, then drain. Reserve the pot.

2 – Meanwhile, puree 4 cups kale, the olive oil and garlic in a blender or food processor until almost smooth. Add ¼ cup parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth, adding up to 1/4 cup tap water if needed.

3 – Transfer the pesto to the reserved pot along with the heavy cream; stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to medium-low; stir in the tortellini, sun-dried tomatoes and the remaining 3 cups kale, adding the reserved cooking water as needed to loosen. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the mozzarella.

4 – Combine the panko, pine nuts, parsley and the remaining 2 tablespoons parmesan in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle over the tortellini and bake until golden brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

This first video we have describes the process of making a vegan super green kale pesto.

Another option to consider is the spinach tortellini with peas and pesto.

Variations

Obviously, there’s no limit to the ways you can alter this recipe to fit your family’s needs. If you don’t enjoy sun-dried tomatoes, the dish works fine without it.

You can also kick up the seasonings slightly to enhance the flavors you like. Consider adding some mozzarella or taking out the nuts and bread crumbs. Play with the recipe until you find the combination that works for you.

Don’t forget to experiment with other pasta options as well. Here’s an example of Rigatoni with Kale Pasta instead.

Enjoy the Meal

When your family craves a hearty plate of pasta but doesn’t want the traditional tastes, this concoction hits the spot. It’s the perfect comfort food for the middle of winter and provides plenty of flavors, ready to impress.

Dirty Rice

Dirty Rice in a Plate

If there are three things that are obvious about Cajun and Creole cuisine, they’re that Louisianans love their rice, love their meat, and can’t get enough of bold flavors. Dirty Rice takes any extra fuss out of those three loves, and prominently features them as equal stars in this simple dish. 

Combining Traditions

The Cajun and Creole cuisine of Louisiana combines a veritable melting pot of cultures. Cajuns were French colonists who were forcefully relocated from Canada to rural areas of Southern Louisiana. Creole were wealthy French and Spanish families in New Orleans, as well as people of color with African and Caribbean descent who resided in The Big Easy. 

One thread that weaves much of Cajun and Creole cuisine together is the fact that it was born out of poverty. Though some of the Creole were well off, others were not, and most Cajuns had very little in the way of wealth or resources. This means that, delicious as the food is, it was created for its cost effectiveness, the fact that it’s filling, and that it’s easy to cook in large batches. 

Such is the case with Dirty Rice, like many other rice dishes around the world. The abundant rice plantations in Louisiana meant that it was a filling and cheap starch, and was widely available. Traditionally, Dirty Rice was prepared with parts of meat that weren’t all that desirable otherwise, like gizzards and kidneys. When ground, seasoned heavily, and added to rice, these otherwise unwanted pieces became a sustaining delight. 

Since its humble beginnings, Dirty Rice has gained notoriety as a Louisiana staple. Though it is still inexpensive, it is now an indispensable part of this cultural cuisine. 

Low Cost, High Flavor

The attributes that made Dirty Rice so appealing to Cajuns 200 years ago are still relevant today. Dirty Rice is inexpensive, can feed many mouths with a single batch, and doesn’t lack any flavor. Cajun and Creole cuisine is famous for its liberal seasoning, and that’s especially relevant with this dish. 

Although the base is white rice, the meat and seasonings provide the distinctive “dirty” coloring. While the dish is often prepared with ground meat that is not scrap, or what the French would refer to as Offal, some recipes still call for this inexpensive source of protein. 

Making Dirty Rice

Minced Ground Meat

If you’re interested in making a rather traditional version of Dirty Rice, this recipe is for you. It calls for: ground pork and chicken livers, a number of different vegetables, herbs, and spices, rice, and chicken stock. 

To create the dish, start by cooking and seasoning the meat. You’ll then add the chicken stock and vegetables, and eventually the rice. Once all of the ingredients are together in a single pan, allow them to get to know each other and mix freely. The rice will absorb the excess liquid, and your dish is then ready to serve. 

Common recipe variations call for other types of meat, or additional vegetables. Usually, something called the holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine (which simply means onion, celery, and bell pepper) will be present in Dirty Rice, but vegetables could be omitted entirely if you’d prefer. This dish was born out of necessity, so don’t be afraid to throw in whatever you’ve got lying around the house—as long as it’s well seasoned, it’s bound to taste good. 

Dirty Rice, like many other Cajun dishes, began as a means to feed an entire family on a small budget, but it has become a beloved staple of this vibrant cuisine.

Maque Choux

Corn

A departure from traditional Cajun and Creole favorites like rice and meat, Maque Choux is a vegetarian dish (that could even be made Vegan with very little work, and it was influenced by an additional culture not often all that present in the Southern Louisiana cuisine. 

Creole Take on Corn

In 19th century New Orlean, Creole culture expanded from only encompassing elite French and Spanish families to also include people of color from African and Caribbean descent. This allowed for the sorts of flavors present in their cuisine to expand as well, but Maque Choux isn’t just African, Caribbean, French, or Spanish. It is actually likely influenced heavily by Native Americans. 

This dish consists mainly of corn sauteed with vegetables and seasoned. Traditionally, Louisianans could pick produce fresh from their gardens and make Maque Choux that same day. 

No one knows for sure how Maque Choux became a popular Louisiana dish. In fact, no one is even certain what Maque Choux means, though it appears to be a French derivation of some sort. Interpretations of the name range from “mock cabbage,” which would suggest that cabbage was once a part of the dish, to a mispronunciation of a Native American word. 

However it came to be, this dish in incomparably fresh, and is a great foil to some of the heavier Cajun and Creole entrees. Perhaps that’s why it’s still a popular side in Louisiana homes and restaurants today. 

Same Flavor, Different Feel

Cajun and Creole cuisine is famous for its bold use of spices, but other than that parallel, Maque Choux stands out against most of the other dishes for which Southern Louisiana is famous. Rather than being heavy and relying on animal products to take center stage, Maque Choux is made entirely of produce. 

This certainly speaks to the fact that this dish was influenced by another culture outside of French and Spanish, as it mirrors a more indigenous style like is sometimes noticeable in Mexican cuisine. Despite its differences from most of the food in the region, Maque Choux is still a beloved classic, a testament to the fact that Cajun and Creole cuisine can’t simply be placed in a box.  

How to Make Maque Choux

Most Maque Choux recipes are very similar, as there’s little need to add extra frill to this simple classic. Traditional recipes like this one suggest cooking in bacon grease, but that’s a negotiable aspect. In any case, to make Maque Choux you’ll need: corn, onions, peppers, Cajun seasonings, and chicken stock. 

Corn

Once you have this colorful crop of ingredients, the process of actually cooking the dish is quite simple: Heat your grease or oil in a skillet, then add your vegetables and seasoning. Allow them to cook until they’re softened, and then add chicken stock. Continue to heat the dish so the chicken stock has a chance to absorb, then it’s ready to serve. 

Maque Choux is generally served as a side dish, but can be made an entree with the addition of some protein. Another common variation to this dish is substituting some sort of oil for bacon grease, at which point it becomes vegan friendly. 

If you have all sorts of produce that needs using up, don’t hesitate to add it to the mix. Although traditional Maque Choux prioritizes the holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine (onion, celery, and pepper), there’s no rule against including other vegetables as well. Some recipes also call for tomatoes, so acidity is a welcome addition to Maque Choux. 

This dish may not be your typical Cajun and Creole fare, but it’s just as delicious as any of the other specialities.

Boudin

Boudin on Street Stall

No two cooks are exactly alike, and no two versions of Boudin are either. One of the many beauties of Cajun and Creole cuisine (the food that has most recognizably adopted Boudin), this Louisiana favorite can vary wildly depending on who prepares it; it may look like an ordinary sausage, but there’s all sorts of extraordinary flavor hiding inside. 

A Traveling Classic

Boudin originated in Europe, though the origin of the word is unknown, and is thought to be where the word “pudding” comes from. The term has grown to encompass all different kinds of sausages around the world, particularly in France, Germany, Canada, and most famously in Louisiana. 

It’s not difficult to trace how Boudin made its way into the Cajun and Creole tradition when you look at all the places it’s been eaten historically, as well as today. The Cajun community was a group of French colonists who settled in Canada, but were eventually thrown out by the British as they refused to subscribe to Protestantism. They re-settled in Southern Louisiana, carrying with them remnants of their French heritage. 

In Louisiana, Boudin has had room to grow and flourish. The Cajun people settled in rural areas of the state, and without much money or abundant resources, they kept up with the French tradition of whole-animal butchering, which meant they utilized every piece of the animal possible. 

Of course this is common everywhere in European tradition, with dishes like Haggis. In France, this practice is evident in dishes like Ris de Veau; in Louisiana, it’s apparent with dishes like Boudin that make animal organs more palatable by grinding them up. 

Since Boudin is such a sweeping term, many can actually be blood sausages, but this is less common in Cajun tradition, and therefore doesn’t align with most peoples’ understandings of Boudin. Most of the time, Boudin refers to a light pork sausage. The animal based casing is usually filled with ground pork (often all different parts of pork), rice, and a healthy blend of spices. 

In Louisiana alone, there are all kinds of versions of Boudin, so it’s hard to make generalizations about the specific flavors, but despite that it’s safe to bet that anywhere you get Boudin in Louisiana, it’s going to be delicious. 

Nothing Is Standard

Like all of Cajun and Creole cuisine, Boudin as it’s known today was born out of the melting pot of cultures present in Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries. French, Spanish, African, and Caribbean descendents all resided in the state (in either urban or rural settings) and contributed the flavors and traditions of their homelands. The Creole culture of New Orleans has put its own spin on Boudin over the years as well, especially since it’s a dish that was also made by islanders. 

Boudin is a perfect example of this blended cuisine. The only standard for creating Cajun Boudin is that it must contain meat and rice (plus some of the bold seasonings that Cajun cuisine is famous for)—beyond that, each chef puts their own spin on the sausage. In fact, Boudin is sometimes prepared without a casing, making the term sausage a loose interpretation. 

This dish started out as a way for the Cajun population to maximize the use they got out of every animal that they butchered, but it has grown into a celebrated tradition that encourages individualistic style and expression. Many Boudin recipes have been passed down through generations. 

Boudin Recipes

With such wide variation expected and even encouraged for creating Boudin in the Cajun and Creole style, it’s good to establish a basic recipe from which to jump off. This one is a fairly standard incarnation that can help you get a feel for the basic process. 

Ingredients:

  • Pork
  • Rice
  • Onion, celery, and bell pepper
  • Garlic, cilantro, and parsley 
  • Salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper
  • Casings

This version of Boudin includes what’s known as the Holy Trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine, which simply refers to the use of onion, celery, and bell pepper in practically any dish. Those vegetables, as well as the herbs, are not a necessity for making Boudin, but the seasonings, pork, and rice are. 

Once you have your ingredients gathered, you can get to work on actually creating the sausages:

  • First, boil and simmer the pork until it becomes very tender. You can also cook the rice at this time. 
  • Add the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings to the pork broth as you grind the meat. Once the veggies have softened, add the meat and rice and allow the mixture to cool. 
  • Rinse the casings before stuffing, and place the sausages in a pot of simmering salt water until they are plump and firm, indicating that they are cooked. 

Boudin can be served as an entree or as a component of any number of Cajun dishes, like Gumbo and Jambalaya. 

Taking a Different Approach

The loose definition of Boudin lends itself to some pretty wide variations of the dish. The most popular of these variations in Louisiana is something known as Boudin balls; in this version, the Boudin filling is simply deep fried rather than stuffed into a casing. These are often served as an appetizer with some sort of accompanying sauce. 

Boudin

In a sense, these are like a deconstructed sausage, and they have become wildly popular outside of Louisiana as well. Other Boudin variations can come from the type of meat chosen. While pork is most common and traditional, shellfish varieties also fall in line with Cajun and Creole tradition. 

Beyond meat changes, vegetable variations are also common in Boudin. Though many recipes include the holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell pepper, plenty of others do not. You can experiment with different combinations of vegetables and herbs in the filling, or stick to the bare-bones version of meat, rice, and seasonings.

Gumbo

Gumbo Dish

There are plenty of Louisiana classics that draw foodies to The Big Easy, but perhaps none of them is more iconic than Gumbo. The state dish of Louisiana, Gumbo is a stew-like dish that features meat, a roux, vegetables, and a strong flavor of characteristic Cajun seasoning. 

A Louisiana Specialty

The cuisine for which this distinctive Southern state is famous is now known collectively as Cajun and Creole, but back in the day these two types of food were distinct. Cajun was born out of French colonists who had been expelled from Canada when the British took over; they relocated to Louisiana and brought with them some of their French traditions that had been modified by the harsher Northern lifestyle. 

Creole was a culture based in New Orleans which originated with the wealthy French and Spanish elite families who had settled there. However, the definition of Creole eventually moved into a more inclusive space that also encompassed people of color with African and Caribbean heritage, which is why you’ll see shades of those cultures in the cuisine. 

As far the history of Gumbo goes, the first record of it being served was around the turn of the 19th century. It appeared in both the New Orleans Creole community as well as the rural Cajun one. 

The word Gumbo actually derives from an African word meaning okra, which would seem to suggest two things: that okra was, at one point, a more popular method for thickening Gumbo (it is still sometimes used), and that the dish was first called by its modern name in the Creole community, though it appears to have originated as a Cajun dish as well. 

Gumbo was originally so popular, particularly in the Cajun community, due to the fact that it is inexpensive yet filling. When resources were scarce, Gumbo provided a flavorful and economical way to feed an entire family, since it can be prepared in very large proportions with just a single pot.

A Step Above Stew

Essentially, Gumbo is a hearty stew that can also be (and frequently is) served with rice. It echoes some of the more famous French dishes prepared in the same fashion, like Coq au Vin. Because of the fact that so many of its components are interchangeable, Gumbo can be tweaked to fit almost any taste. 

Equally appealing to its flexibility is Gumbo’s cost effectiveness, the same thing that made it desirable 200 years ago. For the same reason these sorts of dishes, like Kielbasa Stew, became favorites in Europe, they thrived in America. With so few ingredients, and such an easy method of preparation, it’s not hard to see why Gumbo has remained popular for so long. 

Creating Gumbo 

Gumbo practically makes itself, so as long as you put in the effort to combine the ingredients in the right proportion and are cognizant of checking on the dish as it’s cooking, you’re sure to wind up with an excellent meal. 

All Gumbo recipes are a little bit different, particularly in terms of what sort of meat they call for, but this one uses a rather traditional style. It is a chicken and sausage Gumbo (the two are often thrown together in this dish), but many traditional shellfish versions are popular across the state as well. 

Ingredients:

  • Chicken thighs and Andouille Sausage 
  • Onion, bell pepper, celery
  • Okra
  • Water
  • Butter and flour
  • Garlic, basil, thyme, bay leaf
  • Cayenne, black pepper, kosher salt

Here, a roux and okra serve as the thickening agents for the gumbo, which stars both chicken and Andouille Sausage. The process of preparing the ingredients should only take about 15 minutes once you have them all:

First, boil and shred the chicken breasts.

  • As you do that, you can also boil and simmer the okra as you make your roux with butter and flour. 
  • Add onions, peppers, and celery to the roux once it has sufficiently darkened. 
  • Next, stir in the okra and Andouille Sausage. After they have had time to simmer, mix in the chicken, herbs and spices.
  • Allow the entire concoction to simmer over low heat until it has combined nicely and achieved the proper texture. You can then serve it over rice, or on its own as a stew. 
Gumbo in a Bowl

Give Your Own Gumbo a Go 

There is no right or wrong way to make Gumbo so long as you adhere to a few rules: always use the holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cuisine (onion, celery, and bell pepper), always make your own roux from butter and flour, and always have at least one source of protein to build the dish around. 

From there, recipes vary greatly. Many people in Louisiana have firmly held beliefs about what makes a great Gumbo, but there are very few actual guidelines for the dish. One of the most common variations is the meat which can generally be broken up into a few categories: chicken, sausage, chicken and sausage, seafood, and other types of game meat. 

Since Louisiana has traditionally had a pretty robust Catholic population, there’s also a Gumbo variation for those abstaining from meat (as Catholics do weekly during Lent). This version is served with a plentiful base of leafy greens rather than meat; modern versions may also include a small amount of seafood, but this isn’t part of the tradition. 

If you want to experiment with addition additional vegetables (like greens, or carrots) to your Gumbo, that’s not beyond the scope of the dish. So long as you cook them down until they’re soft and willing to blend with the rest of the dish, you’re still well within the bounds of Gumbo. 

Gumbo is a flavorful and filling dish that echoes the rich Louisiana culture, take a little time to give yourself a taste.

Jambalaya

Jambalaya

Jambalaya isn’t a foreign word that means something else (like many exotic sounding dishes are), and that is appropriate given that it’s a dish not quite like any other. It stands to reason that an individualistic meal should have an original name, and that’s exactly what happened when Cajun and Creole cuisine developed Jambalaya. 

This dish features three main components: meat, rice, and vegetables. They’re often all cooked together in a single pan and spiced boldly, in the Cajun and Creole style. 

A Louisiana Tradition

The history of Jambalaya cannot be told without mentioning the history of Cajun and Creloe cuisine. Though it’s now largely considered a single conglomerate, Cajun and Creole meant two very different things back in the 1700s when they first developed. 

Cajuns were French colonists from Canada who had been banished by the British during their conquest. In turn, they relocated to rural areas of Louisiana and brought with them some of their traditional French cooking sensibilities, modified by their recent experiences in the far North. 

Creole, on the other hand, originally referred to the wealthy French and Spanish families in New Orleans. This is why, like in Mexican cuisine, you’ll notice Spanish influences in Cajun and Creole cooking, in addition to French flare. Creole cooking was more elevated and grandiose, as opposed to the Cajuns who simply ate what they could find. Eventually, the term Creole also expanded to include people of color living in the area, and so African and Caribbean influences are obvious in their cuisine. 

When it comes to Jambalaya, both Cajun and Creole traditions include recipes for this dish. The only real difference between traditional Cajun Jambalaya and traditional Creole Jambalaya is that the Creole version includes tomatoes, where the Cajun version does not. 

In all likelihood, Jambalaya was probably developed as a means to feed large groups of people without requiring too much money or too much effort. Even so, this simple dish is delicious enough that it’s still one of America’s (and certainly one of Louisiana’s) favorites even today. 

Everything but The Kitchen Sink

Jambalaya is different from other rice and meat dishes in that it simply requires the cook to throw all of the ingredients into a pot and let the flavors mix together. Though it is often confused with Gumbo, Jambalaya is much thicker, whereas Gumbo more echoes some other ethnic stews

Unlike some dishes that are carefully balanced with their ingredients, Jambalaya was likely created (and became so popular) because it allows you a wide berth in terms of what you can add while still remaining true to the tradition. 

What’s more, despite being largely considered a rice and meat dish, Jambalaya does have a vegetable base. Something called the holy trinity is used in almost all Cajun and Creole cooking; it simply consists of onion, celery, and green pepper. Often, these vegetables are added to a roux and allowed to cook down until they are quite soft. 

While its preparation and ingredients are unique, the freedom to make Jambalaya your own through variation is perhaps its most lovable characteristic. 

How to Make Jambalaya

Jambalaya recipes will often differentiate between being Cajun or Creole, but this simply refers to whether or not you add tomato. This means that if you choose a Creole version but omit the tomato products, it’s technically Cajun. In reality, all Jambalaya belongs to the nebulus of Cajun and Creole cuisine. 

This dish can be prepared with a number of different meats, but this recipe goes for a triple header instead of choosing just one. 

Ingredients:

  • Celery, onion, green pepper (the holy trinity)
  • Cajun seasoning (cayenne, paprika, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder)
  • Chicken, shrimp, and sausage
  • Chicken stock
  • Tomatoes 
  • Rice 
  • Okra

Notice that in this version of Jambalaya, Okra is used as a means of thickening the dish rather than a roux. Once your ingredients are prepared, making Jambalaya is a breeze:

  • First saute the meat and vegetables separately. 
  • Mix the sauteed items together with the rice, liquids (stock and tomatoes), and seasonings.
  • Cover the mixture and allow it to cook for about half an hour. 
Serving Jambalaya

Then all that’s left to do is taste your Jambalaya, and add any additional seasoning you may like. The great thing about this dish is that you don’t have to fuss with any sides—they’re already included in the entree. 

Tweaking The Recipe

Common Jambalaya variations generally come from the protein source. This dish lends itself to basically any type of meat, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Even more gamey meats like bison or venison that you may feel a bit squirmy about eating on their own can add interesting flavor to Jambalaya. If you strictly prefer seafood, opt for shrimp or a white fish. 

The means of thickening Jambalaya also leaves some wiggle room for personal preference. Generally, a roux or okra are the preferred methods for keeping the dish moist without allowing it to become soupy, but if you have a keen culinary mind, the integrity of your Jambalaya won’t be interrupted by a different thickening method. 

The holy trinity is pretty non-negotiable for Jambalaya, but that’s not to say you can’t add extra vegetables in addition to the big three. Obviously, some variations call for tomatoes, but that’s not the only thing you can add. Corn, potatoes, green beans, and mushrooms are all common in Cajun and Creole cuisine, so if any of those sound like welcome additions to your Jambalaya, don’t hesitate to throw them in. 

Jambalaya is a dynamic kind of comfort food: it’s filling, hearty, and flavored to the hilt; plus, it takes significantly less time to make than many other comparable dishes. Do yourself a favor and throw some rice, meat, and veggies in a pot with a healthy helping of Cajun seasoning, then enjoy the work that the flavors will do for you.

Chinese food in America

Chinese food in the United States can trace its roots to a time when Chinese immigrants to America were forced to live in Chinatowns. There, they started up a wide range of businesses that happened to include restaurants. The bigger, more well-established restaurants could better emulate the cuisines of the homeland because of their superior resources. In contrast, their smaller counterparts had to improvise to a much greater extent. This can be considered the start of American Chinese cuisine, which is the single most notable part of Chinese food in the United States.

American Chinese cuisine came into existence because of Chinese owned and operated restaurants that were willing to experiment. Sometimes, this meant the restaurants incorporated new ingredients that could be found with ease in the United States but not in China. For example, the carrot is referred to using a term translated as something like “red radish,” and the onion as “foreign scallion.” Other new ingredients have managed to make it into American Chinese cuisine as well, making it very distinctive in this regard.

It’s important to note that American Chinese cuisine has also undergone an evolution in order to make it better suited to the American palate. This makes sense because while it started out as something meant mostly for Chinese immigrants, that started to change when Chinese restaurants started targeting other markets as well. In fact, it isn’t unknown for American Chinese restaurants to have two menus, one for Chinese customers and the other for non-Chinese customers who might be alienated by some of the stranger offerings (by American standards) of Chinese cuisine.

Please note that American Chinese cuisine did not draw from all the cuisines that can be found in China in an even manner. Instead, the roots of the cuisine can be traced to the Chinese province of Guangdong, which makes sense because that’s where most of the earlier Chinese immigrants originated. However, later waves of Chinese immigrants from other regions have brought other influences, with the result that American Chinese cuisine is richer now than ever before.

How Does Chinese Food in America Stand Out?

Here are some examples of how American Chinese cuisine stands out compared to other Chinese cuisines:

Fewer Cooking Methods

American Chinese cuisine is very concentrated on a small number of cooking methods. Primarily, it uses deep-frying, pan-frying, and stir-frying, in addition to steaming. Other Chinese cuisines use these cooking methods, but they aren’t focused on them to the same extent.

The Use of Uncooked Ingredients

Instant noodle mama drunken fried shrimp for sale at Thai street food market or restaurant in Thailand

Uncooked ingredients have seen use in other Chinese cuisines. For example, there is a very unusual Chinese dish called drunken shrimp that involves either live shrimp or half-cooked shrimp served up in alcohol to make the consumption process that much easier. However, the use of uncooked ingredients tends to be very rare in traditional Chinese cuisine — something that can’t be said for American Chinese cuisine, which has started to offer such menu items because of customer interest.

Sweeter But Less Spicy

This one is something of a generalization. American Chinese cuisine tends to be seen as being both sweeter and heavier in taste than other Chinese cuisines, which is a product of the process that has made them better suited for American palates. It’s less spicy as well, though spiciness isn’t universal among other Chinese cuisines.

What Are Some Examples of Chinese Food in America?

Here are some examples of American Chinese food:

Crab Rangoon

Crab rangoon is very obviously not something that originated in Chinese cuisines. This is because they contain cream cheese, not something Chinese people ate on a regular basis. A very high percentage of Chinese adults are what Americans would consider to be lactose intolerant, which is unsurprising because the historical Chinese population didn’t consume a great deal of dairy products.

General Tso’s Chicken

General Tsos Chicken with White Rice in bowl on table

General Tso’s chicken and its close relative, orange chicken, are American inventions. It’s interesting to note that General Tso was a real figure because the name refers to a Qing-period military leader named Zuo Zongtang. However, there is no real reason to believe that General Tso’s chicken has anything to do with him whatsoever, particularly since it isn’t a product of his home province of Hunan.

Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies are unusual in that they were invented by a Japanese man but winded up becoming associated with Chinese restaurants. The story is that there were a lot of Japanese-American restaurateurs with Chinese-themed restaurants in the 1930s. However, when Japanese-Americans were interned during the Second World War, Chinese restaurateurs were the ones who took over running the factories that made fortune cookies, similar to how other groups of Americans took over running other Japanese-American-owned properties.

How Can You Make Chinese Food in America?

Interested individuals can find plenty of online recipes for American Chinese cuisine and other kinds of Chinese cuisine. For example, people looking for something fast and simple should check out this chop suey recipe, which is made using pork plus various a mix of vegetables that can be changed based on each individual’s personal preferences. Meanwhile, people who are hungry for some chow mein can use this chicken-based recipe, which is relatively convenient because it can be cooked in a matter of 30 minutes.

Are There Variations on Chinese Food in America?

There is incredible variety that can be found in American Chinese cuisine. Furthermore, the later waves of Chinese immigrants have include numerous trained chefs. Due to this, it’s not difficult to find places in the bigger Chinese-American communities that serve other Chinese cuisines as well.