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.

What’s the Difference Between Biryani and Pulao?

On the surface, biryani and pulao are similar dishes. They’re both delicious all-in-one combinations of rice and a mix of meat and vegetables that comes from the Indian subcontinent. But when you look a little deeper, the two dishes have distinct differences. Biryani and pulao are cooked, spiced and served differently and even have a different history. Although some people use the terms interchangeably or say they’re the same dish, true foodies understand what makes biryani and pulao unique.

It’s All in the Cooking

The main difference between biryani and pulao is the way that they’re cooked. Pulao is the simpler dish. It’s cooked in one pot and the finished product is mixed together. It’s also cooked using the absorption method, meaning liquid is added to the rice and other ingredients and the dish is cooked until all the water is soaked up by the rice.

Biryani, on the other hand, is a complex dish that can take a long time to prepare. It’s defined by its layers; a true biryani has a layer of rice, then a layer of the meat or vegetables being used, followed by a top layer of rice. Generally, the rice is par-boiled while the meat and vegetables are cooked in the spices. Then the two mixes are layered in a pot and cooked for a long time over low heat.

Biryani is served as a main dish and has a complex mix of spices that give it a rich flavor. Pulao, on the other hand, is usually a side dish. It’s always flavorsome, but tends to use simpler spices

History of the Dishes

Food historians still debate the origins of the two dishes, but it’s possible they have a common ancestor. Simple one-pot meals of rice and meat may have evolved based on local ingredients, leading to different regional dishes, including biryani, pulao and paella in Spain.

Pulao is found throughout the world and known by many different names. In America, it’s often known as pilaf, while those in the UK call it pilau. Other names include pela, polo and fulao. Most believe it originated in central Asia and spread from there, importing pulao south to India and north into Europe. When central Asia was part of the USSR, pulao even became a staple on Russian tables. Charles Perry named five great schools of pulao: Caribbean, Central Asian, Indian, Iranian and Turkish. Each was developed using the ingredients and flavors found in the region.

Biryani, on the other hand, has its origins in India. Some food historians believe it was developed for royalty of the Mughal Empire that ruled much of India from 1526 to 1857. Others think it came to southern India via Arab traders. Still others say that it developed somewhat independently in both locations. Cooks in different parts of India developed regional specialities that use local ingredients and even different cooking methods, such as kacchi biryani, which layers raw meat and rice together and cooks them in a single pot.

Do-It-Yourself Pulao

Pilau or Pilaf with Beef Meat Close Up Selective Focus. Traditional Asian Dish Plov also known as Polow, Pilav, Pallao, Pulao, Palaw with Rice, Spices, Vegetables and Fried Veal

Pulao is the easier dish for an amateur cook to try. First, gather your ingredients. Basmati rice is the most popular type of rice to use in the dish, but others can also be used. For meat, goat or poultry is traditional, but the dish is built around using what’s at hand, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Vegetable options include onions, carrots, peas or whatever appeals. For spices you can go as complex or simple as you like. An Indian pulao generally uses cardamom, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and pepper. Lastly, you need the liquid. Plain water is perfectly acceptable, although some people prefer a meat broth to add flavor. You should have around twice as much liquid as rice.

The most important step in cooking a pulao is washing the rice. Both the pulao and biryani are defined by the way the rice grains in the dishes are separate. Washing the rice gets rid of the starch that makes the grains stick together. Some people recommend washing it at least three times, while others soak their rice overnight. At the very least, wash your rice in running water until the water runs clear.

To cook, heat some oil in a saucepan. Next, add your aromatics, such as garlic and onions, and your spices, and stir until onion is softened and the spices have released their fragrance and flavor. Next, add the meat. This should only be cooked until it’s sealed. Then add half your liquid, bring it to a boil and cover until the meat is almost cooked. For chicken, this is around 10 minutes.

Then add the rest of the water and the rice. Bring it back to a boil and simmer for 18-20 minutes, until all the liquid is absorbed and the meat is tender. At the end of the cooking time you can stir through some fresh herbs for extra flavor.

There are many different pulao recipes you can try to appeal to a range of different palates.

Cooking Biryani

Biryani is a much more difficult recipe to master. A traditional biryani can take hours to prepare and cook and there are often side dishes such as raita and chutneys that also need to be made. Many recipes found online don’t have the layers, which makes them closer to a pulao than a biryani.

Again, washing your rice is key, as is developing a spice mix that gives a rich, robust flavor. In a biryani, the meat is browned separately from the rice, which is partially cooked, then drained. Create layers with half the rice, a layer of meat and finally the rest of the rice. Broth or gravy is added, which is soaked up by the bottom layer of rice, leaving the top layer light and fluffy.

If you’re planning to cook biryani at home, find a recipe that has a mix of spices that appeal to you, whether that’s the cardamom and cloves of a Hyderabadi biryani or the turmeric and mustard oil found in Kolkata.

Goulash

Goulash is a rustic stew or soup with meat (usually beef) and vegetables, seasoned strongly with paprika and other spices. It’s a popular meal in Central Europe, but also in many other parts of the world. In North America, goulash usually resembles the classic Hungarian Goulash (Gulyás), one of the national dishes of Hungary and a symbol of the country. Traditionally it’s prepared in a cast iron kettle called a bograc.

Brief History

Like the UK’s Shepherd’s pie, Hungarian goulash had its origins with cattle herders and shepherds in the Middle Ages. It was a practical staple meal for this outdoor-living, nomadic group who cured the stew in the sun and stored it in sheep’s stomach pouches for dinners on the run.

Prior to global trade in paprika, the deep red spice now associated closely with Hungarian cuisine, especially goulash, the dish was based on just a few ingredients, including beef, veal, pork or lamb, and onions. Over time, innovations, such as tomatoes, were added, and other vegetables. Traditionally though, goulash is served without starch, so no potatoes or rice. Rather it’s often served with small egg noodles called csipetke, which are boiled in the broth, or with dumplings that cook in the steam of the simmering goulash.

How to prepare Goulash

There are many ways to prepare goulash. What follows is a traditional recipe from the Daring Gourmet that includes potatoes for a hearty dinner entreé. Serve it with a crisp white wine, sour cream and crusty bread on the side, and a cool salad — like cucumber — to cut the heat. Or go completely Old World and serve goulash with dumplings (see recipe below). They are the perfect accompaniment for this saucy, spicy one pot dish.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons pork lard (butter is an acceptable substitute, but pork fat is traditionally used and recommended for the best flavor)
  • 1 1/2 pounds yellow onions, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sweet Hungarian paprika
  • 1 1/2 pounds of good quality beef, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 5 cups beef broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Melt the lard in a sturdy Dutch oven and cook the onions until they are just turning golden brown (approx. 7 minutes). Take the pot off the heat, add the paprika and stir. Add the beef and garlic, then return to the heat for about 10 minutes. By this point there should be no pink left on the beef.
  2. Add the bell peppers and cook for another 7 minutes. Finally add the diced carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes to the beef broth, and season with a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring everything to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 40 minutes, covered.
  3. Serve warm.

Dumplings

  • 2 cups flour 
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  1. Combine dry ingredients in a mixing bowl. Add milk and butter and stir thoroughly.
  2. Once the beef chunks are cooked to the tender stage, use a tablespoon to drop the dumpling batter into the simmering stew. Cover the pot and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  3. Don’t uncover the pot for 15 minutes — you want the dumplings to cook in their own steam to become light and fluffy. At the 15-minute mark, test the dumplings with a toothpick. When it comes out clean, they are done and ready to enjoy.

Variations

Even within the category of traditional Hungarian goulashes there are many variations:

Omitting the potatoes and adding sauerkraut and sour cream, you end up with Székely Gulyás.

Using pork, lemon and thin vermicelli in the goulash instead of potato and egg noodle is called Likócsi Pork Gulyás.

There are even personal versions that have been passed down through the ages. One thick and rich goulash, closer to a stew in consistency, and made with three kinds of meat, is called Székely gulyás, named after the Hungarian writer, journalist and revolutionary József Székely (1825–1895).

Outside of Hungary, goulash is a favorite dish from Ethiopia (spicy fish goulash) to the Philippines (caldereta). Hungarian immigrants fleeing oppressive governments also brought many versions of goulash to North America with them. Now there’s even a slow cooker version.

Most of the popular celebrity chefs have given goulash a try. Jamie Oliver has a healthy version. Martha Stewart has a Slovakian version. There’s even a low-rent American facsimile called slumgullion that features whatever ingredients a cook has on hand.

The goulash tradition is based on making the most of what you can find. Under the umbrella of that tradition, you have to also consider dishes like mulligan stew, a campfire classic invented by American hobos riding the rails in the early 20th century.

Mexican Cuisine

Taco Tuesday posts dominate social media each week, which isn’t surprising when you consider Americans devour a whopping 4.5 billion tacos per year. Even if you aren’t a taco fan yourself, you probably enjoy burritos, nachos or some other type of Mexican cuisine. You might even have a strong opinion about whether Tex-Mex is real Mexican food or just an Americanized knockoff.

Some Americans credit their fondness for Mexican meals to the rapidly growing Hispanic population in the United States. That may play a role in your own diet, but Mexican food actually appeared on U.S. soil long before that. Tacos didn’t officially earn their U.S. moniker until the early 1900s, but other Mexican staples, such as chocolate and chile peppers, appeared centuries before that.

What is Mexican Cuisine?

Mexican cuisine typically refers to dishes made from beans, peppers, meat and some type of vessel, such as a tortilla or taco shell. Many dishes are spicy, but you can reduce the heat by adding fewer peppers.

When preparing Mexican cuisine, you might use some — or all — of these ingredients:

  • Black beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Jalapenos
  • Green peppers
  • Red peppers
  • Chile peppers
  • Chipotle peppers
  • Onions
  • Shredded chicken
  • Steak flanks
  • Pulled pork
  • Ground beef
  • Chorizo
  • White cheese
  • Corn
  • Cilantro
  • Cinnamon

These ingredients are then placed on a vessel, such as a flour tortilla, soft corn tortilla, crunchy taco shell or tortilla chips. You can also add them to rice or salad or stuff them inside of a tamale.

Americans often top Mexican food with salsa, sour cream, guacamole and pico de gallo — also known as salsa fresca, a blend of diced tomatoes, onions and cilantro with a hint of lime juice. You can also add shredded cheese or melted queso to your completed dishes.

Is Tex-Mex Cuisine the Same as Mexican Cuisine?


Tex-Mex cuisine refers to Mexican dishes fused with American trends, so it’s similar to many traditional Mexican dishes. It started in Texas — hence the ‘Tex’ part of the name — and spread across the country, making a final stop in Canada. The Tejano people are credited with launching this popular style of food.

Some people argue that Tex-Mex doesn’t compare to traditional Mexican fare when it comes to taste and the quality of ingredients. Here are some key differences between Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine:

  • Mexican cuisine uses white cheese, not cheddar or other varieties
  • Tex-Mex recipes often use cumin, but authentic Mexican dishes get their flavor from cilantro, chile peppers, cacao or other herbs and spices
  • Mexican tacos come in corn tortillas stuffed with pork or steak, while Tex-Mex fans favor ground beef in crunchy corn tacos or soft flour tortillas

Based on these differences, Taco Bell and Chipotle don’t offer traditional Mexican cuisine. However, they still incorporate important parts of Tejano culture into their menus, and they’re easier to find than traditional Mexican restaurants. There are more than 7,000 Taco Bell locations scattered across the globe, and Chipotle has around 2,400 restaurants.

Where is Mexican Food From?

Mexico might seem like the obvious answer, but it’s not the only source of Mexican-style cuisine. Some popular recipes stem from a blend of Native American and Spanish dishes, and Latin Americans also enjoy — and inspire — some Mexican dishes.

Mexican food originated approximately 9,000 years ago with help from the Mayan communities. Back then, meals mainly consisted of vegetables and grains, including corn, beans, avocados, squash, tomatoes and chilies. Eventually, Spanish settlers — or rather, invaders — introduced the Mayans to garlic, herbs and meat.

Around the time of the Spanish invasion, Mexican food didn’t always contain the same meat we eat today. Dishes were often made with turkey, duck, squirrel, deer, rabbits and even dogs. Some meals even contained maguey worms and grasshoppers.

However, meat was prepared in methods similar to those used today. Meat was often slow roasted to preserve flavor and moisture, and it was typically seasoned with spices or herbs.

Drinks were made from corn, similar to the atole drinks we have today. Later in history, Mexicans introduced Europeans to chocolate, and Spanish settlers shared sugar. This resulted in drinks similar to the hot chocolate we have today.

Corn also was — and is — a staple for savory Mexican deals. You can create dough for tamales or tortillas with corn as well as make crunchy taco shells. Tortillas were made by hand until the 1940s when electric and gas-powered machinery, then considered high tech, was introduced.

What’s Unique About Mexican Food?

Mexican food has a rich history that spans thousands of years — it has truly stood the test of time. This cuisine boasts a global appeal, which means people around the world chow down on Mexican dishes. You can find Mexican food in Mexico, of course, but you can also order Mexican dishes on nearly every continent. With the exception of Italian food, most cuisines lack the worldwide popularity of Mexican fare.

Some cuisines rely on a few basic ingredients. Mexican food incorporates vibrant veggies with rich spices and satisfying proteins. You can customize Mexican food to meet nearly any lifestyle or dietary preference, including:

  • Gluten free
  • Keto
  • Vegetarian
  • Vegan
  • Dairy free
  • Sugar free
  • Paleo
  • Whole 30
  • Low carb

Because it’s so easy to customize the taste and price of each dish, Mexican food appeals to nearly every age and demographic. Some Mexican meals require hours in the kitchen while others can be thrown together in minutes.

What Are Some Popular Mexican Meals?

Mexican dishes are different throughout the world, so what’s popular in your city might be a rarity elsewhere. With that being said, there are several dishes that always seem to find a spot on most Tex-Mex menus or at traditional Mexican dinners.

Depending on where you live, popular menu options may include:

  • Soft tacos and hard tacos
  • Burritos
  • Quesadillas
  • Nachos
  • Cochinita pibil
  • Fajitas
  • Enchiladas
  • Pozoles
  • Tamales
  • Chiles rellenos
  • Tostadas
  • Carne asada
  • Taquitos
  • Flautas
  • Tortilla soup
  • Guacamole
  • Refried beans
  • Fried ice cream
  • Margaritas

Many people mistakenly assume flan is a Mexican recipe, but it was actually a Medieval European meal. It came to the U.S. around the same time as ceviche, another dish commonly confused as Mexican cuisine. The Incas created ceviche with fresh fish, and Central Americans later flavored this dish with citrus.

How Do You Make Mexican Food?

You can easily make your own Mexican-style creation by combining a grain, a protein, veggies and spices. Let’s break down each category so you have some ideas:

  • Grains: Flour tortillas, corn tortillas, hard taco shells, tostados, tortilla chips, corn dough (like the dough used for tamales), rice
  • Protein: Black beans, pinto beans, chicken, pork, beef, steak, sausage, tofu
  • Veggies: Chile peppers, chipotle peppers, green peppers, onions, garlic, sweet potatoes, jalapenos
  • Spices and Herbs: Cilantro, cumin, cacao, oregano, taco seasoning

You can also add cheese, corn, diced tomatoes, smashed avocado and any of your other favorite foods to a Mexican-inspired recipe. Experiment with different combinations to find a sweet or savory dish that you and your loved ones enjoy.

Looking for specific recipes rather than a general idea of how to make Mexican food? Try this recipe for chicken mole enchiladas inspired by the dish we found on the Food Network:

Chicken Mole Enchiladas

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Mole:

  • 5 dried pasilla or ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 1/2 cups hot water
  • 2 corn tortillas
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken stock
  • One 3.1-ounce disk Mexican chocolate, chopped
  • Salt and black pepper

Enchiladas:

  • Olive oil, as needed
  • Twelve 6-inch corn tortillas, warmed
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 3/4 cup queso fresco

Here’s how you make this popular recipe:

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, then place the chicken on a baking sheet. Apply salt and pepper, then drizzle olive oil over the chicken with salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil. Bake for approximately 10 to 15 minutes until chicken is fully cooked, not red or rubbery. Shred chicken into small pieces after it cools.

While your chicken bakes, work on preparing your mole. Start by soaking the dried chiles in 1 1/2 cups hot water for 15 minutes, then drain your mixture and set it aside.

Toast the corn tortillas in a skillet without oil or cooking spray until crisp and golden. Once cool, tear your tortillas into pieces and set them aside. Drizzle oil in the skillet, then saute the onions with a dash of salt over medium heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic to the onion mixture, and saute your veggies for an additional 2 minutes..

Combine the onion and garlic mixture in a blender with the chiles and tortillas you set aside, plus peanut butter and oregano. Pour the chicken stock over your ingredients and blend until mixture is smooth.

Add the blended mixture to a medium saute pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, then cover your pan and let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes.

Carefully stir in the chocolate, then season the mole with salt and pepper. Save 1 cup of mole for the enchiladas, and set aside the rest for dipping the tortillas.

Now it’s time to assemble the enchiladas. Start by filling a medium saute pan halfway with oil over high heat. Using tongs or another heat-safe kitchen utensil, dip each tortilla one at a time into the hot mixture. Fry it for a few seconds until it’s hot and soft.

Place fried tortillas into the warm mole and then move them to a plate. Fill each tortilla with the chicken mixture, then roll it like a cigar. Place tortillas side by side, seams down, in the serving dish, then pour mole on top. Serve with sour cream and queso.

Need an easier Mexican recipe? Try this homemade guacamole:

Quick Guacamole

Ingredients:

  • 4 to 6 avocados, pitted and mashed
  • Lime juice
  • Sea salt

Instructions:

Add a dash of lime juice to mashed avocados, then sprinkle with sea salt. That’s it! Serve with chips, veggies or tortillas. You can also use guacamole as a topping or filling for tacos, casseroles or toast.

Got a little more time?

Add diced tomatoes, jalapeno, garlic powder or minced garlic to your mixture. Top with cotija cheese or fresh salsa.

Mexican foods are packed with fresh flavor, whether you eat vegetarian fajitas, lime-infused guacamole or pork-filled tamales. Some people prefer traditional Mexican fare to Americanized Tex-Mex cuisine, but both options stem from memorable historical periods. Next time you bite into a tasty taco or savor a rich piece of chocolate, think about how you’re eating the same food your ancestors once enjoyed.

Ris de Veau

Ris de Veau Recipes

In English, Ris de Veau translates to sweetbread—but this hearty dish is neither sweet, nor bread. So what exactly is this inaptly named French delicacy made of? It’s a meaty treat that you have to dive inward to enjoy? Let’s find out.

Savory and Sumptuous

Ris de veau is made with the thymus gland (throat) and pancreas (stomach region) of calf and lamb. These treats fall into the category of “offal” which simply refers to organs and other cuts of meat that don’t fit into one of the standard cuts. Because thymus glands tend to disappear from animals’ anatomy at around 6 months, much ris de veau is veal. This dish can be prepared in many ways, making it a favorite in French kitchens for its versatility, mild flavor, and luxurious texture. 

Eating Economically

In days of old when most Europeans butchered their own animals, it was wasteful to let the offal go to waste. Thus, ris de veau gained popularity simply out of necessity. It is unclear why a name that translates to sweetbread was chosen, but the title dates all the way back to the 16th century, and may refer to the fact that the thymus gland is sweeter than some other cuts of meat. Now, ris de veau is a favorite among French culinary professionals, as it is an excellent addition to almost any dish as a supporting flavor. If you happen to be in Paris and get the urge to try ris de veau for yourself, visit La Causerie or 24 Le Restaurant.

A Utility Player

There are virtually limitless ways to prepare ris de veau, which is likely why it has maintained popularity for so long. Fried, grilled, roasted, poached, braised, or sauteed, ris de veau will come out tasting delicious every time. This means that chefs can serve ris de veau as an appetizer, in stews, as part of a terrine, or in practically any other way. The true beauty of this dish is certainly its versatility.  

Preparing Ris de Veau

Ris de Veau

Regardless of how you prepare them, these sweetbreads must be soaked in cold water before cooking. This practice removes any blood prior to blanching, which gives ris de veau a firmer texture. Once this is finished, you will need to remove any gristle or tubes. 

In French recipes like this one, ris de veau is generally served in a rich sauce. Though the sauce preparation will vary by recipe, this is a fairly standard method for cooking ris de veau:

Dredge the prepared sweetbreads in flour before placing them in a warm frying pan.

  • Allow the sweetbreads to color on one side over medium heat. 
  • Add butter and shallot (in this case) and turn them over. 
  • Once the sweetbreads are almost cooked through, you can add your sauce to the pan, then you’re ready to serve over a starch, like mashed potatoes in this recipe. 

Favorite Flavors of Ris de Veau

Oftentimes, you’ll see sweetbreads as supporting players in dishes. However, if you want to prepare a dish in the French fashion in which sweetbread is the star, you will want to select some sort of starch and rich sauce to accompany it. Some such popular sauces are:

  • Brown sauce
  • Madeira sauce
  • Truffle sauce

Potatoes are always an excellent base, but you can opt for other root vegetables, too. 

The name may be puzzling, but the long-loved reputation of ris de veau will be anything but confusing once you sample its flavor.