Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Real Cajun, Real Simple

Travel is not just good for the soul, it's good for the table, as contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food found on a recent trip to New Orleans. You can find Jim on Tuesdays from 4:30 till 6:30 pm at Activspace, 833 SE Main #110-111, on the ground floor in the inner courtyard and at the Portland Farmers' Market on Sat., Aug. 29.

Last week I picked up a copy of Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana by the chef-owner of Cochon in New Orleans (he also owns Herbsaint). We had an amazing meal at Cochon last month, one that featured local ingredients prepared simply. Like the corn calas, pan-fried fritters made with cornmeal, cooked rice, and fresh corn and served with tomatoes tossed in olive oil and vinegar.

I was struck by the similarities with what I like to cook. Many dishes use a base of aromatic vegetables to build flavor, and what they call the trinity in Louisiana—onion, celery, and bell pepper cooked in fat—is basically the sofrito that’s the start of many Italian preparations.

So I was already feeling a little Cajun when I saw the fresh okra at the Groundworks booth last week at the farmers market. I got some, along with some yellow paste tomatoes, and made this:

Tomatoes and Okra
Adapted from Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link's Louisiana

Link’s technique of cooking the okra separately in hot oil keeps it from getting that slimy quality.

Cut a few slices of bacon into small pieces and cook in a little olive oil until browned (you could leave this out and just use olive oil, but it won’t be quite as delicious). Add a chopped onion, a pinch of salt, and, if you like a little heat, all or part of a finely chopped jalapeno or other mildly hot-to-incendiary pepper. Cook for a few minutes, then add 8 to 10 coarsely chopped paste tomatoes (e.g. Romas or similar; you can use slicing tomatoes, but you’ll need to cook them longer to reduce the liquid, or you could use a can of tomatoes). Add a decent splash of Katz Gravenstein Apple Cider Vinegar and cook for 20 minutes or until it thickens a bit. Adjust the salt.

Slice the okra into one inch chunks and cook in fairly hot olive oil until nicely browned, about 5 minutes. Add to the tomatoes and cook for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Photo by Bill Tarpenning, USDA.

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