Even though it was a tired fad for a long time, I've really liked cajun food since it became popular in the 80s. In fact, I used to love those cajun spice Ruffles potato chips. In college I would dip them in onion dip, put a ring of fresh jalapeno on the blob of dip, and then dribble Tobasco into the middle of the jalapeno, which formed a little bowl for the sauce. It hit pretty much every part of your palate with a sweet, creamy, crispy, spicy, hot, fresh, tart explosion.
About a month ago I came across Paul Prudhomme's first book for five dollars at a used bookstore and had to have it. This is a book I "grew up with," and the cajun shepherd's pie has always been a family favorite.
The first thing I remember about this food is that there is usually a lot of prep. It seems like most recipes call for diced something or other, so I spent the afternoon dicing my brains out. I ended up with (clockwise from top) colored peppers, celery, jalapeno, a fresh salsa, scallion white parts and scallion green parts.
I made the red beans and basic rice, which are both great. I wanted to do something on the grill and so got some shrimp and andouille (a kind of sausage used in cajun cooking) and grilled them on skewers, with some sliced summer squash and carrots grilled separately. The only bummer was that I was recently in between Penzey's orders and so had to rely on a store-bought cajun spice mix. It was one of Prudhomme's (Seafood Magic) and it actually wasn't too bad as long as you don't overuse it, because it is a little heavy on the garlic. I sprinkled it on the veg:
And mixed it with melted butter for the shrimp as a marinade and to brush on during grilling:
Veg on the grill:
The way I plated it, you can't see the rice. I made a quick salsa out of the "trinity" of cajun cooking, i.e. green pepper, onion, and celery. I made mine with jalapeno, celery, and green scallion seasoned with cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, with a little celery seed thrown in. It provided a zippy little contrast to the rich beans, sausage, and butter.
I had some sausage and veg left over along with the beans and rice, so another night I made a kind of gumbo/jambalaya thing. I started with a brown roux, added stock, the sausage, veg, some corn, and the rest of the beans. I put the rice on top, and then topped that with a little sour cream and some diced peppers.
They were both really good. Everything was more separate and vibrant the first night, and it all melded together in a nice comforting way on the second.