Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Orleans holds a special place in my heart.

It's where Jason and I were married last year. We will celebrate our 1-year anniversary later this month on the 26th with a little trip to London.

Today, an estimated 1 million people will celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans back in the states. Although we are very far away from those celebrations, that doesn't mean I can't cook some Cajun food at home.

Over the weekend, I invited two of my American classmates from my Turkish class to our apartment for a meal of New Orleans' fixins. This delightful couple also were married in the French Quarter in New Orleans.

When I think of New Orleans' food, I generally think of three things - gumbo, jambalaya and oysters. I made gumbo awhile back so I opted to make a version of jambalaya with chicken, shrimp and sucuk. The sucuk makes an excellent substitute for Andouille sausage even though its made from beef and not pork.

I looked through one of my favorite old New Orleans' cookbooks, "Recipes and Reminiscences of New Orleans," for inspiration. I enjoy reading these homey recipes collected from dozens of southern women.

One of the appetizer recipes talked about crab-stuffed tomatoes. Well, I don't have crab here, but I decided to fill cherry tomatoes with a mixture of labne, black olives and a little bit of French truffle oil instead. They were quite delicious!

Making jambalaya is similar to making a hearty pot of stew filled with all sorts of goodies. Jambalaya is akin to the saffron-colored paella native to the Spanish culture. It usually consists of the southern "trininty" of celery, onions and bell peppers, tomatoes (if you make Creole jambalaya), various meats and rice. I had to make a few substitutions, but the resulting dish resembled many of the jambalayas we've eaten in New Orleans.

A ladle full of steaming hot jambalaya.
I even decorated our dining table with some of our Mardi Gras beads (leftover wedding favors) to make it feel festive.

And, of course, I had to make a king cake for dessert. A king cake is a Mardi Gras tradition - based on a rich brioche-like dough decorated with icing and colorful baking sprinkles. Inside, you often will find a small trinket such as a plastic baby (which is supposed to represent baby Jesus), pecan or a legume. Tradition goes that if you get the piece of cake with the trinket then you are responsible for buying the cake for next celebration.

Wherever you may be, I hope you enjoy cooking a little Cajun food at your home like we did.

Today, I'll close with "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!"

Chicken, Shrimp and Sucuk Jambalaya
Easily serves 8 to 10 people. (I would cut the recipe in half if you have less than 4 people.)

1  lg.            yellow onion, small diced
2  c.             red and green peppers (In Turkey, approx. 3 dolma biber, 2 kirmizi biber)
1  ea.           Turkish hot pepper

4-6               garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1  #   500 g.  chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
8 oz./235 g.  package of sucuk, cut into small pieces
7 oz./200 g.  fresh karides or shrimp, cleaned
1  400 g.       can of diced tomatoes
4  T.              tomato paste
2+                 cans of water or stock (I just used the tomato can to measure this.)
1  c.              Baldo or long-grain rice
TT               fresh parsley, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper
Optional      hot sauce (can be added to the jambalaya or simply placed on the table)

1.  In a large stockpot, heat 2 T. of vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add and saute' the peppers, onions and garlic. Cook this mixture for about 8 minutes or until the vegetables start to soften.

2.  Add the chicken and sucuk. Cook for about 10 minutes until the chicken is no longer pink on the outside, stirring occasionally. 
3.  Then, add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water or stock, shrimp, rice and seasonings. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot with a lid and cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. You may need to add a little more water if your mixture appears too thick.
4.  Taste and adjust the seasonings to your liking. 

In New Orleans, you will always find at least one kind of hot sauce served on the table. (I even found Louisiana Hot Sauce here at one of my little shops.)

Labne-Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes
(Inspired by my friend, Sharon in Istanbul, whom uses pesto instead of the black olive paste)

As needed cherry tomatoes
TT             labne, black olive paste, salt and peper
Optional    truffle oil
Garnish     fresh parsley

1.  Trim and carefully hollow out the center of the cherry tomatoes, using a paring knife and a small measuring spoon.
2.  In a small bowl, stir together some labne with a spoonful of the black olive paste and a drizzle of truffle oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
3.  Place the mixture in a resealable plastic bag, trimming off the end. Pipe the mixture into the cherry tomatoes.
4. When finished, garnish the tomatoes with the parsley.

Here I am with my new American friends, Spencer and Stephanie, who are studying Turkish.

Tagged: , , , , ,


Julia said...

Well we certainly love a few cajun spices in our life! :)
Lovely story about your wedding AND meeting American friends who also married in New Orleans. What a coincidence. Enjoy London. Say hi to England for us.

Joy said...

Hi Julia,
Easy enough recipe to make here in Turkey...but way too much food. We ate jambalaya for two more meals after the first nite! I'm curious - do oysters ever come in season here?

Owen Barron said...

Who knew sucuk could substitute so well for sausage in a paella! Made this tonight, and it was fantastic! We doubled the rice and added a bit more water + bouillon to compensate. I also put in rosemary, a bit of turmeric, some paprika, kirmizi biber, some cumin, oregano just for the heck of it, and parsley. Absolutely wonderful.

akrim said...

I don't eat pork but I have been dying to try making Jambalaya. I instantly thought if sujuk. So I was really excited to see this post it makes me more comfortable to try making it with sujuk. One question though I noticed u do not use celery. Most Jambalaya recipes say to use celery. Is there a particular reason? Does the celery clash with the sujuk?

Joy said...

@Akrim, thanks for stopping by! Yes, I would normally use celery in my jambalaya - it's part of the "holy trinity" in cooking. However, I usually only find celery at a Macro Center and once in awhile at my pazar in Istanbul. Sometimes, I don't feel like running all over the city for one ingredient. Hope you enjoy my recipe! :-)