After a long, wet and dreary winter, crawfish season is officially here. Like many of you in the Bayou State, we boiled some this past weekend after the Baton Rouge “Wearing of the Green” St. Patrick’s Day parade, and while they were on the small side, they were a welcome sight. Coupled with that awesome weather, the taste of succulent, spicy tails tasted like spring in Louisiana, and few things taste better than that.
It’s a perfect storm for fun this weekend as Baton Rougeans, starved for spring and warm weather, will come out in droves for the 30th annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That means lots of green beer, backyard crawfish, spent beads, irreverent t-shirts and behavior that gets worse the closer it gets to the end of the route near the Perkins Road Overpass. Some of us claim Irish ethnicity; most of us don’t. No matter, this particular day is one for hitting the pause button on regular life, shutting down streets and relishing the spectacle that is South Louisiana.
And speaking of spectacle, gaudy green foods are required eating. It’s something I’ve mastered by living on or near the parade route for the last 15 years. One of my favorite things to break out is a bottle of Crème de Menthe.
This is one of my subjects, Rayne crawfish farmer Aaron Melancon, who was kind enough to let me tag along on his crawfish boat during my book research. You would not believe the work that goes into the painstaking act of crawfish farming. As I write in the book, the crawfish boil might be the epitome of abundance – outdoor tables piled high with steaming mudbugs – but when you see how few crawfish emerge from each trap (relatively speaking), you realize what goes into keeping the region’s rabid crawfish fans happy during the season.
Thank you Aaron for your hospitality!
So excited! My book, Hungry for Louisiana, An Omnivore’s Journey (LSU Press) is out this month. You can find it on Amazon or in regional book stores, including large chains and local independents. It’s also in some gift shops and culinary stores, like Red Stick Spice Co. in Baton Rouge.
This was so much fun to work on. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. The book includes an intro that explores how Louisiana’s food culture was local before local was cool and how there are few places in the world with such intact culinary traditions. Each subsequent chapter peers into a different food or ingredient from the state’s culinary tableau. Discover the quirks and traditions behind crawfish, jambalaya, Creole cream cheese, snoballs, filé, blood boudin, Zwolle tamales and oysters. Meet some of the people who produce these famed eats. This is breezy food writing with a few recipes at the end of each chapter.
What Ashley Hansen of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz did when her grandfather’s famed snoball machine was on the fritz…
Why the northeast Louisiana town of Zwolle has a deep and meaningful tradition of tamale-making that is nothing like the Mississippi Delta’s…
Exactly what makes a pot of jambalaya achieve blue ribbon excellence at the annual Jambalaya Festival in Gonzales, Jambalaya Capital of the World…
And lots more.
Please keep coming back to this site for updates, additional material, photos and more recipes.
Thanks for your interest!
The up-and-down damp weather we’ve been having lately has had me craving something stew-ish, but not something so heavy that it feels like fall or winter. I found myself dreaming about a one pot curry with fresh sweet potatoes, chickpeas and veggies over couscous, the kind of stuff I used to eat way back, when I was single grad student on a budget who didn’t have four other sets of taste buds to appease. But I figured, why not? My kids like Thai flavors, and they love sweet potatoes, so I foisted this yummy veggie curry on them. There are elements of creaminess, sweetness and tang thanks to the base of green curry paste and coconut milk. Hard not to like.
This is a pleasing spring dish that places Louisiana sweet potatoes – seasonal year-round – front and center. They might be harvested in the fall, but their long shelf life makes them enjoyable 12 months out of the year. Modify the other veggies as you see fit. Add different spices or some heat if you like. Or try it over brown rice or quinoa.
1 can light coconut milk
2 tablespoons green curry paste
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 one-inch piece peeled garlic
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup chicken broth
1 red pepper, cut into medium chunks
2 cups broccoli florets
1 cup fresh spinach
1 can chickpeas, drained
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 10 oz. box plain couscous
1. In a small saucepan, heat coconut milk gently, then add next four ingredients. Simmer for about three minutes and turn off heat.
2. To a Dutch oven or large pot with a lid, add about a half-inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add sweet potatoes, cover and cook for 4 minutes. Add broth, return to simmer, and next five ingredients. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pour curry sauce over veggie mixture and cook another 4-5 minutes, or until vegetables are cooked to you liking and the sauce is hot. Turn off heat.
3. To make couscous, bring broth to boil in a small to medium lidded saucepan. Add couscous, stir and turn off heat. Cover and remove from burner. After five minutes, fluff with fork.
To serve, remove ginger. Mound curry on top of couscous and garnish with fresh cilantro.
My mother-in-law, Nan, likes to buy Louisiana sweet potatoes direct from a local farmer, resulting in a large box of spuds that get passed around among my husband’s large extended family. We’ve been well-plied with Beauregard variety sweet potatoes for several weeks now, and each time I go back to the till for more, she repeats the same directive: Keep the dirt on them until you cook them.
Is this true, or just rural myth? I recently asked LSU AgCenter Associate Professor Tara Smith, who studies the Louisiana sweet potato at the state’s research station in Chase, Louisiana, southeast of Monroe. The dirt, Smith says, keeps the sweet potatoes from bruising before use.
“Sweet potatoes are stored with the dirt on them after harvest. They’re not washed until they’re packed and shipped to market,” she says. “If you buy direct from a producer with the dirt on them you can store them in that manner until you’re ready to use them. Really, it is the handling component. They are susceptible to bruising and the more they are handled the more likely you are to encounter losses due to shriveling, bruising and subsequent breakdown.”
So there you go.
The dirt is a sort of protective layer for Louisiana’s favorite vegetable.
And what about curing?
Unlike other fresh picked produce, sweet potatoes have to “set up” before they’re ready to consume, or so they say. True? Yep. Consumers never really see this stage, though. Smith says that sweet potatoes are cured immediately following harvest, a process that involves bringing them into the storage shed and subjecting them to 85-90 degrees F and 90% humidity for 5-7 days. Potato sauna! Afterwards they’re stored at 55-60 degrees also with high humidity. After about 6 weeks they’re ready to be packed and shipped. The curing process quickens the conversion of starches into sugar and makes the spud tastes sweeter. It also begins the healing process of any bruises and skinning that occurred during the harvest operation, and “sets” the skin, allowing the sweet potatoes to be washed and packed with less damage to the outer surface.
As for shelf life?
Sweet potatoes can be stored for a year or longer under the right conditions, making them seasonal in Louisiana year round.