Baton Rouge hasn’t had the easiest 2016. The Alton Sterling shooting, followed by the shooting of three law enforcement officers, followed by an epic flood. The somber mood has made us cleave to what really matters – friends and family. Weekends have many of us huddled up watching football (another letdown lately if you’re an LSU fan) stuffing our faces with gameday eats. That part isn’t so bad.
Mid-June. Oh man, there’s no better time of year when it comes to fresh foods here in the South. We wait all year for the true taste of tomatoes, peaches, watermelon, blueberries, peas, beans and other local treats, and when they start pouring in from farms, it’s a mad rush on putting them to good use.
In this summery appetizer, sweet, juicy local tomatoes are perched on toasted bread slices that have been slathered with garlicky black-eyed pea hummus. It’s a great way to start the night, and it’s built on layers of seasonal flavors. Look for fresh black-eyed peas from local farmers, but frozen ones work well, too.
Ahh, the pork butt.
Few cuts of meat are as reasonably priced and versatile, and cooking it to fork tender perfection requires almost no culinary skills. Sure, you can show off your grill prowess and smoke it low and slow, painting on a tangy baste until the butt falls off the bone. Or, you can get smart and lazy and lock it the oven overnight at 250 degrees. While you’re sleeping, the fat-strapped butt is agreeably roasting away, preparing to fall apart in the morning as you carve it with eager forks. Your stupid-easy pulled pork is perfect for all sorts of applications, including barbecue sandwiches, pulled pork pizza, spicy pork wontons, the pork stew posole and these super delicious pulled pork tostadas with chipotle crema. I’ll be posting additional pulled pork recipes soon. Meanwhile, enjoy this hearty game day dish.
I had the best time playing around with the Middle Eastern spices zahtar and sumac for a story in the February 2016 issue of 225 Magazine. We happen to have tons of Middle Eastern eateries in Baton Rouge – close to 30 or so, and they’re a big part of our regular culinary experience. It’s why I wanted to write a story on these familiar yet exotic spices.
Zahtar is a savory-floral spice blend traditionally made in Middle Eastern homes that features sumac, sesame seeds, thyme and other spices. Its flavor stems largely from the presence of sumac, sort of a dark purple dust with lemony notes.
Here are some of the ways I’ve been using these two lovely spices lately. You can pick them up or mail order them in one-ounce quantities from Red Stick Spice Company, our phenomenal local spice store, or order them from national vendors, Penzeys, which carries zatar (spelled this way) and sumac in berry form.
The best party dishes are ones that fit two criteria: you can make them ahead and serve them at room temperature. And marinated seafood, like classic West Indies salad and southern pickled shrimp, fits them both. Think of them as a sort of Gulf Coast ceviche, even though you’re beginning with cooked seafood.
The Mobile, Alabama favorite, West Indies Salad, is made with crabmeat, minced onions and an oil and vinegar solution, and Charleston-born pickled shrimp, involves fresh boiled shrimp riding it out in a tangy marinade for a couple of days before serving. They’re delicious crowd pleasers that offer a refreshing counterpoint to party buffets where the rest of the line-up can be heavy.
Somehow, we earned the corn dog nickname. There are so many other things we creatively devious LSU fans could have been called, so many other foods we’re obsessed with and probably smell like…but corn dogs…hmm. Always been a head scratcher. Alrighty. Let’s just go with it. Here’s to embracing your trashy, Bama-hatin’, carnival lovin’ corn dog self this weekend over fine specimens made in the comfort of your own home. It is an away game, after all, robbing LSU fans of the opportunity to cook up elephant-themed delicacies outside Tiger Stadium, which have actually been known to stump aghast internet columnists.