And am I ever happy with the team members fate dealt me. Jessica of Cajunlicious and Maya of Foodiva's Kitchen were fabulous to work with, and it didn't take us too long to hammer out a name, theme, and dishes for our restaurant.
As you can see, we named our restaurant "Voodoo," with the tagline "Louisiana. Global. Cuisine." And what does this mean? Well, the cuisine of Louisiana is a story of the ingredients and cooking techniques and cultures of many different peoples. Some, like the French, Spanish, Italian, free people of color, including post-revolution Haitians, and, most recently, Vietnamese, came by choice, while others - slaves - most certainly did not. Still others - Native Americans - were in the area long before anyone else.
Voodoo is about telling a part of that story in our own ways. As you'll see, Jessica's appetizer represents Louisiana Creole cuisine as an integrated whole; my dish, the main course, pays homage to some of the earliest elements - African and Caribbean - adding them back into the established cuisine in a more overt way; while Maya's dessert, with the inclusion of Vietnamese elements, imagines the future of this ever-evolving Creolized cuisine.
Voodoo is the magic that happens when all of this comes together:
(Some of you may recognize the imagery in the logo and menu from my tattoo - the heart represents Erzulie, a female loa, or spirit, while the snakes represent Damballah, a male loa and one of Erzulie's many husbands. No, I don't practice voodoo, but I did get married in a voodoo temple in New Orleans and I think the iconography is simply beautiful.)
from a dish I had at Green Goddess in New Orleans, I wrapped it all in banana leaves:
The black eyed pea croquettes are a nod to West African moin moin, or black eyed pea cakes. My version blends French, African, and French Creole ingredients, combining shallots, thyme, garlic, Cayenne, and peanut oil.
Finally, the mango salsa came about when Poppa Trix (who, for those of you who are confused, is my husband, NOT my father!) suggested that I incorporate a Caribbean element into my course. I am so glad he did, as the sweet/hot salsa proved to be an essential component of the plate. Taken all together, this course combines a fatty, soft unctuousness from the pork, a crispy and earthy pop from the black eye pea croquettes, and a sweet heat from that salsa, which included jalapeno, serrano, and sweet peppers. Sandwiched in between Jessica's lovely appetizer:
and Maya's complex yet light dessert:
I think this is one meal to remember!
Make sure to click on the photos above to go right to the respective posts. And now ... on to my recipes.
Cochon de Lait a l'Afrique
1 2.5 pound pork butt
salt and pepper
4-5 banana leaves
1 small white onion, sliced; 1 small white onion, chopped
handful of allspice berries
handful of cloves
juice of one lime
juice of one lime
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup diced canned tomatoes
3 Scotch bonnet or habanero peppers, seeded
Generously salt and pepper the pork butt, set aside. Lay 3 banana leaves, overlapping, in the bottom of a Dutch oven or clay pot (I used a cassoulet pot). Place the sliced onion on the leaves, and lay the pork on top. Stud the pork with the allspice and the cloves, and squeeze a lime over top. In a blender or food processor, whizz the chopped onion, coconut milk, tomato and peppers, season with salt to taste .Pour over the pork (it won't look pretty). Fold the banana leaves over the pork and tuck in the edges, top with an additional leaf if necessary. Put the lid or foil over this. Place in a 400 degree preheated oven and turn the heat down to 250 F. Cook for 5 hours before checking for doneness. When done, remove the pork and shred the meat. Add the sauce to a saucepan, simmer to reduce a bit, and stir in the pork.
Black Eye Pea Croquettes
peanut oil, for frying
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 sprigs of thyme, stems removed
1 can black eye peas, drained
generous pinch of Cayenne pepper
salt and pepper
1/2 cup crumbled unsalted dry crackers, plus one crumbled cracker
coconut milk, to moisten
1/2 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
oil, for frying
Saute the shallots in the peanut oil over medium heat until soft. Add the garlic, thyme, black eyed peas, Cayenne and salt and pepper and cook until warm. Smash with a potato masher and add the crumbled cracker and just enough coconut milk to form a thick paste. Cool and refrigerate for about an hour. When ready to cook, form into 1 inch balls, and dip into the flour, then egg, then crumbled crackers. Fry in 325 degree oil until brown and crispy, about 3-4 minutes.
Caribbean Mango Salsa
3 mangoes, cubed
1 jalapeno, minced
1 serrano pepper, minced
1/2 sweet red pepper, diced
1/4 red onion, diced
generous squeeze of lime juice
dash of hot sauce
salt and pepper
Combine and adjust seasoning to taste. Refrigerate.
To plate ... well, you can get all fussy:
Or you can just make a big pile. Give the pork a nice squeeze of lime before you dig in, and I hope it goes without saying that you must put the leftovers on corn tortillas.
And whatever you do - go and check out Jessica and Maya's dish. It was great working with you ladies!
And on Friday, June 1, make sure to visit 5 Star Foodie's round up of all the restaurants - the groups really did some amazingly creative work.