Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Cochon de Lait" a l'Afrique, Black Eyed Pea Croquette, Caribbean Mango Salsa: The Main Course at Voodoo, for the 5 Star Restaurant Wars Challenge

This month's edition of the 5 Star Makeover Challenge is a real doozy: Restaurant Wars. Two months ago, our hosts, Lazaro of Lazaro Cooks! and Natasha of 5 Star Foodie divided participants into groups of three, tasking us each to create a virtual restaurant based on a single theme or ingredient. Each team member would be responsible for one of the three courses.

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.)

Cochon de lait is a traditional Cajun whole suckling pig that's roasted in an outdoor pit. For my "cochon de lait a l'Africque" I took "lait," which translates as "milk," literally, and incorporated coconut milk, common in East African cuisine, into my slow roasted pork shoulder dish. I also used Scotch bonnet peppers, onions, clove, tomato, and allspice. Taking inspiration from a dish I had at Green Goddess in New Orleans, I wrapped it all in banana leaves:
 ... and slow cooked it until the meat was literally falling apart. The result was a tender, juicy pork that was scented with a fusion of East and West African flavors.

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
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. 


  1. Hello, shredded pork, crispy croquette, spicy salsa... that looks delicious! And so, too, the offerings from your team mates. I'd totally go to Voodoo if I could for this three-course meal!

  2. ...oooh that YOU DO so well! Simply a perfect menu! It all makes me want to book a reservation at this mythical restaurant to try out everything! I'm quite taken with this main dish of slow roasted pig served in such a modern manner! The color, texture and flavor! Wow. I'd eat this!

  3. The way you've made your whole dish is a joy to read, Trix! Scotch bonnets (which we grow), coconut milk and all spice berries are incredible together. And you've now convinced me to make those black-eyed pea croquettes too. Thank you for being an amazing team mate, this has been an incredibly enjoyable challenge and I just wish Voodoo can make some money selling our food now!

    1. I agree! You both were amazing to work with and would love to do it again!

      I wish Voodoo could make us some money too!

  4. That's a very tasty-looking entrée and a perfect dish for a restaurant called Voodoo, incorporating Latin, African and New Orleans cuisines.

  5. Even though I had dessert first, I can still manage to find a place for this delicious course! You three make an awesome team and are welcome in my kitchen anytime. Great flavors in this one, especially the croquette. I am already wanting to make a second trip to Voodoo, with these tasty entrees on the menu! However, I will need to make reservations, looks like Trevor and the other bloggers have already booked their second trip!

  6. Oh, this is such a stunning plate! And what a marvelous team you had...I'm such a fan of all 3 of you!!!

  7. I would totally eat at your restaurant - even if I had to wait 6 months for reservations. Lovely job!

  8. I love the fusion of fusion of East and West African flavors in the pork, it looks really awesome! A terrific main course!

  9. Every component of this plate works together beautifully. The pork looks fantastic as do the fritters, and that fruity salsa really brightens up the dish. Great job!

  10. Yum! These look delicious!

  11. Amazing, amazing, amazing... I highly admire of you guys who keep challenging culinary adventure like this. Gorgeous plating, unique recipe, totally eye opener and looks really delicious!!! It was fun checking out but totally wish that I could taste these menus... ;-)

  12. I love the theme you three came up with and how each of you executed it in your own way. And the menu design is absolutely gorgeous. Looks like a fantastic course.

  13. I'd give those croquettes a go! GREG

  14. Beautiful work, ladies. I am so impressed at the restaurant idea and the combos you came up with. The pork looks awesome.

  15. Oh, suckling pig is sooooo GOOD. What a great choice. I love how you describe the cooking process. I like how you took 'lait' literally. Being French I know the non literal meaning in this case lol. Kudos to Poppa Trix with the mango salsa inspiration. I would like to reserve a seat at your restaurant please?

  16. This is one of my favorite dishes! Love the heat/tender pork/crispy croquettes. Really appreciate all the thought that went into planning your restaurant. And I simply adore the name, menu and graphics, wondered where that came from, so glad you shared. Congrats on a terrific Restaurant Wars contribution!

  17. ooh, love the black bean croquettes along with the pork and salsa, what a great dish!

  18. Fantastic main course Trix! I just love the way you and your team pulled this all together! Just amazing!

  19. I love, love the theme and recipes you three created for the challenge. Also love the details of the menu and iconography, very cool. The flavors you've incorporated all sound delicious. Good luck to you all!

  20. Craft and execution. Flawless presentation as well. PORKGASM all the way.

    Marvelous Trix.

  21. Stunning presentation and so creative in every way!

  22. I wonder if I have time to make these for breakfast?