But Not My Appetite!
(Losing My Voice: Part 2)
Here’s the long awaited follow-up conversation to Losing My Voice from September. #NotReally While I might have felt that I lost my “voice” since moving to Haiti - there is definitely one thing I did not lose and that’s my appetite! For a lighter fare, might I suggest the below reading? Bon Appetit!
“For I know the plans that I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you.” Jer 29:11 God’s plan to bless me obviously included being raised in South Louisiana, home to the best cooking in all of the United States! (Um... my hometown of Lafayette won Taste of the South in 2014 - not that we need a contest to win to prove we have the tastiest food.)
If you ever heard the adjective “Cajun” associated with food then you know you can expect a plate full of flavor! The ethnic group referred to as Cajuns were French-Canadians who were exiled from Acadia, Nova Scotia and relocated to a small footprint around St. Martinville, LA. Cajuns have a distinct (and I believe - delicious) way of preparing their food. It is a nod to their French heritage with a fusion of the local agriculture (rice, sugarcane, soybeans, peppers, crawfish). Staple ingredients in most dishes are referred to as the “Trinity.” The Cajun Trinity consists of chopped white onions, celery and green bell peppers.
“Creole” on the other hand, while very similar to the Cajun culture, is an altogether different heritage and culture. Creoles are a people with a mixture of French, Spanish, Native American, Haitian and African lineage. Creoles mainly settled around the port of New Orleans area. One cultural expression is the preparation of their dishes. An example would be the Creole Trinity consists of chopped onions, celery and tomatoes.
My favorite comfort meals include: red beans and rice, chicken & sausage gumbo, rice and gravy, fried chicken and boudin. You can’t live in the south Louisiana and not love carbs and everything fried! There is something magical about stick-to-your-thighs food that just warms your soul.
You Want Me To Eat What…?
Physically moving from one country to another can create its own anxiety. Not only the anxiety of packing and unpacking of things, you have to adjust to a new language, new customs, new people, new climate, a completely new lifestyle and new food. I like to think that I can roll with the punches and my feathers don’t get ruffled easily. Confession is good for the soul, right? Well... food is not a change I can bend easily on. I’m not a picky eater per se; I know what I like to eat, what I don’t like to eat and I want what I want. So food is tres empotan (very important) to me.
When I knew I was coming to Haiti, I had very serious questions: Will the food make me physically sick? Would it be something that I want to put in my mouth and eat? But will it taste good?? When it was time for my first meal in country, I immediately scanned the table and noticed it was set with a plate full of rice with red beans, chicken legs in a brown sauce with onions and bell peppers, complete with a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce…
It was a home-style meal from from heaven!
Mesi Senye`! (Thank you Lord!)
Haitian Creole Cuisine
To create Haiti’s creole cuisine, it must blend the French, African, Tanios and Spanish cultures. It will include a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats and spices, all grown from the rich soil of Haiti. When you eat a traditional Haitian dish, you will find plates full of: rice, all sorts of beans, lots of peppers, plantains, potatoes and chicken; some fried, some boiled, some sauteed and all delicious.
Bonus Blessing! I know your mouth is watering imagining all the food, flavors and meals you’ve been reading about so I have included a couple recipes for you to try out! Manje! (Eat up!)
Oh My... The Portion Sizes!
According to the 2017 USAid Agriculture and Food Security Fact Sheet, Haiti still ranked “alarming” in the 2015 Global Hunger Index. Still, roughly 50 percent of Haiti’s population is undernourished, which has been exacerbated by a longstanding drought and devastating Hurricane Matthew in 2016 that severely affected 2 million people. But that is a conversation for a different day.
However, one thing that Haitian meals don’t lack is the portion sizes! When you might only eat one meal a day, it’s got to count. Rice is inexpensive and extremely filling; it is served in almost every meal. Beans and chickens are an easy to come by here. They are a great way to get protein and can be prepared in so many ways.
I am blessed to live in the capital city of Port au Prince where I have access to more than plenty of maches (markets), grocery stores and restaurants. I understand that living outside of the city would change my experience, but only slightly. I’m also very blessed to be a guest in a country where hospitality is an integral part of the culture. My meals are always served with love and lagnaippe (that’s Cajun for “a little extra”) to ensure that I am happy here in their country.
Fluffy fact! The food here is so good and so comforting to me, I attempt to eat everything that’s served to me. I’ve asked (practically begged) the cooks to cut back on my portion sizes (which are a grown man’s portion). I gained five pounds in the first few weeks of moving here. That’s not a trend I can continue. It’s also a trend I’ve stopped tracking. ;)
Chita tande, mache we`. Sit and hear, walk and see.
A Haitian proverb that means: Listen to advice but experience for yourself.
Disclaimer/Rant: If you have tried “Cajun” food in a restaurant outside of the state, please take an opportunity to try REAL Cajun food, in south Louisiana. Spices are used to enhance the flavor and give some heat, not to be obnoxiously hot. Also, “blackened” is not a Cajun thing. We don’t completely coat meat in spices and burn it. We take all day to slow cook our food with pride to perfection.
Red Beans and Rice (Cajun Crock Pot version)
Serves 6-8; Freezes well *This version is for the busy family. I know I said "we take all day to slow cook" but few people actually have all day to prepare one meal. But I promise - you won’t be able to taste the difference!
1 lb Camellia Red Beans
½ capful of Zatarain’s Crab Boil (liquid)
½ lb of smoked sausage (cut into bite size)
1 lb of regular sausage (cut into bite size)
½ lb of tasso (chopped) *up to ½ lb
2 cu chicken or beef stock
1 capful of browning sauce (can be omitted if you cannot find)
2 bay leaves
½ chopped med white onion*
1 chopped med green bell pepper*
2 tbl minced garlic* (can add more to taste)
*can substitute with a bag of frozen soup/stew mix that includes onion/bell pepper/garlic
Salt (to your taste)
Cayenne (to your taste - I use about 1 tsp)
Tony Chachere’s Dry Roux Mix OR Savoie’s Wet Roux
- Put the red beans in a bowl with enough water to cover beans by 2”. Add a few drops of (½ capful) of liquid crab boil to the water and soak overnight. Drain any remaining liquid.
- Add red beans, bay leaves, sausages, chicken/beef stock, browning sauce, onions, garlic, bell pepper and seasoning (salt/red pepper) to your taste to the crock pot.
- Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours.
- Mash some beans with a large spoon against the side of the crock. (I like a little less than half of the beans mashed because it makes it a thicker sauce.)
- Add roux (wet = 2 tbl; dry = 1 ½ tbsp + ½ cup of cold water + mix well) and stir well.
- Taste and add more seasoning/garlic, if needed
- Heat on HIGH for at least 30 min
- Cook rice
- Serve over rice - Enjoy!
While I mentioned that Cajun/Creole cuisine is not about being hot for hot’s sake, I do enjoy a little spicy tingle. And so do Haitians! Not only do they like spicy peppers, they love to add hot sauce on top of everything.
Diri ak Pwa (Rice and Beans)
Serves 6 - 8; Watch Fendy's how-to video here! *I do not have a "quick" version of this recipe. So this meal will take you at least three hours to prepare. It will be worth it!
1 ½ cups red kidney beans
3 to 4 cups white or yellow rice
2 tbsps. Haitian epis (marinade) *if you cannot purchase pre-made epis, you can make your own yummy epis! Give it a Google.
½ white onion chopped
3 to 4 tbsps. olive oil
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 habanero pepper poked with 5 to 6 cloves
Handful of parsley tied to 2 - 4 thyme sprigs
5 to 7 garlic cloves minced
6 to 8 cups water +Save the water that was used to boil the beans. Use that water to cook the rice.
1 tbsp. butter (optional)
Salt to taste
A few sprinkles of seasoned salt (Lawry's or Tony Chachere's )
- Bring washed red beans to a boil (about 45 min); beans will be al dente.
- Drain the beans. Don't forget to save the water for the rice! (It enhances the overall flavor and gives the rice color. )
- In a medium hot pan, add oil, onions and epis. Stir well.
- Once onions have started to simmer down, add the red beans. Stir well.
- Add the chicken boullion cube (crush it as you are adding it to the beans; it'll make your life easier)
- Fry the beans for couple of minutes; continue to stir.
- Add seasoning salt
- Add the red bean reserve water. Bring beans to a boil. Add more water as needed. (You don't want your beans to burn)
- Add habanero pepper with cloves (poked inside it) and parsley/thyme bunch to water/beans mix
- Continue to cook down the red beans (45 min - 1 hr). Cover, if needed. You'll know when the beans done when you can easily mush them!
- Add water for rice to red bean mix. (6 cups of water for 3 cups of rice)
- Add rinsed rice and stir. (add butter)
- Taste. Add more seasoning, if needed.
- Cover and bring water to a boil for 30 min
- Once the water is evaporated, stir well, lower heat to LOW and cook for additional 30 min.
- Once rice is fully cooked, turn off heat and stir well.
- Remove parsley and pepper.
- Serve hot!
Diri ak pwa (rice and beans)
Vert pwa (green beans)
Pikliz (Spicy pickled condiment)
Serves: Lots! It can keep for a couple of months, too.
2 cups grated white cabbage
1 cup grated carrot
½ red bell pepper (cut in the direction of length)
½ green bell pepper (cut in the direction of length)
1 medium white onion, thinly sliced (sliced)
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 scotch bonnet peppers (cut in the direction of length) *3+ for the more adventurous; feel free to change the scotch bonnet peppers out for peppers at a spice level you can enjoy.
1 tsp of salt
Optional: garlic, lime juice, pepper seed, clove to taste
1 Mason jar with lid
Gloves (to protect yourself from the peppers)
*Pepper warning! Peppers are measured in Scoville Heat units (SHU). The habanero chili peppers are 260,000 SHU, whereas the Scotch bonnet pepper is about 445,000 SHU. Not sure how hot this is? As a reference, jalapeño peppers are only about 1000-4000 SHU.
- Grate cabbage and carrot with a rasp (bigger hole)
- Grate the onion using the mandolin side of the grater or finely with a knife.
- Put on gloves. Cut the scotch peppers finely in the direction of the length
- Cut a shallot finely
- Cut half of a red and green bell peppers in the direction of the length
- Put all the ingredients in a large bowl
- Add salt
- Stir well using your hands (you should still be wearing gloves)
- Using tongs or your hands, put the mixture in a Mason jar
- Add white vinegar to "wet" the mix
- Close jar and place in the refrigerator; let it set a minimum of a few hours before serving.
I love pikliz on a fried plantains because it balances the spicy with a sweet combo! Or mixed in my rice and beans. Or mixed with my mashed potatoes.
Pretty much anywhere I want to kick the flavor up a notch!