Pearly-pink salmon kept juicy with a coating of creole spices and olive oil, cooked over vegetable-filled “dirty” brown rice. A healthy, family-friendly and surprisingly quick and easy recipe for a midweek dinner. Leftovers are great cold in a wrap – lettuce or grain.
I’ve only been to New Orleans once. A long, long time ago – I’m talking more than 30 years – my parents took my little sister and me on a trip “out West”. On our sweltering way, in a classically 1970s station wagon, complete with bench seats, faux-wood panelling and no seatbelts, we spent the best part of three weeks meandering our way to and from San Francisco. From Florida. That’s a lot of miles: a lot of bathroom stops; a lot of diner stops.
These days such a trip, with the new-fangled highways, will theoretically take 40 hours. That’s with no stops. If you were covering over 2500 miles with a young family in the mid-1970s, with an engine that needs more rests than an NFL game needs commercial breaks, it takes a good deal longer than the stated three days there and three days back.
First of all the roads were terrible. Dangerous and terrible. And, if you were dragging kids to gawp down an impossibly deep hole in the ground (Grand Canyon, of course) and risk everyone’s lives with a long, deserted drive through an actual desert (Mojave; Death Valley), you also need to stop at every form of entertainment along the way. I can’t recall exactly where we stopped but one memory stands out: New Orleans. It seemed impossibly otherworldly, like something from a noir movie, with its Creole cottages, balconied townhouses, and cluster of mixed architecture mansions on St Charles Avenue. Of course back then, to me, they were just glamorous buildings. But I still remember wishing I could live in one of those old, sometimes crumbling, buildings rather than my newly built house with zero history attached.
It was in one of those ornate and history-laden structures that I had my first taste of Creole food. If you don’t know what this type of cuisine is, I defer to thedailybeast.com to give a fair stab at defining Creole food : “Originating in New Orleans, Creole cuisine is the result of influences from the many nationalities who settled in the city. Creole food is greatly influenced by French settlers but also has significant traces of Spanish, Portuguese, German, English, African, and Native American cooking. Many think Creole food is a direct outgrowth of French cuisine, but it’s an amalgam of so many culinary styles that it is far less “French” than Cajun cooking.”
Cajun food is closely related but considered less sophisticated. Sensible folk make no real social distinction and love both.
The main dishes you might have heard of are gumbo, jambalaya, etouffeé, and dirty rice. And beignets. I can still remember my first bite of a pillowy-soft beignet, dipped out of the hot oil by a wiry woman wielding a little wire net, and flung into a tray of snow white powdered sugar. At the same time, I was also allowed a sip of my mother’s intense chicory coffee, its smoky flavour making me feel very sophisticated – despite my orange terry cloth shorts and extremely unflattering haircut (my awkward stage).
I also sampled all of the above, including dirty rice. That’s how I found that I can’t “do” liver, or innards in general. The dirty in dirty rice, you see, is chicken gizzards. Frugal cooking for sure, and probably very delicious otherwise, with its herbs spices, onions, pepper and garlic. But I went to the bathroom and basically scrubbed my tongue with the underside of my shirt (also terry cloth so, in effect, a soft scrubbing pad). No amount of beignets was going to sort that out.
So, here I am today, revisiting the scene of that crime against my palate. In this version, I have used kale to recreate the muddy colour, the kale rendering down to a suitably sludgy hue in the heat and spice. I have seen other versions using aubergine. If you fancy that sub, just dice a small one up and saute in olive oil before adding to the rice. Or as well as the kale for a super-veg packed rice dish. Vegans, if you have got this far, slabs of tofu or tempeh dredged in the spicy oil will do just fine.
Unfortunately, I haven’t thought of a way to make beignets healthy. But some things are better left alone. Not unlike chicken gizzards and terry cloth shorts… 🙂
Do you have any food or fashion crimes to confess?
One-Pot Creole Salmon and Dirty Rice
Pearly-pink salmon kept juicy with a coating of creole spices and olive oil, cooked over vegetable-filled “dirty” brown rice. Healthy, family-friendly and surprisingly quick and easy for a midweek dinner. Leftovers are great cold in a wrap – lettuce or grain. Make this recipe vegan by replacing the salmon with one or two typical packs of tofu or even tempeh – it’s very good this way. xx
1 tbsp olive oil
250g brown long grain rice or basmati rice, rinsed
1 onion, finely chopped
1 green pepper, finely chopped
1 stalk celery, diced (I used 8 lovage leaves from the garden)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme
Parsley stems from one supermarket pack, finely chopped
200g cherry or other ripe tomatoes, chopped and saving the juices (use jar or tinned tomatoes if fresh not in season)
575ml light vegetable stock
1/2 tsp sweet (dulce) smoked paprika
100g kale of any kind, chopped
500-600g salmon filet(s) – I used a half of a half side, if you know what I mean – see image)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp Creole or Cajun seasoning (here’s my recipe for a salt-free Creole spice/seasoning mix)
Good grind of black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp hot paprika or cayenne pepper
Parsley leaves from one supermarket bunch, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 180C fan/200C/400F.
- Heat the oil and butter in a large lidded, ovenproof pot – I use an enamelled casserole pot. Add the chopped onion, green pepper, celery, thyme leaves, bay leaves and garlic and saute until soft. Add the tomatoes, kale and stock. Bring to the boil and pop on the lid. Transfer the pot to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Rinse the fish and pat dry. Squeeze over half of the lemon. Mix the oil, Creole/Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, black pepper and hot paprika and slather over the flesh of the salmon.
- Remove the lid and lay the salmon over the rice – as individual fillets or a whole piece. Replace the lid and bake for a further 20 minutes. Serve with a flurry of parsley and lemon squeezed over. Louisiana hot sauce is also welcome.