Sweet potatoes (also known as yams) have long been a part of Louisiana’s history and cuisine. It is believed that the sweet potatoes originated in the West Indies and Central America.
According to history, when the French began settling in south Louisiana in 1687, they discovered the native Indians—Attakapas, Alabama, Choctaw and Opelousas tribes—growing and enjoying the tasty, nourishing sweet potatoes. It wasn’t long before the French and Spanish settlers soon made it one of their favorite food items.
It’s no wonder that a variety of sweet potato dishes hold a place of honor on holiday tables at Thanksgiving and Christmas. They can be boiled, baked, fried, mashed and combine well with a variety of ingredients to create an endless list of delicious concoctions.
When I was toddler, Mama and and I enjoyed a baked sweet potato, lathered with butter and drizzled with cane syrup, on many a cold autumn afternoon. As I got older, I came to adore them fried, much like French fries, sprinkled with salt and black pepper, or sometimes sugar and cinnamon. Of course, I ate my fair share of them candied, creamed with milk and butter, in pies, and sometimes rolled in honey and chopped pecans. I consumed so much of these golden tuberous roots that I had the nickname of “Patate Douce” well into my teens.
What I didn’t know then is that they are highly nutritious. A diet rich in a vitamin A precursor, beta-carotene, is associated with a lower incidence of lung and other cancers. Beta-carotene is the bright yellow/orange pigment found in vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, winter squash, and red peppers, both sweet and hot.
Lucky for us in Louisiana, our climate and soil are quite suitable for farming several varieties of these healthful vegetables.
In the 1940s and ‘50s, Louisiana was the Number One sweet potato producer in the nation, supplying almost seventy percent of the nation’s sweet potatoes. In fact, it was back in 1946, when the town of Opelousas in St. Landry Parish, in the heart of sweet potato country, held the first annual Louisiana Yambilee celebration. The story goes that the festival was born over a cup of coffee. J. W. “Bill” Low, a native Texan, who came to live in Opelousas suggested an idea of a celebration to his friend, Felix Dezauche, a yam shipper and processor, endorsed the idea. Thus, one of the oldest and largest Louisiana festivals came into being.
We don’t have to wait for the holidays or a special occasion to enjoy our sweet potatoes. Have them any time, on any number of ways. Here are some ideas to get you going.
This happens to be one of my favorite preparations.
SWEET POTATO PONE
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1 cup sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter or margarine, softened
2 cups grated raw sweet potatoes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat the egg with the sugar and butter in a mixing bowl until creamy and smooth. In another bowl, combine the sweet potatoes, salt and milk and mix well. Add the butter mixture to the potato mixture and mix well. Pour the mixture into lightly buttered baking dish and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the top with the pecans. Return to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mixture sets slightly.
These potato chips, made with Idahos and sweet potatoes, are great for casual meals to serve with burgers, grilled chicken or pork chops. If you have a mandoline with a slicing blade, adjust it to the smallest possible setting. If you don’t have a mandoline, a very sharp knife and a steady hand should work. You might even consider using the slicing attachment on your food processor.
Makes 6 servings
3 sweet potatoes, peeled
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled
Vegetable oil for deep frying, heated to 360 degrees
Cut the potatoes crosswise into very thin slices. Soak them in ice water in separate bowls for at least one hour. Drain the potatoes and pat them dry with paper towels. Fry the sweet potatoes and the Idaho potatoes separately in batches in the hot oil until they are crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. To keep them warm and crisp, spread the potatoes on a baking sheet and keep them in a 300-degree oven.
This next preparation is quite simple and can be served with anything.
MASHED SWEET POTATOES
Makes 6 servings
2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Cook the sweet potatoes in lightly salted water, until tender. Drain. Transfer them to a food processor and puree, adding the butter and cream. Scrape into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
This final recipe is one you can serve anytime, but it certainly deserves a place on your next holiday table.
RUM-GLAZED SWEET POTATOES
Makes 8 servings
3 pounds sweet potatoes, pricked several times with a fork
3 Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup roasted pecan halves
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
Bake the sweet potatoes in a 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until tender. Let cool and peel. Cut the potatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Toss the apples in the lemon juice. Arrange the sweet potatoes and apples in a buttered baking dish. Sprinkle with the pecans. In a saucepan, combine the butter, sugar, honey, rum, cinnamon, ginger, and mace. Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Spoon the syrup over the potato and apple mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, basting occasionally with the butter sauce. Then place the pan under the broiler, about 4 inches from the fire, until the edges of the potatoes and apples are slightly brown.
Diners, corner cafes, and Mom and Pop neighborhood bars and restaurants that serve down-home meals, otherwise known as “blue plate specials” may not be as numerous as they used to be, but they are still around. Thank goodness! These institutions usually go the extra mile for their specials, giving large servings and using local ingredients. When I hear the term “blue plate specials” I conjure up such meals as meatloaf, mashed potatoes and peas, or smothered chicken with lots of gravy atop a mound of white rice, or better yet, stewed okra and tomatoes accompanied by braised round steak and onions!
When I was growing up in St. Martinville, there was a café called Hebert’s and you could tell the day of the week by the menu for the day. The specials were noted on a large chalkboard at the entrance to the establishment. On Monday, it was usually red or white beans served with rice and a link of fresh pork sausage. Tuesday’s lunch was chicken-fried steak accompanied by either macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes (and never made from dehydrated flakes in a box). Fried chicken, potato salad, and peas and carrots was Wednesday’s offering. On Thursday it was meatballs and spaghetti or chicken stew. Friday’s special was always my favorite—fried catfish served with shrimp stew over rice, and cole slaw. Hot French bread and lots of butter was always handy, and Mrs. Hebert made some of the best pies—lemon, pecan, chocolate cream, coconut, and blackberry—I had ever tasted.
Alas, Hebert’s is gone, so I ride around looking for hole-in-the-wall places that serve up meat-and-three (meat with three sides). A place in New Iberia near the St. Peter’s Catholic church often offers the best barbecued pork ribs and pork chops served with rice dressing, baked beans, cole slaw, and bread pudding, all for less than $10.00. Another place I lunch is at a luncheon spot in my hometown that has a great Friday meal of fried catfish, shrimp and potato salad.
When cooler weather sets in (which hopefully will be soon because I’m growing tired of this hot dry weather), my husband Rock often requests a blue plate special for our Wednesday supper. Understand that these are not for the weak of heart. These recipes are what Papa would call “truck-driver” items.
Makes 4 servings
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 pound cubed beefsteaks
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons plus ½ cup milk
- 1 cup saltine cracker crumbs
- Vegetable oil
- 1 ¼ cups chicken broth
- 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/8 teaspoon hot sauce
Heat about one-half of the oil in a large skillet to about 360 degrees. Fry the steaks in the oil over medium heat until browned, turning once. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer turning occasionally, for 15 minutes. Remove the steaks and drain on paper towels.
Drain off the drippings, reserving about three tablespoons in the skillet. Add the remaining three tablespoons of the flour, stirring until smooth. Cook one minute over medium heat, stirring constantly. Gradually add the broth and the remaining one-half cup of milk. Stir constantly until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Add the Worcestershire and hot sauce, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve with mashed potatoes.
GOOD OLD MASHED POTATOES
Makes about 6 servings
- 8 medium-size red potatoes (about 3 ½ pounds), peeled and quartered
- ¼ cup butter, melted
- ½ cup milk
- Salt and black pepper to taste
OLD-FASHIONED MACARONI AND CHEESE
Makes about 6 servings
- 1 (8-ounce) package elbow macaroni
- 2 ½ cups (about 10 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
- Makes one pie to serve 6
- 1 ¾ cups sugar
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup cocoa
- 2 cups milk
- 4 large eggs, separated
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 1 baked 9-inch pastry shell
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
Cook the mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Spoon into the pastry shell and set aside.
Beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at high speed with an electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add the remaining one-half cup sugar, a tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form, two to four minutes.
Spread the meringue over the chocolate filling. Bake at 325 degrees until lightly golden, about 20 minutes.
Football season has arrived. It doesn’t feel like football weather, but anxious fans are eager to trek to stadiums to cheer on their favorite college team or to the Superdome to see what the Saints are going to do this season.
One of my nephews dropped by for a visit – well, what he was looking for was an idea for a tailgaiting party. He declared that the weather was just too hot to make gumbo, chili or jambalaya. Did I have an alternative idea?
This is what I suggested. Bring along a small grill and make this whopper of a hamburger. It’s easy to pull together. The sandwich, chips and pre-made brownies should satisfy his friends before they enter the stadium.
CAJUN TAILGATE BURGER
Makes 8 to 10 servings
You can dress the burger classically, with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise and mustard, but use your creativity and make it your own. Dress it with cheese, jalapenos, and guacamole. Or dress it with grilled onions and blue cheese.
- 2 ½ pounds lean ground beef
- 4 pickled jalapenos, chopped
- 3 tablespoons of the liquid from the jar of jalapenos
- 1 tablespoon onion juice
- 1 tablespoon garlic juice
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons hot sauce
- 2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning mix
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon Liquid Smoke
- ½ cup dry fine seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1 round bread, such as Vienna, muffaletto, sourdough, 10 to 12 inches in diameter, cut in half lengthwise
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 6 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese, grated
- 4 large lettuce leaves
- 1 large tomato, sliced
- Grey Poupon mustard
Remove the mixture from the refrigerator and shape into a large patty, about 1 inch larger than the round bread and about 1 ½ inches thick.
Place it on the grill and close the lid. Cook for 20 minutes on one side, then turn it and cook it for another 20 minutes.
Butter each half of the bread with the butter. Place the bread halves, inside of the bread down, on the grill and toast for 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove the burger and the bread from the grill. Place the burger on the bottom half of the bread. Dress the burger with the cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, mayonnaise, and mustard.
Place the top half on top of the dressed burger and press down firmly, but gently. Cut into wedges to serve.
By Marcelle Bienvenu
A few years ago, a journalist asked me to list a few things I like about summertime in the South. I confess that the summer is my favorite season and I can never get enough of ice cold watermelon, snowballs in every flavor, boiled seafood (shrimp, crawfish, crabs) all washed down with cold beer, and wait there is more. Heading out early in the morning on Vermilion Bay to try to catch a few redfish or speckled trout is also on my list of summertime “to dos.” And I love late afternoon boat rides on Bayou Teche with my husband and observing the egrets, blue herons, and alligators along the banks. I really could go on and on, but I think you get the message. But I also love homemade ice cream and I make it as often as I can during the hot, humid days of summer. Gone are the hand-cranked ice cream makers. These days, electric ones are ideal for making a quart of deliciously smooth, creamy concoctions, sometimes including fresh berries or Louisiana peaches.
Maybe these recipes will inspire you to make some yourself. And I’ve included a recipe for sugar cookies (ti gateau sec) to pair with your yummy ice cream. Oh, here is a tip if you want to use fresh fruit in the ice cream. To prevent the fruit from freezing, soak them in a little brandy or any liqueur for a couple of hours before adding the fruit to the ice cream base.
Mama’s Ice Cream – Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
6 large eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoons pure vanilla
2 cups chopped fresh fruit, such as strawberries, peaches or bananas *optional
In a large, nonreactive saucepan, combine the eggs, milk, sugar, and vanilla and bring to a gentle boil. Stir constantly until the mixture thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and let cool. Pour the custard into a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled. Add the fruit, then pour into the ice cream and freezer can and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Blackberry Ice Cream – Makes about 1 1/2 quarts
For the blackberry juice:
2 quarts fresh blackberries, picked over, rinsed in cool water, and patted dry
2 cups sugar
Place the berries and sugar in a saucepan and cook slowly over medium heat. Don’t add any water, because the berries release lots of juice. Cook long enough for them to soften and create a syrup. Cool and then strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, mashing the berries to release all the liquid. Set aside.
For the ice cream:
6 whole eggs beaten
4 cups whole milk
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cornstarch
Combine the eggs and milk in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, vanilla, and cornstarch and mix well. Transfer the mixture to a heavy non-reactive saucepan over medium heat and cook slowly until it thickens enough to coat a wooden spoon. (Do not allow to come to a boil.) Add one cup of the berry sauce and freeze in an ice cream freezer according to manufacturer’s directions. When serving, you can add a couple of drops of creme de cassis liqueur to each serving.
Uncle Nick’s No-Cook Ice Cream
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
16 ounces sour cream
1 (12-ounce) cans evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped fruit *Optional
Combine all of the ingredients except the milk and pour into the canister of an ice cream freezer. Then pour in the milk to the line in the ice cream canister. Add the fruit if you wish. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.
Key Lime Ice Cream – Makes 1 quart
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh key lime juice
1 teaspoon grated lime zest
Bring the cream to a gentle simmer in a heavy saucepan. Slowly beat the hot cream into the egg yolks in a mixing bowl. Pour the entire mixture back into the saucepan over low heat. Stir constantly with a wire whisk until the mixture thickens slightly. (Do NOT boil.) Remove from the heat and pour the custard through a strainer into a mixing bowl. Cool slightly, then stir in the condensed milk, the key lime juice and the zest. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Stir the cold custard, then freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. If you wish, you can transfer the mixture to freezer containers and freeze for 2 hours for a firmer ice cream. One of my nieces who has seven children also offered this quick method of making ice cream. Place a plastic freezer storage bag with ice cream base inside a larger bag filled with ice and rock salt. Close both bags securely and shake, shake, shake. Not only does it keep youngsters entertained, you will have great ice cream!
For lagniappe, here is another quick method of making a dessert for a picnic event: Fill a quart glass jar with cold heavy cream. You can add a little sugar if you wish. Screw on the lid and shake vigorously (have the teenagers do it) until the mixture is thick, about 3 minutes. You can serve this with fresh fruit of your choice. Sugar Cookies (“Ti Gateau Sec”) Makes 3 to 4 dozen.
1 cup sugar
1 stick butter at room temperature
2 eggs, beaten
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract In a large mixing bowl, cream the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix well. Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt and add to the creamed mixture. Add the milk and vanilla. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for one hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Roll the dough out to about 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Using a small cookie cutter, cut out the cookies. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake until lightly browned, 13 to 15 minutes.
Lent, the season of penance is upon us, and like other Christians I’ve been giving some thought to what I might do for this time of atonement. I certainly had enough fun during the Carnival season and in a way, I’m rather glad I can look forward to several weeks of peace and quiet, and perhaps some simple meals. But on Ash Wednesday, I noticed several restaurants and cafés touting seafood specials, Lenten buffets, and myriad meatless offerings. When I was growing up, we didn’t have extravagant seafood or other enjoyable meatless meals; rather we had things like fried egg sandwiches, tuna salad sandwiches, tuna a la king of toast, potato and egg gumbo, and Mama’s salmon croquettes. These items weren’t bad but they weren’t very enjoyable either. Well, after all, it was a time to fast and abstain, not a time to go searching for the biggest seafood meal that could be found. And now that I’ve had my say on the subject from my soapbox, I’ll tell you about some of the dishes that have long been a part of my Lenten repertoire. I consider them to be cleansing for the body as well as the soul. For the most part, they’re easy to prepare and a toss green salad is a fine accompaniment to most of them. Linguine with peppery white clam sauce
- Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed dried red pepper or a pinch of cayenne
- 1 (10 1/2-ounce) can chopped clams with juice
- 3/4 pound linguini, cooked according to package directions and drained, reserving
- 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- Grated Parmesan cheese, optional garnish
- Baked fish fillets
- Makes 4 servings
- 4 catfish fillets, each about 8 ounces
- 4 tablespoons plus 6 teaspoons butter
- Salt to taste
- Cayenne to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- 6 tablespoons bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- Lemon wedges for garnish
- Makes about 4 servings
- 1 large pizza bread crust
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce or commercial pizza sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped green onions (green part only)
- 1 pound peeled crawfish tails
- Salt and cayenne to taste
- 1/2 pound freshly grated mozarella cheese
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano leaves
- TUNA A LA KING
- Makes 2 servings
- 1/2 cup chopped onions
- 1/4 cup chopped bell peppers
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 (6 1/8) can solid white tuna, undrained
- 1 can cream of mushroom soup
- 1/4 cup milk or water
- Pinch of dried thyme leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Hot sauce to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- Makes about 8 servings
- 2 pounds American or Cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
- 2 (15-ounce) cans white or green asparagus stalks
- Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne to taste
- 1 teaspoon Creole or coarse-grained mustard
- Thick slices of toasted French bread or brioche