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February 22, 2012

Client Cooking Class: Spirit of New Orleans

By: Morgan Davis, RD, LDN, Community Dietitian

This week, many people celebrated Mardi Gras, a time that has traditionally been known for splurging before the Lent season begins. Since most people recognize New Orleans as the quintessential place to celebrate Fat Tuesday, we decided to focus on Cajun-style cuisine in our fourth cooking class of this winter season.

When most people consider New Orleans, ‘healthy’ is not a word that typically comes to mind! However, Cooking Matters classes are about making delicious foods into nutritious foods – and we succeeded in making our Cajun menu healthy. 

Dessert First! We started with a commonly consumed New Orleans dessert – bread pudding.  To increase the nutritional value, we used semi-stale whole grain bread. Atiya helped mix the custard, which was made low in fat by whipping eggs with skim milk instead of cream. Warm and spicy nutmeg and cinnamon were added with a touch of vanilla and refreshing orange zest. The mixture was poured over the crusty bread and topped with raisins. We let our bread sit for an hour to soak and then baked it while Marsha mixed up a sauce made from honey and low-fat yogurt. The results were finger-licking good!

With dessert taken care of, we moved onto Jambalaya! Janell explained to the group that the holy trinity of Creole cooking consists of onions, celery and green peppers. Mark and Yasmeen showed off their amazing knife skills chopping the veggies. Tikanah added some heat and flavor with cayenne and dried herbs. Turkey sausage, tomatoes and garlic were then tossed into the pot. We let the jambalaya simmer and flavors combine into a warm and comforting masterpiece. While most jambalaya is served with rice, we introduced a wholesome grain that was new to most of the class; cooked barley was added before our delicious one-pot meal was served.

A good way to ensure that your meal is a healthy is to assess the amount of color on your plate. We brightened our meal with some Cajun-spiced greens. Janell demonstrated how to make a homemade Cajun blend which was mixed into sauteed mushrooms, red peppers and purple onions. Bright green kale was added and cooked until it started to wilt. Making sure not to overcook greens ensures that many of the nutrients will be retained.

Our last dish is a southern staple. I educated the class on the origins of shrimp & grits. Low-fat cheddar was added to cooked quick grits while we got started on the shrimp. Garlic was cooked over low heat to let the pungent flavor turn mellow as it infused through the oil. We then turned up the heat and added the shrimp.  The sizzling sound and smell of garlicky shellfish was a treat to our senses. Dianne helped mix in our homemade Cajun seasoning. Once the shrimp turned opaque, Flora tossed in the scallions she chopped and we topped our cheesy grits with our scrumptious spiced shrimp. 

The class agreed that although we altered some traditional recipes to increase the health benefits of our meal, we were still left with flavors worthy of a Mardi Gras Soiree! 

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