My father’s folks moved from New Orleans, Louisiana when he was a child and even though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, I grew up eating file gumbo with blue crabs, collard greens with spicy cha-cha relish, oyster dressing, shrimp balls, and cornmeal-crusted fried fish. But being a Cal Gal, I also loved eating tacos with guacamole made with avocados from our own tree, sweet, sticky figs straight from the backyard, homemade desserts and sauces from the fruits of the neighborhood peach, orange and lemon trees, and steamed artichokes from Castroville, the artichoke capital of the world. As I grew into adulthood, I learned to appreciate the numerous wine varietals of the Santa Barbara, Napa and Sonoma valleys and how to pair them with the fresh seafood off San Francisco coast.
When it was time to define a personal culinary point of view, it was very natural for me to marry my two childhood loves of Creole and California cuisines. My West Coast family did not have a problem with this concept, particularly because “California has been called the first fusion cuisine with its melting-pot culture of Mexican to the south, Asian to the north and international influence in the rest of the state”, according to Chef Sara Moulton. However, the Crescent City clan – ostensibly the owners of the Creole food concept – were at best, confused. A clear definition was needed.
To me, California Creole Cuisine takes the spices, love and pride of New Orleans food and fuses it with the natural goodness and freshness of California as well as the healthy lifestyles its residents. My signature dish is a California Jambalaya which uses a spicy Creole seasoning blend in tomato rice dish but trades chicken stock, chicken and andouille sausage for homemade vegetable broth and fresh seasonal veggies like mushrooms, eggplant, artichokes and squashes. I also prepare a Shrimp and Sausage Cheesecake made with reduced fat cream cheese and a specially-made chicken and bay shrimp sausage. The repertoire would not be complete without a good California red so I make a reduction with pinot noir, figs and red pepper flakes and drizzle it over a brie baked with a macadamia nut crust.
For me, this fusion is not confusing at all. It just tastes like home.
Source –PC Magazine July 2010
- ½ cup olive oil, divided
- Choice of 3-4 fresh seasonal vegetables, cut into large dices to total about 3 pounds such as mushrooms eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash, steamed artichoke hearts and/or bottoms (can use frozen)
- 4-5 tablespoons of your favorite Creole or Cajun seasoning, divided (I make my own blend with much less salt than retail blends)
- 3 cups diced onions
- 1 ½ cups diced celery
- 1 ½ cups diced green bell pepper
- Kosher salt or sea salt to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
- 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- 5 cups vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons low-salt onion dip mix (I use Penzey’s)
- 4 cups long grain rice
- 1 bunch chopped green onions
- In a large Dutch oven, heat half of the oil over medium heat. Add vegetables, starting with the densest, and sauté with half of the seasoning blend until completely coated and just heated through, about3-4 minutes. Transfer vegetables to a plate and cover to keep warm.
- In the same pot, heat remaining oil and then sauté onions, celery and green bell peppers with remaining seasoning blend until onions are translucent and soft, about 7 minutes. Add salt to taste if desired. Add garlic and sauté for one minute. Add tomato paste and stir until vegetables are completely coated. Add broth and onion dip mix and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, reduce heat and taste for seasoning, adding more Creole blend or salt as desired. Hint: You will want to over-season a bit to compensate for the rice. Add rice and return to boil. Once boiling, cover pot and reduce heat to simmer and cook for 15 minutes. You can also place in a 325 degree oven to cook.
- After 15 minutes, remove lid and add sautéed vegetables and green onions and quickly mix into rice with minimal turning. Replace lid and continue cooking 10 additional minutes. Hint: If rice is still hard, turn off heat (or remove from oven) and keep lid on the pot so that the rice can continue to steam cook and check every 5 minutes.