Dining in French Alphabet: North America and Northern Caribbean Islands Edition

About two years ago on this blog, I did a rhyming French food alphabet post for Bastille Day.

It was a lot of fun, and I knew I had to follow up with a “French Colonies” edition, with a focus on North America and surrounding islands: Haiti (H), Louisiana (L), and Quebec (Q). Each line is followed by the appropriate letter so you know which state, or country, created what food.

In Haiti, French foodways met African, Taíno, Spanish, and Middle Eastern ones.

In Louisiana, French foodways met West African, Spanish, Caribbean, Amerindian, German, Italian, and Irish.

In Quebec, French foodways met Irish, English, and Indigenous ones. Because Quebec has a cold climate, its signature foods have a ‘wintry’ personality: rich soups, smoked meats, and meat pies, all things you eat to stay satiated and warm in the snow when nothing is growing.

French has lots of B, C, D, G, L, and M words, and its relatives in North America and in the Caribbean are very similar. I was hard pressed to find K, N, U, W, and X food words, so I went with nearby foods or food regions for this alphabet.

A is for Andouille. It’s a spicy smoked pork sausage that’s chewy. (L)

B is for Beignets. They are fried dough squares. Once you’ve tried them, it’s hard to stay away. (L)

B is also for Bananes Foster. This sautéed banana, sugar and rum dessert gets lots of fanfare. (L)

C is for Cipalle. It’s a hearty meat pie. So try some, don’t be shy. (Q)

C is also for Callaloo. It’s a dark leafy vegetable used in side dishes for flavor, not frou frou. (H)

D is for  Dieu du Ciel. It’s a brewer known for distinctive beers. (Q)

D is also for DjonDjon. It’s a black mushroom lending color and flavor to rice–‘quite a phenomenon!  (H)

E is for Étouffée. It’s a seafood soup surrounding piled rice that’s great anyday. (L)

F is for Filé. It’s ground sassafras tree leaves used as an herb, without delay. (L)

G is for Gumbo. It’s an okra and seafood stew. It’s so tasty, order yours “jumbo.” (L)

G is for Gibelotte. It’s a fish and vegetable stew once tasted, cannot be forgot. (Q)

H is for Holy Trinity. It means a Cajun flavor base of green pepper, onion, and celery. What are roughly chopped flavor bases called in françoise? Why, “mirepoix!”  (L)

H is for Hoppin’ John. Legend has it, it’s corruption of “pois pigeon.” It’s Lowcountry* black eyed peas, bacon, and rice gobbled up before NYD is gone. (L; South)

I is for I. It means winter, a time for savoring cinnamon and anise spiced hot chocolate, or Chokola Peyi. (H)

J is for Jambalaya. It’s a spicy mixed meat, vegetable, and rice dish that can set your mouth on fire. (L)

J is for Joumou. It means pumpkin or squash, an excellent soup base, who knew? (H)

K is for Kelowna. It’s town amongst vineyards and orchards in western Canada. (C)

K is for Kenep***. It’s a green cousin of a lychee fruit, eaten sunset and sun-up. (H)

L is for Lagniappe. It’s something extra, given sans flap. (L)

L is also for Labrapen. It’s a seeded breadfruit to be enjoyed again and again. (H)

M is for Maque Chou. It’s corn kernels, tomatoes, and spices, isn’t that cool? (Q)

M is also for Mayi Moulen. It’s a cornmeal dish that isn’t fooling. (H)

N is for Natchitoches. It’s a handheld meat, vegetable and spice turnover for snacking, if you wish.  (L)

O is for Oysters. It’s fried shellfish in a po’ boy sandwich. Have  an Abita to quench your thirst.  (it’s “ersters” in L; Harry Connick Jr. showcased his NOLA roots in his version of “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.”)

O is also for Oysters Bienville. These shellfish are cooked with shrimp, sherry, garlic, and bechamel sauce on top, if you will.

P is for Poutine. Eating too many french fries smothered in gravy and cheese won’t keep you lean.  (Q)

P is for Pistolettes. It’s a beignet stuffed with seafood casserole you won’t forget.  (L)

P is for Pickliz. They are fermented vegetables made ahead and served with ease.  (H)

Q is for Québécois. It means food of Quebec,  in all its je ne sais quoi.  (Q)

Q is also for Queues de Castor (“Beaver Tail”). It’s a flat wide pastry with cinnamon and sugar allure.   (Q) 

R is for Roux. It’s a fat and flour base for sauces, enhancing flavor right on cue.

R is for Remoulade**. It’s a spicy sauce offered for your applause. (Q)

R is for Riz DjonDjon. It’s a rice and black mushroom dish that doesn’t last long. (H)

S is for Soupe aux Pois. It’s a yellow pea soup flavored with ham hock. Vóila!  (Q)

T is for Tourtière. It’s a meat pie with spicy flair.  (Q)  

T is also for Tassot. It’s spicy fried strips of meat; it could be seasoned with cayenne sauce, like Tabasco. (H)

U is for the UGLI. It’s a large, teardrop citrus fruit from Jamaica, which neighbors Haiti. Could they grow these tangelos in Haiti? I would think so, but you might not agree. (H)

V is for Viande. It means smoked meats that blow expectations and beyond. (Q)

W is for Watercress. It’s a leafy vegetable fixture in salads and soups, that adds finesse. (H)

X is for Xavier. This consommé soup blends simple ingredients (stock, eggs, and herbs) with flair.

Y is for Yogout. It means yogurt, which is often blended with fruit.  (H)

Z is for Zaboca. It means avocado, a vegetable with fresh aroma. (H)

Z is also for Zeste, a Québécois food channel, if I may suggest. (Q) [To enjoy authentic Quebec cooks creating delicious dishes, check it out here.]

*Lowcountry means coastal South Carolina and Georgia in the USA, not to be confused with Europe’s “Low Countries” = Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg (Benelux) in Europe. “Hoppin’ John” has many interpretations around the South and the Caribbean, changing out the beans used to suit tastes or availability. Hoppin’ John is eaten with collards on New Years Day for luck and good fortune the rest of the year.

***=keneps are also called ginips and chennets around the world.

Sources:

Sugie Bee blogspot 

The Accidental Cajun  

Real Cajun Recipes

Linda’s Cooking Dictionary 

Haitian Food Dictionary 

Uncornered Market blog, From Pwason to Pikliz (a post on Haitian food)

Quebec City Winter Carnival Food 

Captain’s Logs blog 

Canadian Living: A Roadtrip of Quebec’s Must Taste, Must Sip and Must See 

Cooks Info 

The Holy Trinity of Cajun Cooking

What are….Tahini Benne Wafers?

I thought it would be interesting to try tahini in the Lowcountry classic, the benne wafer, in lieu of butter. I am BakingKookys, after all. Today I brought these Tahini Benne Wafers to a lunch meeting.

People tried the cookies. But I learned that not many people knew what tahini or a benne wafer was.

But that’s okay, because:

  • In Charleston, just about everybody is from somewhere else anymore, so I wouldn’t expect non-natives to know our foodways.
  • Food is something we all share, yet it’s full of mysteries. Food has a boundless vocabulary.

Food education is one of the reasons I started this blog.

I think it’s safe to say if you like nut flavors, you will like tahini.

Tahini is sesame seed paste. It’s much like creamy peanut butter, but imagine sesame seeds were used instead of peanuts. When you buy a jar or can of tahini,  its oil has separated from the drier, thicker paste. Before using it, you will want to stir it up to redistribute the oil with the paste.  [You’ve probably noticed your peanut butter develop a pool of oil on top if you haven’t used it for a few weeks, too.]

You can also make your own tahini with a bag of sesame seeds and food processor. Just pour them in, put on the lid and grind away. Store the liquid in a bowl. It does not have to be refrigerated and it never spoils.

If you wish to buy a jar or can of tahini at a local US supermarket, it is usually in the same aisle as other foreign specialty packaged foods. In the South, the Mexican, Chinese, Thai, Indian and Israeli packaged foods are shelved all on one row. Tahini is also available online at Amazon.

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And what are benne wafers? They are crunchy sesame seed cookies created in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. “Benne” is the Bantu word for the sesame seed; as you may have guessed, benne wafers are an African creation, like Charleston’s sweetgrass baskets.

For traditional Benne wafers, whole sesame seeds are toasted in the oven on a foiled cookie sheet. I toasted mine at 400ºF for less than a minute. Once they were cool, I poured them into a small bowl.

In a separate small bowl, mix the wet ingredients: half a stick (or 4 tablespoons) of unsalted butter; 1 beaten egg; 1 teaspoon lemon juice; and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. In a separate larger bowl, combine the dry ingredients: 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon baking powder, and 1/2 cup of bread flour.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Stir. Last, add the toasted sesame seeds. Stir until the seeds are evenly distributed. Then roll out two 6″ disks of dough between 2 sheets of wax paper. Ch them for 1/2-1 hour. Cut out circles (or another desired shape) and place on a cookie sheet. Bake at 325ºF for 15 minutes each. Allow to cool, then serve.

For my Tahini Benne Wafers, I replaced the butter with 4 tablespoons of tahini. The cookies had a very rich sesame flavor. Next time, I may attempt other shapes.

NOTE: The sesame seed is high in protein and many nutrients. Rather than indulging in an afternoon sugar fix that will only make you sleepy later, seeds, nuts, and nut spreads like tahini, provide lasting energy.

Tahini is also used in hummus along with crushed chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), fresh minced garlic, and other herbs. Hummus is a dip served with toasted pita bread as an appetizer at Greek, Lebanese, and Middle Eastern-themed restaurants.