When my ex-girlfriend and I used to cook together, we’d joke that we were doing Indo-Cajun—her parents are from Tamil Nadu, the southernmost state in India, and I am from Opelousas, a small town on the northern edge of Cajun country in South Louisiana. Our ingredients and our techniques were comparable, our creations Southern. Comparing notes we realized our respective cultures both eat rice, cook vegetables to death, favor meat-heavy dishes, love okra, drink coffee, and set mouths on fire.
For the past year, I’ve continued to think about and practice Indo-Cajun, though I’ve more often turned to Indian than Cajun and sought more vegetarian dishes. Also, as evidenced by the ex- above, my partner in cuisine has changed: she’s now a homemaker in Andhra Pradesh.
So this blog will be about cooking and eating Indo-Cajun, alone and with friends. There will also be a fair amount about drinking while cooking and eating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if posts on music, books, writing, art, long walks, bike rides, house buying, working, traveling, and socializing crop up. In other words, this blog will be about life, my life, in the place I call home: New Orleans.
Here’s a recipe for Swiss chard. The dish is neither Indian nor Cajun, but complements both. I was inspired to document it by a man in the grocery line asking, “What do you do with that?” And the day after that, my best friend shuddered at my mentioning greens, saying something like, “I can remember walking in my grandmother’s kitchen and smelling them…” Fill in the blank with boiled-vinegar slime yuckiness.
By the way, I’ve cooked spinach, turnip, mustard, collard, and beet greens like this, all with delicious results. I introduce to you:
Stir-Fried Swiss Chard
Red pepper flakes
Shallots, chopped (optional)
At least a head of garlic, peeled and pounded
About 1 ½ inches of ginger, peeled and pounded
Two bunches of Swiss chard, washed
Freshly-ground black pepper
1. Cut the stems away from the leaves of the Swiss chard. Chop the stems in about ½ inch pieces and coarsely chop the leaves. Place the stems and leaves in separate bowls.
2. Heat a wok or other heavy pot over high heat. Pour the oil until it almost covers the bottom.
3. When the oil is hot, add the red pepper flakes. Stir a few times.
4. Add shallots and stir until translucent. (Optional)
5. Add the garlic and stir a few times.
6. Add the ginger and stir a few times.
7. Add the Swiss chard stems and stir fry continuously for several minutes.
8. Add salt and black pepper.
9. Add the Swiss chard leaves, stir frying until just wilted. Turn off heat.
10. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with rice. If you’re fixing two dishes, serve with a bean or meat entrée.
Notes on preparation:
Separate the garlic cloves. For easy peeling, smash one-by-one with the heel of your hand on a large knife.
Peel or scrape the ginger skin away with a spoon. Don’t use a peeler. (If you saw my uneven pointer finger, you’d understand why.)
Stir fry with two spoons, or a spoon and a fork, preferably wooden.
Freshly-ground black pepper is the only way to go. Please, people, don’t mess with perfection.