Friday, February 28, 2014

Celebrating Louisiana's Latin culture and cuisine

            Latino culture has long been a part of New Orleans and Louisiana culture and history, influencing many segments of society, including our cuisine. Food historian Zella Palmer Cuadra researched this little-known — or better yet little discussed — history and showcases our Latino heritage in “New Orleans con Sabor Latino:The History and Passion of Latino Cooking.”
            After a fascinating history that poses New Orleans as more of a Caribbean city, she profiles several New Orleans Latinos and their experiences with both the city and its cuisine. There’s Alexey Marti, a Cuban immigrant who performs with his band Urban Mind; socialite Margarita Bergen from Santo Domingo; Kid Chef Eliana, a 13-year-old of diverse genealogy who’s already written two cookbooks; and Edgar M. Sierra Jimenez of Columbia, waiter at K’Paul’s. They and others are interviewed documentary style, with recipes that exemplify their Latin influences.
            Dishes run the gamut, many typical Louisiana dishes with a Latin flare, some more traditional to their origins. The author offers a few herself that made me want to wave a wand and have them instantly appear, recipes such as Southern fried chicken with mojo gravy and Chicago Puerto Rican Po’Boy with Grillades.
            Here’s a Banano de Foster a lo Latino, or Bananas Foster Latin Style, from Jimenez, one the author suggests is just as good using plantains, which I think is a marvelous idea. As a did-you-know, New Orleans used to be banana central, importing billions of bananas over the years by the United Fruit Company.

Bananas Foster Latin Style
From “New Orleans con Sabor Latino: The History and Passion of Latino Cooking”
4 ripe blackjack plantains (plantains should be turning black but still be somewhat firm) 
1/2 cup of brown sugar
1/3 cup of unsalted butter
1/4 cup of dark rum
1/4 cup of banana liqueur
1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder
Good quality French vanilla ice cream
            Directions: Remove plantain peels and cut the plantains on a slant, about 1 inch in size. Sauté the brown sugar and butter, constantly stirring until caramelized. Add cinnamon and then the plantains. Add a little water so the plantains won’t stick. When the plantains begin to soften and cook down, add the rum carefully. Tilt the pan over the fire slightly to ignite the rum. When the flame subsides, add the banana liqueur and serve over two scoops of vanilla ice cream.

 Cheré Coen is a Lafayette freelance travel and food writer. She is the author of “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Tour of Historic Acadiana,” both from The History Press.