Cajun Chickpea Cakes

For someone raised in the desert Southwest, I have an inexplicably great affinity for Cajun cuisine. Though I’ve never been to Louisiana (or anywhere in the South except Jacksonville, Florida and a brief weekend in Oxford, Mississippi) I harbor rich fantasies about eating crispy beignets in the shade of a cypress tree while jazz music floats through the air. Admittedly, most of this probably stems from visits to New Orleans Square in Disneyland…so my dreams of Cajun culture may not be the most authentic.

Still, I know there’s authenticity to my love of Cajun food. Case in point: recently, a new seafood restaurant opened in our neighborhood. I had no particular interest in trying it, but kept hearing rave reviews. Once my husband and I finally visited, I discovered it was a Cajun seafood restaurant, with some of the best Cajun catfish I’ve ever had. Now it’s our favorite spot for a lunch date. There’s something about the mix of spices with flaky breading and hot fish that is piquant perfection, if you ask me.

Though Cajun food often centers around fish or meat fried in oil, it can also easily be made vegetarian, and it doesn’t have to be a grease-fest. Take these Cajun Chickpea Cakes. They pack the sublime flavor for which Cajun food is famous in a fiber-rich, lower-fat package. After tinkering with this recipe for years, I think it’s finally ready for prime time. Served with dirty rice, these cakes are a unique, flavorful vegetarian meal!

Not only are these Chickpea Cakes quite healthy as is, full of veggies and beans, they’re easily modified for dietary restrictions. Need a gluten-free meal? Sub cornstarch for the flour. Going vegan? Replace the egg with 1 Tablespoon flax seeds + 3 Tablespoons water. You can also feel free to experiment with the spices to achieve whatever level suits your taste.

P.S. Fun trivia: did you know the word “Cajun” is a shortening of the term “Acadian”? Acadians were French immigrants who initially settled in Canada and the Northeastern U.S. (which is why Acadia National Park is in Maine) but eventually migrated south to Louisiana.

Nice of them to bless American culture with their delicious food traditions!


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Cajun Chickpea Cakes
A unique vegetarian main dish with all the flavor you expect from Cajun cuisine!
Cuisine cajun
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Cuisine cajun
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add diced celery, onion, and green pepper and saute about 5 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and reserve skillet.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mash drained chickpeas until only some chunks remain (you don't want them super mushy). Add sautéed vegetables and all remaining ingredients. Mix until the mixture begin to hold together. Add more flour if necessary.
  3. Form mixture into 1/2 thick patties (should make about 8).
  4. Heat remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium/medium-high in the same nonstick skillet you used for the veggies. Add patties and cook about 3 minutes per side or until browned and crispy. Serve immediately (especially good with dirty rice)!
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Miratel Solutions.

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Harvest Chopped Salad

Back in September, I posted about the chopped salad that was my top choice for my birthday dinner. Since then, I’ve been overwhelmed at the amount of attention that post got! I guess the internet was hungry for the funky-but-delicious combo of smoked salmon, dried sweet corn, cranberries, and arugula (among other ingredients) topped with a creamy pesto dressing.

Writing about–and eating–the Stetson Chopped Salad got me thinking of other variations on the theme of salad ingredients layered neatly in rows. I mean, really, you can’t go wrong with a chopped, layered salad. It’s just so dang appealing, with its colorfulness, its order, and its symmetry. This Harvest Chopped Salad featuring apples, pears, cranberries, pecans, bacon, and blue or goat cheese is the product of these recent salad daydreams.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, either.

Not long ago, I started volunteering on a monthly basis as a cooking demonstrator at my local Natural Grocers. It’s a fun volunteer activity, but it’s tougher than you might think coming up with recipes that are 1.) gluten-free (Natural Grocers keeps a gluten-free kitchen), and 2.) conducive to demonstration. When you watch the Food Network, you don’t really notice that TV allows for time-lapsing cooking, or simply producing a finished version of something that took who-knows-how-long to cook or bake. In the real world, it’s not that easy. Like, if I’m demo’ing a recipe with roasted vegetables, uhhhh, what do I talk to my audience about for 45 minutes while the oven does its job?

Awwwwwwkwaaaaarrrrd.

So for the purposes of my October demonstration, the Harvest Chopped Salad is a saving grace. And maybe it will be for you, too, some autumn weeknight. There may be quite a bit of slicin’ and dicin’, but this recipe requires no lengthy cook time and can get dining-ready in no more than 30 minutes.

In fact, this recipe seems to be such a winner that I was contacted by someone at Natural Grocers’ corporate office to ask if it could be featured on their website! Of COURSE, I said! (Link coming soon.)

If you live in the Phoenix area, join me for my demo (and samples!) of this yummy fall main dish this Thursday, October 19th, at 6:30 at the Natural Grocers at 2151 E. Baseline Rd. in Gilbert.

 


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Harvest Chopped Salad
A hearty fall salad that's as tasty as it is pretty!
Instructions
  1. On a large platter or five individual plates, spread romaine in a single layer.
  2. Cover with layered rows of bacon, pecans, crumbled cheese, diced apple, diced pear, and dried cranberries.
  3. Serve with purchased poppyseed dressing drizzled on top or on the side.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe, loosely based on this recipe from Iowa Girl Eats.

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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

How about a little tuber education? As I was thinking about this recipe for BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes, I started doing some research to answer an age-old question: what’s a sweet potato, and what’s a yam? Imagine my surprise when I read in this authoritative article that “sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t even have a lot in common.”

WHAT.

Apparently, what I think of as regular old sweet potatoes–the oblong, orange-fleshed vegetables in these photos and commonly found on your Thanksgiving table–are merely “soft” sweet potatoes, as opposed to “firm” sweet potatoes, which have a golden skin and white flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have a black, bark-like skin and purple or red flesh.

And can we just take a moment to say that “flesh” is not the greatest word to describe anything edible.

Regardless of terminology, however, these BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes are one of my new favorite fall dinners. They’ve got a lot going on: potatoes baked to tender perfection meet sweet barbecue chicken and stretchy melted Monterey Jack (plus some spinach thrown in for extra nutrition). With veggies, starch, and protein all in one package, I’m content to call them a one-dish dinner–or round out the meal with a loaf of rustic bread. They’re also a clever way to use up leftover barbecue chicken, or to make a double-duty dinner out of a large batch of crock pot barbecue chicken earlier in the week.

So whether you call them soft sweet potatoes, firm sweet potatoes, yams, or just “the orange ones,” I think you’ll be calling them a recipe to repeat once you give them a try.


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BBQ Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are baked to tender perfection and topped with BBQ chicken, spinach, and melty Monterey Jack in this fall favorite!
Instructions
  1. Place chicken breasts in a slow cooker. Top with 1/4 c. barbecue sauce and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove chicken, drain of excess liquid, and shred. Return to slow cooker, stir in remaining 1/2 c. barbecue sauce, and cook an additional 15-30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash sweet potatoes and prick with a fork. Bake about 45 minutes or until potatoes are tender.
  3. While potatoes are cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add spinach and saute until wilted, 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Remove potatoes from oven and slice in half lengthwise. Line a baking sheet with foil and place potatoes on it. Mash potatoes lightly and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Top with wilted spinach and shredded chicken. Shred Monterey Jack directly onto potatoes.
  5. Return to oven and bake an additional 5 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Half Baked Harvest.

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Roasted Chickpea Pitas

I think if I were a chickpea, I wouldn’t be very happy. Poor chickpeas. They’re always getting mashed, pounded, and ground up for things like hummus and falafel, or playing second fiddle as a side dish to meat. It’s rare that you eat anything in which chickpeas in their whole, unadulterated form take center stage. Can’t we give these little guys their time to shine?

Why yes, we can, in the form of Roasted Chickpea Pitas!

This tasty vegetarian Mediterranean meal features whole chickpeas roasted in a piquant blend of seasonings and paired with caramelized red onions. Finished off with some spinach, tomato, and creamy tzatziki sauce in a whole wheat pita, it’s a super healthy choice for dinner or a one-dish lunch. Every time I eat it, even without adding a side, it keeps me full for hours–probably because of all the “good carbs” found in the whole wheat and beans. Plus, chickpeas contain plenty of protein and even a little unsaturated fat. Can you really go wrong by adding more of them to your diet?

So if I were a chickpea, I’d like to think I’d approve of this recipe (even though I’d have to be roasted in a 400 degree oven). Worth it.


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Roasted Chickpea Pitas
Spiced roasted chickpeas and cool tzatziki sauce make a hearty filling in these pitas.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
For the roasted chickpeas:
Instructions
Make the chickpea filling:
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, stir together chickpeas and sliced red onions. Pour olive oil and all spices over the mixture, stir to toss, and spread on the prepared baking sheet. Bake 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through baking.
Make the tzatziki sauce:
  1. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki sauce by combining all ingredients in a small bowl.
Assemble the pitas:
  1. Assemble the pitas by filling them with the chickpea mixture, tzatziki sauce, spinach, tomato, and/or feta.
Recipe Notes

Inspired by Live Eat Learn.

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Stetson Chopped Salad

If you follow A Love Letter to Food on Facebook, you may have seen this picture before. (And if you haven’t liked my Facebook page yet, I’d be most honored if you would!) A few days ago was my birthday, and as an avid–or obsessive, depending on how you look at it–home cook, I typically would rather make something truly spectacular at home for my birthday dinner than go out. This Stetson Chopped Salad was THE ONE dinner I knew would be birthday-worthy this year.

What is a Stetson Chopped Salad? (And who in their right mind chooses a salad for their birthday dinner?) Well, in the Phoenix area, the Stetson is a local food celebrity. It’s pretty impressive for any salad to attain celebrity status, but somehow, sometimes, it happens. After all, you’ve heard of Cobb, Waldorf, and Wedge. These famous salads are like the old Hollywood starlets of healthy American cuisine. Classic, standard, glam. The Stetson Chopped Salad, on the other hand, is like the up-and-coming Western girl hitting the big time. Its humble origin lies with Cowboy Ciao, a restaurant located, appropriately, on Stetson Drive in Scottsdale.

A few years ago, some friends had us over for dinner and served a homemade version of the Stetson. It was an edible work of art, with a taste no less extraordinary than the presentation. But we definitely found ourselves in “why-do-these-flavors-go-together-this-makes-no-sense” territory. Who the heck thought of putting sweet (dried currants) with savory (corn and tomatoes) with smoked salmon and a creamy basil dressing?

IT MAKES NO LOGICAL SENSE.

But trust me, there’s a reason this salad is famous. You just have to go with it. And when you do, you’re gonna be like…

Even when my husband and I eventually ate at Cowboy Ciao and of course ordered the “real” restaurant version, it didn’t quite compare to the one our friend had made. (She is a trained chef, so that probably helped.) With this memory in mind, I made my own birthday version, and it was indeed an awesome mix of flavors, textures, and visual appeal. Definitely a salad worth choosing for a special occasion.

Oh, and the other reason I chose salad for my birthday? Cause I knew this was coming afterward!

Raspberry Almond Layer Cake for dessert definitely rounded out the birthday meal experience. 🙂


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Stetson Chopped Salad
You'll be amazed at how this unusual combination of flavors makes for a totally crave-worthy salad!
Instructions
Assemble the salad:
  1. Spread arugula leaves evenly on a large, flat platter. Cover with layered rows of couscous, salmon, pepitas, sweet corn, cranberries, and tomatoes.
Make the dressing:
  1. Combine all dressing ingredients in a measuring cup and mix with an immersion blender until smooth.
  2. Mix salad tableside, if desired, and serve with dressing on the side.
Recipe Notes

Based on this recipe from Key Ingredient.

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