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!
Cajun Chickpea Cakes
A unique vegetarian main dish with all the flavor you expect from Cajun cuisine!
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.
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.
Form mixture into 1/2 thick patties (should make about 8).
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)!
This recipe is one of those with a name too long for my blog’s title box parameters. If I had my way, I would call it “Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Cauliflower Soup with Goat Cheese,” but that’s, like, more characters than you can even fit in a Twitter post. When you’re a food lover and recipe developer, though, it’s kind of like being in love–when you find a great recipe, you want to shout from the rooftops about all its wonderful qualities (and the various ingredients that give it its complex flavor profile). You don’t want to leave anything out. With this soup, I want to tell the world that it manages to be both creamy and chunky, that it beautifully blends the boldness of roasted red peppers with the subtler flavor of cauliflower, and that it’s a perfect bowl of healthy vegetarian comfort on a cold winter’s night. But my title box on the blog can only take so many words, so let’s just call it by the abbreviated name “Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup.” Think of it like that Fiona Apple album that everyone just calls When the Pawn, when the real title is:
“When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might so When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right.”
You’re welcome for that.
At any rate, this soup is a whole food recipe you can feel good about in the midst of this season of indulgence. Make it a meal by serving with a side of crusty bread. And when you taste the mix of roasted red pepper, cauliflower, onion, garlic, spices, and goat cheese, you’ll understand what I mean about acknowledging every ingredient. Feel free to shout from your rooftop!
Creamy Red Pepper Cauliflower Soup
This vegetarian soup is both healthy and hearty!
Heat broiler to high and place red peppers, cut side down, on a baking sheet about 4 inches from the broiler. Broil until skins are mostly blackened, checking frequently, about 5-7 minutes. Place in a sealed container and let steam for 20 minutes. Peel off skins and dice peppers.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cauliflower in 1 Tbsp. olive oil and spread evenly on a baking sheet. Roast 20-30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.
Heat the other 1 Tbsp. in a stock pot over medium heat and saute the onion until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes and cook about 1 minute. Add diced red peppers, roasted cauliflower, broth, paprika, and goat cheese and simmer 10 minutes.
Puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender, stir in lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and serve.
Tell me if you’ve ever had this experience: it’s a weeknight and you’ve planned to make dinner. All best intentions–you grocery shopped, you got ingredients, you know more or less what you’re planning to make and how. But somehow you got home late from errands or got stuck on a phone call with the teacher or had to discipline whoever hit whom with a badminton racquet, and it’s suddenly 5:45 and you haven’t started a darn thing. The kids are starting to get hungry and so are you, and you think, Oh, forget it. There’s no way I can get dinner on the table in a reasonable amount of time. Let’s go out to eat.
You pile everyone in the car. You drive to some fast-casual restaurant you think won’t take too long and won’t break the bank….and 40 bucks and 90 minutes later you’re finally home, and NOW it’s almost bedtime and no one has started their homework. You heave a sigh and roll your eyes because, really, when all is said and done, there’s a nagging voice in your head going, “Wouldn’t it have just been faster and cheaper to eat at home?”
I’ve been there many, many nights. And finally, after years, I’m starting to actually learn from the experience. So when I meal plan, if I can build in at least one dinner that’s guaranteed to come together easily and fast, I can breathe easy knowing that the nights we dip into our restaurant budget (and our limited time) will get fewer and further between. These Double Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayo are one of my secret weapons.
I love this recipe because it doesn’t require anything to thaw or marinade or any do other activity that eats up chunks of time and requires pre-planning. Plus, most of its ingredients are things you just might have on hand at any given time. Two cans of beans? Check. Bread crumbs and spices? Check. As for the chipotle pepper in the spicy mayo, in a real dinner emergency, you could even do without it and use chili powder instead. (And if you do use the real pepper, you can always adjust the spice by cutting back to half a pepper instead of a whole.) And did I mention these burgers are a heckuva lot healthier than that In-N-Out calorie bomb you’re likely to pick up eating out? Just sayin’.
So from one busy weeknight meal maker to another, I pass the baton of these secret weapon bean burgers. Use it wisely for the triumvirate victory of time, cost, and health!
Double Bean Burgers with Chipotle Mayo
In a large bowl, mash the cannellini and black beans until smooth with some chunks. Add garlic, cilantro, paprika, onion powder, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.
In a small bowl, combine egg, egg white, 1 Tbsp. olive oil, and panko bread crumbs. Stir into bean mixture until well combined.
With your hands, form mixture into six patties.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add patties and cook 4-5 minutes per side or until browned.
Meanwhile, make the chipotle mayo: using an immersion blender, combine all ingredients.
Assemble burgers topped with lettuce/spring mix and chipotle mayo.
Bean Burgers adapted from How Sweet Eats; Chipotle Mayo A Love Letter to Food Original.