What is Creole anyway? Lots of people confuse Creole and Cajun because they are both Louisiana food traditions. But, they aren’t the same thing. They have similarities, sharing many flavor principles, however.
First, Cajun. The ancestral food tradition is Acadian, from what is now the Maritime Canadian provinces and parts of Quebec. Acadians were French colonists. They were driven out of Acadia by the British in the 18th century and many settled in Spanish Louisiana. Here, they became Cajun, adapting to a totally new pantry of ingredients: crawfish (not unlike the lobsters of their most recent homeland), local fish and game, peppers (both sweet and spicy), and rice. Like Creole, they adapted many culinary traditions from both the French and the local Native Americans. Cajun is the cuisine of the bayous of Louisiana. It’s bold, it’s rich, and like Cajun Zydeco, a lot of fun.
Creole cuisine is the cuisine of New Orleans. If you have never been to New Orleans, you need to go. It’s got a thoroughly unique vibe. The food is exceptional. Creole borrows heavily from the traditions of fine French cuisine. But, in the melting pot known as New Orleans, French is only one of the cuisines adding to the charm of Creole. You have the “Holy Trinty,” Creole’s answer to mirepoix. In Creole, it’s composed of onions, celery, and green peppers, not the traditional French combo of onions, celery, and carrots. Then there’s a healthy dose of garlic, which is called “The Pope,” giving you a sense of how important it is. Garlic? Classic French cuisine doesn’t emphasize garlic. But, the Spanish and the Italians do, both represented in New Orleans. West Indian and African cuisine played a part too, bringing okra and the hearty spiciness (definitely NOT part of classic French cuisine). It’s one big delicious melting pot of food representing the melting pot of cultures in New Orleans.
Cabbage Creole. The dish itself says melting pot. Cabbage is very French. How well loved is cabbage in France? A term of endearment is “mon petit chou” which means “my little cabbage.” The Creole part is the use of their version of mirepoix plus some garlic and a touch of cayenne (or more than a touch, you decide).
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon drippings
1 medium green pepper, cored and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium cabbage, cored and chopped
1 15-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained (or 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes)
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Heat the fat in a large skillet (cast iron is the material of choice in Creole cooking) over medium-high heat. Add green pepper, onion, and celery. Sauté until vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in remaining ingredients. Lower heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes until cabbage is tender. Check for salt before serving.