Cook this: New Orleans red beans & rice

Let’s not mince words here; I loved being on the road for six weeks. It felt good. And anyone who’s been following the adventure on Instagram has probably been able to work out that I loved the food, too. All. Of. The. Food.

But I’m not going to sit on the fence – my favourite food was in New Orleans. Hands down. In the words of the old guy who drove us to our hotel from the airport, “if you don’t like the food here, you just don’t like food!”

The regional cuisine of New Orleans is rich. It’s intense. It’s fun. But more than anything, it’s comfort food. I loved the po-boys, piled up to ridiculous heights. The gumbo was like a bowl of warm hugs. I wolfed down the fried crawfish and the pulled pork. But my favourite dish was red beans and rice.

It’s the traditional Monday night dinner of New Orleans, and it’s easy to see why; thick, creamy and full of flavour, with the added bonuses of being pretty simple to make, and super cheap. Having arrived home yesterday to less than summery weather (good work, Melbourne), we figured a good bowl of red beans and rice on Monday night would be the best way to ease our way back to reality. I used the recipe below, taken from the website of the New Orleans School of Cooking, where we were taught how to cook some other New Orleans classics earlier in the month.

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We’re on a bit of a post-holiday budget, so I made my version vegetarian – next time, I intend to make it using some type of smoked sausage that I plan on hunting down at Preston Market. Other than that, I followed the recipe to the letter, and was stoked that I’d bought some of Joe’s Stuff while we were over there – it’s a low salt, MSG free, all-purpose spice blend that’s pretty popular in New Orleans. Gives a nice taste and tiny bit of kick to your food. Good stuff. Alternatively, just look for an all-purpose spice mix at the supermarket, or even concoct your own!

A few notes…
– I soaked my beans for around 8 or 9 hours in total, and found that as they soaked up the water in the bowl, I kept adding more.
– I also kept the water after I drained the beans to use later in the process, in case it started to look a bit dry.
– I simmered my red beans for 3 hours; next time, I’ll probably give them a little longer, because most of the red beans we tried in New Orleans were a bit mushier than mine.
– Oh, and I forgot the parsley (hehe oops), but I added it into the leftovers I plan to eat for lunch tomorrow!
– This recipe makes 6 large serves, but will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days – left overs FTW!

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Eat here: Vegie Bar, Melbourne

Vegie Bar, Fitzroy, Melbourne
http://vegiebar.com.au/

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If you live in Melbourne and you haven’t eaten at this Brunswick St institution at least, like, twice, well then shame on you. This stalwart of the Fitzroy cafe scene has been dishing up internationally inspired meat-free dishes for around 20 years, looooong before the gluten-free, organic, vegan etc were “in.”

If you’re planning to visit for dinner, on a weekend, on a sunny day (or, heaven forbid, a combination of the three!), expect to wait in a line that often hangs out the door. Despite the fact that seating is available not only in the main “restaurant” as you walk in but also the little alcove area to the right, upstairs seating above the kitchen and a courtyard out to the left, it is ALWAYS packed, which speaks pretty highly to the quality of the food being served up in an area with other seriously good options.

The main menu had remained relatively the same over the last six or seven years I’ve been visiting, but my most recent visit, last weekend, showed some big changes. My previous favourite dish, the falafel roti wrap, was gone. I was upset. Really, really upset. You know when you go to a place just to eat a specific dish? Yeah, that was my dish. For under $10, you were facing a golden slab of roti bread filled with crispy shelled falafel that are some of the best I’ve had, as well as hommus, tzatziki, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and beetroot curls (below left). It’s been replaced with a falafel pita bread thing (right). It was basically the same thing, but the roti had been replaced with a soft pita bread (nice, actually), and the falafels were different. Spicier. Didn’t enjoy that part. It was nice, but I liked the old one better!

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The recent visit also saw us order another old favourite – the rice balls with satay sauce. These had also changed – they were bigger and better! Brown rice balls of deliciousness with a crunchy shell, much more flavour than the last time I had them there pre-change, and still the best satay sauce going around. Husband also got the lentil burger, drenched with more satay sauce. Messy, but good – however, he also preferred the old version of the burger.

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And just because it’s a “vegie” place, doesn’t mean you should skip dessert. These guys make two of my favourite desserts in Melbourne – their flourless chocolate cake and raw berry cheesecake. Beyond amazing, nothing different there, and absolutely enormous – bring your appetite, and bring a friend with an appetite, too.

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I’ve been eating at Vegie Bar for years now, as have a truckload of other people. The waiting for a table, sitting elbow-to-elbow with strangers, occasional mistake in getting the wrong order because it’s so damn chaotic are sometimes frustrating but have always been bearable because the food has always been so good. I wasn’t overly thrilled with the changes from this last visit, but I also recognise that not everything had changed, and that sometimes some changes are necessary. I’m looking forward to another visit, to try some other old favourites on the menu, and to see what else has changed!

 

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Eat here: Trippy Taco, Melbourne (Mexican)

Trippy Taco, Fitzroy, Melbourne
https://www.facebook.com/TrippyTaco

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

With humble beginnings as a music festival food stall, this place has been a bit of a hipster-and-vegetarian institution since it opened on Smith St in 2006. In 2011, it moved around the corner (and weirdly enough, to another suburb, from Collingwood to Fitzroy) and into a space with the ability to hold around twice as many people. Which is lucky, because I don’t think I’ve ever walked past this place and seen it quiet.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

As part of my sister’s birthday lunch movement (you can see our dessert here and follow her food adventures here), we decided to have a lunch session here. We made our way in early in order to beat the lunch rush (thank goodness), and took a while weeding through the many menu options – everything from burritos to taquitos, tacos to quaesedillas.  We settled on the tacos – the mixed meal (we both wanted to try both tacos).

What came out were two absolutely monstrous tacos, loaded up so high we could barely see the tortillas.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

They were, quite frankly, incredible. The tofu had enough of a kick without burning your mouth, and black beans were actually really tasty, and all the accompaniments were simple enough to work in perfect harmony with each other. The tortillas were soft and held together really well under the rest of it – we did, however, have to eat our tacos with a knife and fork, as they were wayyyy too big to contemplate moving lifting!! The best part of it though, I think, is the fact that it wasn’t oily, greasy, over the top, Mexican-by-numbers crap – we finished the meal full, without feeling heavy and sick. Perfect.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

There’s a reason this place has been so popular for so long – good service, great food, happy atmosphere, and definitely worth visiting over and again!

 

Trippy Taco on Urbanspoon

Cook this: Ricotta & eggplant pasta

The best part of doing the groceries at a market is the crazy amount of fresh ingredients you have to inspire your cooking! I tried this ricotta and eggplant pasta for lunch using all fresh ingredients purchased earlier in the morning from Preston Market.

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

To make this dish for two, I used…

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • salt
  • 1/2 brown onion
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • butter
  • 250g fresh pasta (can obviously use packet pasta, the fresh stuff just looked so good at the market!)
  • 200g fresh ricotta
  • 1 tbsp dried basil (from my Nonna – she grows and dries her own herbs!)

 

How to do it…

1. Lay a few sheets of paper towel in a shallow dish, dice the eggplant into 2cm pieces, put them in the dish and sprinkle with salt. Sit it aside for 30-60min, to draw out some of the moisture and take away the bitter taste eggplant can have. Then, pat the eggplant dry to remove any extra salt and moisture.

2. Finely dice the onion, and throw it onto a pot over medium heat with the oil and a little butter. Stir and cook until the onion becomes translucent, then add in the eggplant and basil, and cook for a minute or two, until the eggplant softens.

3. Throw it all into an oven proof cooking dish, along with a crushed garlic clove, and into the oven for 30 minutes at 180˚C, until the eggplant really softens and absorbs the garlic and onion flavours.

4. In the meantime, cook up and drain the pasta, then throw it back into the pot, along with the eggplant mixture (discard the garlic first!) and the ricotta, and stir over low heat until it’s all well combined and the ricotta is nice and creamy and evenly mixed through the pasta. Season with a little salt and pepper, and enjoy!