Ten weeks into having adopted a pandemic lifestyle, my daily routine has become so predictable that the only shake-ups occur at mealtimes.
Twists, spins and riffs on classic dishes are welcome diversions in otherwise boring days that keep me mainly at home and out of COVID-19’s way. The spice cabinet and a pantry of dry goods are my toys. Cookbooks are my BFFs. The kitchen is the playground.
Salad has a place at my table at least once a day, so when I opened the pages of Alexander Smalls’ new “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen” (Flatiron Books, $35) to find Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons, complete with a Creole-inspired dressing, I marked it for my next lettuce playdate.
The James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur calls for a mélange of fresh corn, red onion and crunchy cornbread croutons on a bed of crisp romaine. It gets tossed in a creamy dressing punched up with the onion-bell pepper-celery Creole trinity and a hit of cayenne.
There’s one other ingredient that Smalls called for: okra. He seasons the spears with cayenne, soaks them in buttermilk for 15 minutes, dredges them in a mix of cornmeal and rice flour, then fries them in a cast-iron skillet. This fellow okra addict would have loved to have crowned my Caesar with some fried okra. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get my hands on any, and driving around town in search of 2 cups’ worth of okra isn’t a prescription for quarantine cooking.
This Caesar is delicious even without okra. Smalls noted that you can bulk up the salad with shrimp, chicken or duck. I’ll add that you might even want to bring the shaker of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning to the table. Anything to mix things up is music to my ears.
Creole Caesar Salad with Cornbread Croutons
Creole Caesar Dressing
Adapted from “Meals, Music, and Muses: Recipes From My African American Kitchen” by Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2020 by Alexander Smalls. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.
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