Check out Nita discussing her healthy cooking tips live on WWL-TV, channel 4, tomorrow at 8:00 A.M.!
Nita Duhe, owner of Crescent City Cooking School and Store in the Riverwalk Marketplace, remembers cooking with her grandfather as the foundation of all of her traditional cooking knowledge. “When I was young, people did not think about what they were eating, and [they] were not very health-conscious,” says Nita. “My grandfather used bacon grease or lard for his roux and lots of butter for étouffée, oyster soup and other traditional dishes.” It wasn’t until Nita left for college when she began to realize how much fat was in the Cajun and Creole diet. In college, she lost 15 pounds just from not eating her usual Southern-style home cooked meals. Among her college friends, Nita was known as “mom” because she took responsibility for making the daily meals. At that time, she began working on ways to cut the unhealthy elements from her grandfather’s recipe and substitute the fatty ingredients with healthier alternatives, all while keeping the spicy Louisiana flavor.
Today, Nita teaches her students her secrets for healthy Creole and Cajun cooking. She starts form the very first step- the roux. “Most Southern foods start off with a roux and the best way to slim it down is to cut the bacon grease, butter or lard and use grape seed oil or safflower oil instead,” Nita explains, “If you prefer using the unhealthy oils, just reduce the amount of oil used in your roux,” which Nita calls making a “light” roux. She also suggests browning the roux in the oven carefully, which requires no oil at all. “Whenever there is something unhealthy in a recipe, there is always a healthy alternative,” says Nita. Though there is no doubt that the fatty oils and grease give a dish an unbeatable taste, there are other ways to make it “light” than just using alternatives. Nita recommends putting the dish in the freezer after it is prepared, this will cause the fat to separate to the top layer of the food which can be removed before serving.
Another quick way to cut the calories is to replace fattier meats such as sausage, pork and ham, with leaner meats like turkey, fish and chicken. “I recommend purchasing Cajun seasoned chicken or turkey sausage as your replacement to pork sausage. It could seriously fool anyone because the flavor is all in the Cajun seasoning,” Nita confirms.
Nita loves to make a special vegetarian jambalaya, which is made with brown rice, beans and Portobello mushrooms. “If you really want meat in your jambalaya, again use turkey sausage or chicken breast,” she says. To get the smokey flavor back into the dish, Nita uses bacon hot sauce (sold at her store) which surprisingly has no bacon in it!
Some other tips include using brown rice instead of white processed rice, doing a recipe with ¼ the amount of butter or oil, or using a wrap instead of French bread for your po-boys, which maintain the flavor but cuts the processed bread from the diet. Nita also mentions that most people also do not know you can cook your barbeque shrimp with oil instead of butter, using about ¼ the suggested amount, and still maintain the flavor. Easy cooking methods like grilling shrimp instead of frying shrimp for po’boys can cut calories in half. When it comes to desserts, it can be very difficult to cut the sugar and butter from Southern desserts, so cut out the fat when you can (except for when you make pralines) and always eat with moderation.
Nita always recommends experimenting with recipes and consider creating a personal signature dish. For example, she has created the New Orleans Taco, which replaces the beef of a traditional taco with blackened catfish or shrimp and instead of black beans she uses red beans. You can garnish this with shredded cabbage, red onions and a little bit of remoulade sauce for added flavor.
According to Nita, anyone can still enjoy all their favorite Cajun and Creole recipes without all the unhealthy ingredients
For more information about Crescent City Cooking School go to www.crescentcitycooks.com or call 504-529-1600