Whenever I’m home, I always make time to visit one of my favorite grocery stores to stock up on local staples. It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to sneak away from the family and traipse down the aisles collecting food stuff I can’t find in Atlanta and discovering new homegrown goodies. When we stay with my in-laws in Kenner, my typical stops are Dorignac’s, Zuppardo’s and Langenstein’s. These are the old guards of family-owned, neighborhood grocery stores. Crossing the threshold of one of these well-respected establishments is like stepping back in time. The aisles are tight, the shelves are cramped and the decor is dated. But the employees are super knowledgeable and friendly, the French bread and prepared local foods are always fresh and the beer and the liquor are always prominently displayed. Close by is also Robert’s Fresh Market. Robert’s has only been a part of the local grocery store scene for about 20 years. That’s baby years compared to the others. But they’ve done it right from the get-go with their neighborhood-oriented, full-service store.
When bunking with my mom or sister across Lake Pontchartrain on the Northshore, I like to visit Saia’s Super Meat Market and Rouses. Saia’s is another small, family-run grocery store that has what I consider to be one of the best meat counters in Greater New Orleans. It’s a full-service operation that offers some of the best trendy and old-school cuts (like 7-steaks and veal pockets). Saia’s also runs a busy lunch counter (Poor boys or fried chicken anyone?) and has an impressive wine and spirits selection at competitive prices. Rouses, on the other hand, is the largest locally owned grocery store chain in the area (probably even South Louisiana). It originated in the Houma-Thibodeaux area, about 60 miles outside of the city, and began dominating the New Orleans market following Katrina. Rouses offers all the conveniences of a major supermarket with the down home feel of a corner grocery store. And despite its size and market prominence, it serves as a major outlet for many Louisiana-grown and locally produced products. I like that–a lot!
If you’re not from New Orleans, you really should work one of these grocery store runs into your itinerary during your next visit. This type of shopping experience will give you a unique perspective of the New Orleans family food culture. It also makes for great people-watching. And you’ll discover that souvenir buys like Café du Monde Beignet Mix, Italian Olive Salad and Camellia beans are much cheaper at one of these grocery stores than at a French Quarter shop or the airport.
Speaking of Camellia beans, I never leave home without a duffel bag full of a variety of their products. During our last trip, back in June, I picked up two pounds each of red, pinto, Great Northerns, butter (big limas), green split peas and black beans. I know most people associate black beans with Latin cuisine. But they’re also a big part of Cajun cooking. Hence, the soup. While it will never replace my Red Beans and Rice Mondays, it’s been quite the hit on Saints’ Sundays and What-Am-I-Gonna-Make Wednesdays.
Cajun Black Bean Soup Recipe
1 pound dried black beans (preferably Camellia Brand)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound andouille sausage, sliced
1 pound tasso, diced
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/4 cup chopped celery
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
12 cups chicken stock or broth
2 bay leaves
1/4 green onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Lea & Perrins (Worcestershire sauce)
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
Salt and pepper
Sour cream, for garnish
Rinse beans thoroughly to remove excess dirt; pick over for stones. Place beans in a large bowl; cover with cold water and soak overnight. (Or quick-soak them: place beans in a large pot of cold water, bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove pot from heat, cover and set aside for 1 hour.) In a large, heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add sausage and tasso and sauté until browned. Add onions, bell peppers, celery, jalapeños and garlic; sauté until tender. Add soaked beans and liquid (“bean liquor”), chicken stock and bay leaves; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, partially cover pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 2 hours. Transfer 2 cups of the soup to a blender and puree until smooth; return to pot. Stir in green onions, Lea & Perrins, oregano, cayenne pepper and white pepper. Cook 15 minutes more. Serve garnished with sour cream, if desired. Makes 8-10 servings.