Did you know that different states have different official emblems? Many extend well beyond the familiar capitals, colors and flags. And some are rather interesting. Take for example, the tartan. Considering I’m fashion-challenged, I had no clue what a tartan was but I’ve come to learn it’s a type of plaid. As in fabric. And a bunch of states, including Louisiana, have an officially designated pattern. Oh, yes. The Pelican State’s tartan is this dark green and blue number that’s rather attractive. It’s called Louisiana Tartan. Many states also identify with a specific fossil. Petrified Palmwood for Louisiana, dating back to the state’s lush tropical forest days—well before my time. And I’m still having a hard time figuring out this next one. Both Louisiana and Missouri—yes, Missouri—make claim to the crawfish. Can anyone help me figure out the Missouri-“crayfish” connection? My suspicions start with the spelling and the fact that they actually list it as their state “invertebrate” (as opposed to Louisiana’s crustacean classification). Do they not eat them there? Because I can’t imagine ever telling someone, “We’re having ‘invertebrates’ for dinner!” There are also 14 states in the union that have an official vegetable. Louisiana is one of them, giving the sweet potato high honor. This, of course, is not to be confused with Louisiana’s official vegetable plant, the Creole Tomato. Researching these symbols is a cool way of learning about the cultural heritage and natural treasures of each state and gaining insight into specific foodways that help define a region—which brings me back to the sweet potato.
Sweet Potatoes are a big deal in Louisiana. They’ve been a part of the local diet for more than 200 years and a major cash crop since 1937, when the late Dr. Julian C. Miller and his team at the LSUAg Center developed a new variety which they began nationally marketing as “Louisiana yams.” They adopted that name to differentiate their attractive and exceptionally delicious orange-skinned, moist-flesh variety from the paler, drier, firm-fleshed types being grown on the East Coast. So, yes, you can blame Louisiana for coining that confusing term and fueling the whole national sweet potato-yam debate. But if you do, please make sure you also thank the fine folks of our state for continuing their sweet potato research efforts and for dishing out many amazing recipes that highlight the versatility of this powerhouse potato. And to that end, here’s my humble contribution. While it’s certainly not groundbreaking on either the R&D or recipe creation front, it is a comforting and flavorful way to showcase our lovely state vegetable.
Sweet Potato and Andouille Bisque Recipe
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 pound andouille sausage, casing removed and pulsed in food processor
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and black pepper
Thinly sliced green onions, for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place potatoes in a large bowl. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer potatoes to a large, rimmed baking sheet and roast until fork-tender, 25-35 minutes; set aside. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add andouille and cook, stirring frequently, until the fat is rendered and the sausage is browned. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Add onions to pan cook until tender, scraping the bottom of the pan to remove any brown bits. Add garlic, ginger, allspice and cayenne pepper; cook 2 minutes more. Stir in chicken stock or broth, bay leaf and roasted sweet potatoes. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Remove soup from heat. Remove and discard bay leaf. Puree soup until smooth using an immersion or regular blender (if using a regular blender, process soup in small batches to prevent a heat explosion). Return soup to desired temperature and stir in heavy cream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish individual servings with green onions. Makes 6 servings.