(It’s More than Just) Cooking with Liliane

On Saturday, I had the privilege to attend a cooking class taught by accomplished Haitian chef and storyteller Liliane Louis, author of When Night Falls, Kric! Krac! (Libraries Unlimited, 1999).The full menu included white rice, red beans puree, and Haitian legumes. A dozen students learned how to handle live crabs.

In the small kitchen, I was surrounded by scents—the colorful spices were dancing the merengue in the boiling pot, their sensual aroma engulfing me, taking me back to the happy days of my childhood, when I climbed on wooden chairs to watch Mother make the legumes on special occasions.

My friend Mahalia stood by the pot, smiling slightly, delighted by the piquant smells, and I stood next to her, taking feverish notes in a notebook labeled Haitian Cooking. Liliane moved efficiently around the room, from the table holding the ingredients, to the stove and the sink, and back again to the table.  She rinsed the ingredients in precise movements, cut the onions and peppers with expert hands.

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In addition to being an exceptional chef, Liliane is one of the founding members of Women Writers of Haitian Descent, Inc. (W.W.O.H.D.). She holds a master’s degree in Human Resources Development and Administration from Barry University. Well known as a mèt kont, or master storyteller, Liliane has presented programs in schools, libraries, and universities across the country. She is also the author of Zenga (2001), a children’s book, and she co-authored Pumpkin Soup is for Sunday (2010) with Dr. Cheryl Holder. Liliane received the 2006 Life Achievement Award from the state of Florida, Department of Cultural Affairs.

Dr Holder, showing Lilane's books to a student

Dr. Holder, showing Liliane’s books to a student

Liliane will soon be teaching cooking classes at the Miami-Dade Culinary Institute. Those interested should call 305-803-7430 or send an email to lilianelouis@hotmail.com

Here are the recipes we tried:

RED BEANS PUREE

2 cups of red beans or kidney beans
1 pinch of baking soda
4 cloves
Thyme to taste
3 tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of butter
Garlic and parsley to taste, crushed in pestle
Ground black pepper to taste
A piece of salted pork (optional)
May not need salt if pork is used

Directions:
Boil the beans  in about 9 cups of water with cloves, baking soda and salted pork. Cover half way, over medium heat until peas are tender.
Remove about half of the beans and puree it as you do mashed potatoes. Add some of the cooking liquid to the mashed beans, mix well and strain. Disregard the residue.
Return the puree to the ½ beans left in the pot. Reduce heat; add  garlic, parsley, and black pepper. Add some salt if needed.
Leave the puree on low heat until serving time. Should the puree become too thick, add a cup of boiling water.

WHITE RICE
2 cups of long grain white rice, well washed and drained
3 cups of water
1 tablespoon of salt or less
3 or 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil or olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed

Directions:
In a saucepan, combine  the water with the salt, the garlic, 2 tablespoons of oil and bring to a boil.  Add the rice, stir well. Cook on medium to high heat until the liquid is absorbed.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the remaining oil and cover the pan tightly. Cook 20 minutes.

IMG_0636

Thanks to my friend Mahalia Solages for sharing her notes for the HAITIAN LEGUMES recipe. For the complete recipe, well, I guess you’ll have to attend one of Liliane’s classes:

MAHALIA’S NOTES

Marinate beef by squeezing sour orange, limejuice and sprinkling with salt (best done over night).

If crabs are alive, place in freezer to numb them.

Cut carrots in thin slices. Mix with sliced red and green peppers, onions, tomatoes, celery, thyme and parsley. Place in a bowl. Set aside.

With a mortar and pestle, mash garlic, chopped celery and parsley. Add to meat. Season with pepper. Add extra virgin olive oil and a scotch bonnet pepper (whole). Place in a pot, set temperature on high. When you hear the meat sizzle, add hot water and stir. Monitor frequently as you will need to continue to add hot water and stir, never letting liquid fully evaporate. Process will take about 40 minutes or so until meat is browned tender/falling off bone. The liquid will be thickened and reduced.

Slice eggplant, cabbage, chayote. Place in a pot with two cups of hot water. Place on stove, temperature set on high until boiling then reduce temperature to simmer. Stir occasionally, making sure water doesn’t fully evaporate or that veggies don’t burn.

*to remove smell of burnt or strong smelling vegetables, place a damp cloth over pot (without lid)

Remove crabs from freezer. If there are some stubborn, Scandinavian born ones who resisted the cold (unlikely, but you never know), pour boiling water on them. Proceed to clean them. Trim legs of any pointy or flat tips. Trim pointy edges of tips of shell and feelers (between eyes). Remove shell flap from underbelly/abdomen (opposite from the eyes). Break off claws.

Clean with sour orange and lime. Place in bowl. Add mashed parsley and garlic, thyme, salt and a stick of butter. Place on stove top and cook. Shell will change color. Add to meat. Allow to simmer. Cut shell in half.

When eggplant has boiled down and softened, remove from heat, and mash with a potato masher. Return to stove top. Add other vegetables (carrots, peppers etc) until softened.

So, here is where the heat in the kitchen and onion drove me out. I’m assuming when the carrots softened, the meat and crab mixture was added. It should look like a thick goulash type, with a taupe/sable brown appearance. The carrots and crab shell provide the most vibrant pops of color every time it’s stirred.

White rice was made and so were the kidney beans, which had been pressure cooked in water and pureed in their own liquid reserving some beans. Butter was added to the beans.

Serve. White rice, then beans, then legumes.

Apparently it is proper to excuse yourself while you attempt to pick up your crab and suck the flesh. Even more proper to spare yourself the noises you didn’t want anyone knowing you can make while eating crab by taking it home with you. 😉

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