LOUISIANA IS A place of culinary extremes. There are tony French restaurants specializing in etouffe and rustic dives serving mounds of spicy, boiled crawfish. Just about everywhere, at every price, the food is terrific.
Louisiana-inspired cooking was a flash-in-the-pan trend for the nation's restaurants a few years ago. The fashion fizzled because most chefs couldn't see New Orleans dining as more than simply dusting meat or fish in a choking cloud of chile pepper before frying it unappealingly black.
Happily, home cooks can savor the true diversity of Louisiana cooking with a stroll through two new cookbooks that tell it like it is, from the high-faluting restaurants of New Orleans to down-to-earth Cajun homes.
"Enola Prudhomme's Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking" (Morrow, pp. 268 $17.95) is written by Enola Prudhomme, sister to the famed )) New Orleans chef, Paul Prudhomme. Prudhomme worked in her brother's restaurant and then opened her own Cajun Cafe in Carencro, Louisiana. These recipes are for what she calls "unleaded meals" she began cooking for herself to lose weight. The authorhas found alternatives to cream, butter and other traditional, calorie- and cholesterol-laden staples of Cajun cooking. Because Cajun cooking is naturally rich in healthful vegetables, fish, grains and legumes, the recipes are true to their nature; spices add zip and eliminate the need for much salt or butter.
"Enola Prudhomme's Low-Calorie Cajun Cooking" is a modest-looking book; there are no photos, the hardcover wipes clean, and thepages lie open as you wish them in a ringed-binder format. This is not a show-off coffee-table book, but it is a real cooking aid, packed with beautifully written, short and unpretentious recipes that are a rarity today. How heartening to see a number of bake-in-one pan hot dishes such as Shrimp-Hot Rice Casserole and Oyster and Spinach Casserole!
Oven-Barbecued Chicken A La Tammy also caught the eye, with interesting side dishes such as Green Rice and Smothered Okra with Mushrooms and Turkey-Rice-Eggplant Dressing. There's a chapter on making such sauces for barbecue and gravy, a chapter on light breads and desserts that emphasize fruit. All the Lousiana classics you may know, from Gumbo to Jambalaya and Crawfish Etouffe, are in there too.
"The Restaurants of New Orleans," by Roy F. Guste, Jr. (Norton, 268 pp. $27.95) is also written by an insider -- one of the family who has owned and managed Antoine's restaurant since the 19th century. Guste has contributed recipes from his own restaurant and 43 others. All the big tourist draws are there -- K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, Galatoire's, Brennan's -- plus restaurants revered by the New Orleans locals such as Chez Helene, Dooky Chase and Court of Two Sisters.
There are one to three small photos and four to five recipes per restaurant. Disappointingly, the majority of recipes are for appetizers, salads and desserts rather than main courses. Perhaps some restaurants wish to keep their most famous dishes secret, but there are far too many recipes for oyster
appetizers and salads. Also, not all the recipes are new to publication. A recipe for Veal Kottwitz contributed by Brennan's already has appeared in the "Commanders Palace Cookbook," a book promoting the family's other restaurant.
While the book's photos are lovely and a number of recipes, especially those from the less famous restaurants, look promising, the book is not easy to read. Recipes are listed by restaurant, and there is no way to locate dishes by category. A cook searching for a main dish using chicken will have to search the whole book, a hassle that doesn't fit in with the relaxed way of life in the Big Easy.
This recipe is from "Enola Prudhomme's Low Calorie Cajun Cooking."
Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya
1 pound skinned and boned chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
1 pound smoked turkey sausage cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped (about 1 cup)
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 1/2 cups chicken stock or water
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 cups hot cooked rice
1/4 cup finely chopped green onions
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
Spray the inside of a large cast-iron skillet with non-stick vegetable cooking spray. Place the skillet over high heat. When the skillet is very hot, add the chicken and sausage; cook, stirring constantly for 10 minutes, until browned. Add the tomatoes, onions, bell pepper and celery and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often.
Add the stock, salt, thyme, oregano and red pepper; cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring often. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and let stand five minutes before serving.
Serves six. Each serving has 321 calories, 3.5 grams fat, 127 milligrams cholesterol and 189 milligrams sodium.