So, here’s something you may not know about me: I’m Cajun!
“Cajun” and “Creole” are terms you’ll see everywhere if you visit New Orleans (or Southern Louisiana, in general). I grew up in a small town called Galliano — about 1 1/2 hours south of New Orleans — and often heard the terms used incorrectly. Though used interchangeably, these two monikers are very, very different.
A vastly simplified way to describe the two cuisines is to deem Creole cuisine as “city food” while Cajun cuisine is often referred to as “country food.” While many of the ingredients in Cajun and Creole dishes are similar, the real difference between the two styles is the people behind these famous cuisines.
The word “Cajun” originates from the term “les Acadians,” which was used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada. With the British Conquest of Acadia in the early 1700s, the Acadians were forcibly removed from their home in what become known as the Great Upheaval. Many Acadians eventually settled in the swampy region of Louisiana that is today known as Acadiana.
The Acadians were an extremely resourceful people who combined the flatlands, bayous, and wild game of Southern Louisiana with its proximity to the Gulf to create a truly unique local cuisine. While many Acadiana residents today have Native American, German, French, or Italian roots, their way of life is strongly influenced by the Cajun culture. Along with its food, this rural area of Louisiana is famous for its music and language.
The term “Creole”, on the other hand, describes the population of people who were born to settlers in French colonial Louisiana, specifically in New Orleans. In the 18th century, Creoles consisted of the descendants of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city. Over the years, the term Creole grew to include native-born slaves of African descent as well as free people of color.
Like the people, Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans including Italian, Spanish, African, German, Caribbean, Native American, and Portuguese, to name a few. Creole cuisine is often thought of as a little “higher brow” or aristocratic compared to Cajun cuisine.
Creole fare also has a bit more variety, because of the easier access Creoles had to exotic ingredients and the wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine. That’s why you find tomatoes in Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya… or why a lot of times you find a Creole roux made with butter and flour, while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.
Keeping these differences in mind, you’ll totally understand this rendition of shrimp creole! Shrimp creole is a signature dish in New Orleans and a fairly new dish in our formerly-vegan kitchen.
Typically, any Cajun or Creole recipe calls for “the holy trinity” — onions, bell peppers, and celery — but we were fresh out of celery, and I didn’t feel like driving to the grocery store. (Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…)
If you’ve got celery on hand, great. If not, this meal is freakin’ delicious with or without it.
Simple Shrimp Creole
Total Time: 10 minutes prep, 40 minutes cooking
- 2 lbs. small or medium frozen shrimp (unshelled, tails off)
- 1/4 c. vegan butter
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 c. water
- 2 tsp. dried parsley
- 1/4 tsp. ground red cayenne pepper
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 15-oz. can of tomato sauce
- 6 c. hot cooked rice, for serving
- Optional: 2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
- In a large saucepan, melt your vegan butter over medium heat.
- Add onions, bell peppers, garlic, and celery (optional) in butter about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onions are tender.
- Stir in remaining ingredients — except rice and shrimp. Heat to boiling; reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered about 10 more minutes.
- Stir in shrimp. Heat to boiling; then reduce heat to medium. Cover and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until shrimp are pink and firm.
- Remove bay leaves.
- Serve shrimp creole over rice. Enjoy!