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LOUISIANA + THE TABASCO TASTEMAKERS TRIP // CAJUN-SPICED SWEET POTATO BURGERS

Cajun-Spiced Sweet Potato Burgers // the year in food

Flying into New Orleans on a Friday afternoon, what struck me from the window of the airplane was how pervasive and dramatic the serpentine waterways were. It was a landscape of water upon water, broken just barely by clumps of small brownish dots – the water-loving plants of the bayou. It was, of course, the fluid, overlapping topography of the Missisissippi river, the gulf coast, and the bayou. Louisiana, it seems, is defined by water.

And Louisiana has an unbelievably powerful sense of place. It was intense, triggering all the senses (the colors! the smell of the bayou and the river and the humid air, the foods, the music and the birdsong and the straggly kitties and everyone, everywhere saying hi), and it was present everywhere: in the gorgeous, slightly dilapidated, colorful shotgun houses that characterize the neighborhoods of New Orleans, in the cooking, in the regional accent, in the music. It’s a vibrant, wonderfully warm, amazing place, and I’ve never been anywhere like it.

Here’s my experience on Avery Island, the homeplace of the McIlhenny family and Tabasco sauce, mostly in photos:

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

In the greenhouse learning about Tabasco peppers!

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Talking about the Tabasco mash in its early and later stages. We tasted the mash – the concentrated pepper and salt blend before vinegar is added. It’s as intense as you would imagine!

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

The mash is aged for 3 years in old whiskey barrels that are re-used for decades!

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

I am so inspired by the unique topography and color palette of the swampy bayous. It’s gorgeous, and rich, and fecund, and a little spooky. And yeah, there are totally critters hiding out in there.

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Chef Brian Landry did an awesome demo on his Spanish and Creole-inspired cooking, before executing the MOST EPIC MEAL ever for us that evening.

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Before our epic feast, I snuck out for a stroll along the empty roads of Avery Island. I wanted to get deep in that landscape and have a moment with the bayou. I made my way down a dusty dirt road to a small dock. Stepping onto the dock I heard a loud commotion – I had surprised a giant water snake who slithered in a hurry back into the murky creek! Yikes. Sometimes my curiosity gets the best of me.

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Also, I am completely obsessed with Spanish moss. I learned that it’s an air plant – does that mean I can grow it at home? (Somebody send me some?)

Louisiana // Tabasco Tastemakers Trip

The next day was equally epic. After an intense morning in the capsaicin-heavy air of the rooms where the mash is produced, we sped through the surrounding waterways to an old shack in the middle of nowhere.

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

We were greeted by these awesome guys, who were totally busting out the zydeco jams.

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

We went on an air boat ride through the marshy bayou. It was gorgeous and grey and empty out there – and the boat was so fast and loud and awesome. I felt like I had been on a roller coaster after. Look at our badass captain!

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana + Tabasco Tastemakers Trip | the year in food

Louisiana // Tabasco Tastemakers Trip

Then we feasted on the best crawfish boil ever, and some of us got down with the band. What an amazing trip. So much great food, an awesome group of bloggers, a really rare opportunity to understand the story of an impressive family-run business, and a whole heck of a lot of inspiration. I’m still processing it. I feel so lucky to have been invited to join!

Cajun-Spiced Sweet Potato Burgers // the year in food

Cajun-Spiced Sweet Potato Burgers // the year in food

CAJUN-SPICED SWEET POTATO BURGERS
Yield: 4 large or 6 medium patties

I knew that if I wanted to draw on the cornerstones of Cajun flavors for these guys that I had to step outside of my comfort zone a little bit. (Red bell peppers out of season, heaven forbid!) But the Cajun holy trinity – celery, bell pepper, and onion – felt like a necessary component to bring these to life. And it did. I very loosely adapted a basic Cajun seasoning to give these the big flavors that I was looking for, and rounded it out with Tabasco’s smoky Chipotle Pepper Sauce, because I love a smoky element with the flavors of sweet potato. I am so stoked on how they turned out. Since these patties are a little bit delicate, I don’t think they’d work too well on a grill, unfortunately. Get that skillet super hot to give them a nice, blackened crust. It’ll help them hold together. Smother them with all of your favorite condiments, squish em inside a bun, and have at it.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for cooking
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 cup finely diced celery
1/2 cup finely diced yellow onion
1.5 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato (from one large sweet potato)
1/2 cup cooked and cooled short grain brown rice
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried garlic
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 or 2 teaspoons Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1 egg, whisked

To serve:
4 buns
Micro greens or lettuce
Condiments of choice

Warm a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the tablespoon of olive oil, along with the diced bell pepper, celery, and onion. Saute, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for the second teaspoon of Tabasco sauce, the cayenne pepper, the breadcrumbs and the egg. Taste the mix and add the second teaspoon of Tabasco and the cayenne pepper if you’re fond of a little spice. (This is why I add the egg last – I don’t mind a smidge of raw egg, but it’s great to be able to safely taste this and adjust the season to your preference.) Add the egg and the breadcrumbs and mix until just incorporated.

Shape into 4 large or 6 medium patties about 3/4 inch thick, place on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.

Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and let it sit for a few minutes to get nice and hot. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

Remove the patties from the fridge. Using a spatula, carefully place two at a time in the hot pan, reshaping a little if necessary. They’re delicate – be patient and forgiving with them, and know that they’ll still taste good! Cook, completely undisturbed, for about 5 minutes, until a nice, dark crust forms. Flip and repeat, again being careful not to disturb them, for another 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining patties, adding more olive oil as needed.

While the patties cook, toast the buns.

To serve, place the patties on a bun with lots of mustard, mayo, ketchup, relish or whatever you prefer. Top with micro greens or lettuce and the bun. EAT and be happy.

Cajun-Spiced Sweet Potato Burgers // the year in food
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  • Ashley - March 26, 2014 - 4:39 pm

    Holy yum! Beautiful images from such a great trip. So glad we got to experience it together.ReplyCancel

  • Ashlae - March 26, 2014 - 4:57 pm

    What a beautiful trip and a delicious looking burger – cannot wait to try it.ReplyCancel

  • Louisa - March 26, 2014 - 7:22 pm

    This is the most awesome blog post I’ve seen in ages! You’re one lucky lady, looks like real good time.ReplyCancel

  • Shanna Mallon - March 26, 2014 - 9:14 pm

    These pictures! You do Louisiana proud.ReplyCancel

  • sara forte - March 26, 2014 - 10:18 pm

    how fun! Looks like you had a great time and I love seeing what you see – you have a beautiful eye, kimberley. Love the look of these burgers. I like smoky with sweet potatoes too :)ReplyCancel

  • Ileana - March 27, 2014 - 4:46 am

    Sending you Spanish moss from Florida! ;) My boyfriend was enchanted by it as well when he moved here from Iowa.ReplyCancel

  • Lindsey (dolly and oatmeal) - March 27, 2014 - 4:55 am

    Wow, what gorgeous images! Loved your description of some of things you saw and experienced – all looks like a blast. And that burger! Can’t wait for warmer weather and burger season to commence!ReplyCancel

  • Laura - March 27, 2014 - 4:58 am

    I’m a Chicago resident transplanted from New Orleans. Even though I’ve lived here more than twice as long as I lived there, Louisiana will always seems like home. Can’t wait to try these!ReplyCancel

  • Kathryn - March 27, 2014 - 5:54 am

    What wonderfully evocative photos Kimberley, I absolutely adore your work.ReplyCancel

  • DH Lindsey - March 27, 2014 - 7:12 am

    “Chef Brian Landry did an awesome demo on his Spanish and Creole-inspired cooking, before executing the MOST EPIC MEAL ever for us that evening.”

    Can you tell us more about the “epic meal” that you were served?ReplyCancel

  • Bob H - March 27, 2014 - 8:03 am

    Well Kimberley you’ve inspired me to find my Tabasco tie with its depiction of the Golden Gate Bridge! What a great post about such a wonderful & insightful trip! The Tabasco-Cajun burgers sound scrumptious!!ReplyCancel

  • CINDY OWINGS - March 27, 2014 - 8:04 am

    Thanks for sharing the great photos, impressions, & food of the Delta! It makes me want to visit there SOON! Will try the sweet potato burgers tonight!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa @ Simple Pairings - March 27, 2014 - 8:19 am

    Love your creativity! Cajun Sweet Potato Burgers. Such great flavors going on here – this must be one of the most healthful and flavorful burgers out there. Such lovely photographs, too. Thanks for sharing!ReplyCancel

  • Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic - March 27, 2014 - 10:44 am

    I love this post – the pictures, the way you wrote about New Orleans, the recipe. Reminds me of my own trip there last summer :)ReplyCancel

  • Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar - March 27, 2014 - 11:29 am

    I visited Avery Island in February! Such a cool place. But you definitely got the full experience!! Also, these burgers?! Love.ReplyCancel

  • Joey Brown - March 27, 2014 - 3:11 pm

    Kimberly – I am married to one of the family members and we met you that night at the dinner. Thank you for recognizing what a special place it is!
    The epic meal used a different flavor of Tabasco in each course which was so cool.
    BTW, never decorate with real spanish moss inside unless you want lots of tiny bugs inside! Found out the hard way!ReplyCancel

  • Christine - March 27, 2014 - 3:48 pm

    Thank you so much for this! I’m absolutely in love with these photos; they drew me in immediately and are so so pretty… Looks like you had a great trip :)ReplyCancel

  • sue/the view from great island - March 29, 2014 - 5:40 am

    What a beautiful and eye-opening post! I love Tabasco and made my own green version a while back, I’m so jealous of your experience! And the burgers look fantastic, I’m always on the hunt for a great veggie burger :)ReplyCancel

  • Canal Cook - March 31, 2014 - 3:41 pm

    Great photos and a delicious sounding recipe. Like everyone else on the planet, I am currently obsessed with True Detective, and your photos really bring Louisiana to lifeReplyCancel

  • Rachel @LittleChefBigAppetite - April 1, 2014 - 7:56 am

    I can’t believe I never thought to make a sweet potato burger! Looks incredible!ReplyCancel

  • erin @ yummy supper - April 1, 2014 - 9:32 am

    Beautiful pix lady. I am so itching to go to NO again. What a magical city.
    xoxo
    EReplyCancel

  • matmedmera - April 1, 2014 - 9:52 am

    Here at home, my people adore food like that! Delicious recipe!
    Greetings from SwedenReplyCancel

  • Meike ° eat in my kitchen - April 2, 2014 - 8:41 am

    I love burgers and yours looks delicious!
    Congrats on your nomination and greetings from Berlin!
    MeikeReplyCancel

  • Laura @ Blogging Over Thyme - April 6, 2014 - 8:44 am

    These pictures are stunning! I am a huge fan of spanish moss too. My family always goes down to Hilton Head Island, SC every year, and the entire island is brimming with it. Never knew you could grow it on its own though?

    Congrats on the nomination!! This burger looks spectacular!ReplyCancel

  • Alex - April 9, 2014 - 7:50 am

    I am literally obsessed with veggie burgers! We made a black bean one (http://www.veganosity.com/food/black-bean-veggies-burgers-wrapped-with-swiss-chard-gluten-free/) last week and it was amazing. A great idea, especially for people who are trying to cut down on calories or simple carbohydrates, is to wrap your burgers in Swiss Chard! Not only is it really healthy, but its more flavorful than using plain iceburg lettuce.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - April 24, 2014 - 12:44 pm

    I made these a few nights ago and they fell apart a little, but no one cared because they tasted so good. Just wonderful flavors. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Jenn - May 28, 2014 - 1:08 pm

    I have been dreaming about these burgers since you posted the recipe! My fiancé and I made them on Memorial Day and they were wonderful. Looking forward to having leftover burgers tonight!ReplyCancel

  • Sydney Chaney Thomas - September 1, 2014 - 5:33 pm

    I love, love, love your blog. Your photos are stunning and your food looks amazing. Hope you enjoyed your trip to Portland (my home). They have wonderful people and stories to share. I will be following you. You are so creative and a great inspiration to other people. Food is the great equalizer. Thank you!ReplyCancel

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