Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday Poor Boy

Some interval has passed since my last post, the result of immovable obligations consuming what little time I might devote to recreational writing. But I offer this new missive thanks to the Carnival season break granted by Loyola University New Orleans and my ability to ignore a hard deadline for another project when it is at least four days hence.

The Church of the Immaculate Conception  in New Orleans
My wife and I will forsake the consumption of meat as part of our Lenten sacrifice this year. It is not so much that we eat a great deal of meat normally, but that it is so very easy to do so when busy. After all, throwing a hand-formed burger patty on the grill after a long day at work is simple, inexpensive, and so very satisfying.

Ash Wednesday marks an important milestone in the Catholic liturgical year, the gatepost, if you will, to a forty-day season of spiritual cleansing in preparation for Christ's resurrection. Even if you aren't Catholic, Christian, or even religious, a semi-prolonged period of sacrifice and mental inventory of one's ethical values constitutes worthwhile philosophical endeavor. Only the culturally unaware would miss that Catholic roots run deep in New Orleans, and by extension, that Lenten offerings for New Orleanians often involve forsaking some aspect of food or drink.

The Poor Boy sandwich occupies an iconic place in the culinary landscape of the Crescent City, and it appears on menus in manifestations that range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Yet for all these iterations, I cannot remember ever seeing an establishment offering a vegetarian poor boy sandwich. (And a shrimp or oyster poor boy disqualifies as vegetarian!) Below is my interpretation.

Part Fresh, Part Global. 

The ingredients found in this sandwich have a Mediterranean flair, but they ride to glory on a New Orleans staple, the poor boy loaf.

Ingredients (and immersion blender!) for hummus
I start by making a Hummus. Your recipe can vary here - any decent one will do, as there are a variety of ways to make it. We like ours garlicky with lemon juice, while our favorite quick Middle Eastern place doesn't even use olive oil in their hummus. A tip: use an immersion blender. The thickness of hummus can burn up the motor of a lightweight kitchen blender, and then there is the problem of scooping it all out from around the blades in the container. It is also much easier to clean up after using the immersion blender (unless you are careless and fling hummus across your kitchen!) Tip two: find a good Middle Eastern grocery for your olive oil, feta cheese, and especially, spices. It makes enormous economic sense to buy such things from people who cater to a culture that uses them in quantity!)

Pan toast the poor boy loaf with some butter. Delicious all on its own!
Toast your poor boy loaf bread in a pan with butter. I put our toaster away some months ago simply because I prefer pan-toasted bread. My wife wins the argument, however, by pointing out that it is difficult to pan-toast a bagel. We don't eat many bagels these days. (Whoops!) Tip: I cut my bread a little differently. Poor boy loaf has a tougher outside and a very soft inside. Cut along the top instead of the side of the loaf, but not all the way through, leaving the bottom crust intact. This will allow you to better cradle the contents of your sandwich.

People always complain about the difficulty of finding fresh avocados. It really isn't that difficult except that you need to plan a few days in advance. These avocados were as hard as baseballs last Saturday - and that is they way you want to buy them. Allowing this fruit to ripen in a grocer's bin is generally a bad idea, so you have to take control of the process. Place your hard, green avocado in a brown paper bag and crumple the top closed. Leave this bag on your counter for a few days so the natural ripening process might take place in an even and controlled way. (This is exactly how you ripen those hard peaches or pears!) Here, four days later, we have picture-perfect avocados!

The rest of this sandwich is easy. Spread your hummus across the toasted bread, and top with seeded cucumber spears, avocado, tomato, and (if you have it - I did not use it here) some provolone or feta cheese. A little sprinkle of salt and pepper, and you are ready to go!

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