It's Oil Good

As part of the family that founded LouAna Foods, Miriam Bourgeois knows the benefits of cooking with oil.

Junior League of Lafayette member Miriam Bourgeois is the granddaughter of the founder of LouAna Foods and was introduced to cooking with oil at an early age. Every dish from her mother's Opelousas kitchen was made with LouAna cooking oil, from Cajun jambalaya to birthday cakes created straight from the pages of Southern Living magazine.

"Growing up, we would have so much cooking oil in our house," Bourgeois says. "Now I have little bitty bottles."

Bourgeois' grandmother provided inspiration in the kitchen. "She taught me how to cook," Bourgeois notes. "She was a wonderful cook, but she did not follow a recipe. I loved her potato salad. When I was in college, she said she would teach me how to make it. I sat down with a piece of paper, and she just said a little of this and a little of that. I ended up with a blank sheet."

Bourgeois has followed her grandmother's lead, often adding or substituting ingredients so cooking is more of an adventure than a chore. "I like to be creative and play around with recipes," she says. And following family tradition, almost every dish that passes through her kitchen is made with oil. The staple bottle of LouAna sits on the counter next to the stove, surrounded by smaller bottles of flavored olive oils.

"I like to entertain and have family and good friends over," she says. Her latest dinner party concoction was "Crawfish Etouffine" ' etouffée and fettuccine combined. Bourgeois substitutes oil for butter in the dish and serves it with Parmesan cheese on the side.

She also reverts to time-honored family dishes for dinner, like her Pasta Jambalaya. "I've probably had the jambalaya recipe for about 10 years," she says.

A twist on traditional jambalaya, the dish calls for the addition of mushrooms, and pasta instead of rice, giving it the look of spaghetti. But the recognizable taste of jambalaya is there, with plenty of sausage and skinless chicken thighs added to her black, cast-iron pot. Marinating the chicken in Italian salad dressing and soy sauce for two to three hours makes it quite tender and flavorful.

Bourgeois has adapted the recipe over the years and started using whole-wheat pasta, which gives the dish the nutty brown color of jambalaya. She also prefers to use turkey sausage and eliminated the third meat, pork, from the original recipe. "I thought that was too much. I just stuck with the chicken thighs and smoked sausage," she says.

When strapped for time, Bourgeois marinates the chicken for as little as 15 minutes. The entire dish takes about 45 minutes to make and can feed a small family or crowd. "If you need it to serve more, it doubles very easy," she says. "It's a great dish for my husband and I. This, with a green salad, and that's a wonderful meal."

Pasta Jambalaya
1/2 cup Italian salad dressing
1/4 cup soy sauce
6-8 chicken thighs
2 links smoked sausage or turkey sausage, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2, 10-ounce cans chicken stock
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1, 12-ounce package whole-wheat spaghetti, broken into thirds
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced

Combine the salad dressing and soy sauce in a shallow bowl. Add the chicken and turn to coat well. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours. Brown the sausage in the olive oil in a skillet. Add the chicken thighs and sauté until brown. Add the onions, celery, bell pepper, chicken stock, garlic, salt and pepper, and mix well. Bring to a boil. Add the spaghetti, fresh mushrooms and enough water to cook. Cook, covered, for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

For more information on the Junior League of Lafayette's cookbooks, call 988-2739.