Onions, celery, and green bell peppers: these three ingredients sound innocuous enough on their own, but when combined together they create the essential backbone of practically every Cajun dish. The mixture of the vegetables is called the Cajun “Holy Trinity” and brings an otherworldly complex layering of flavors to your cooking, no Holy Ghost required.
Given that Cajun cookery is a French-derived cuisine — Cajuns are the descendants of Acadians and French Catholic colonists who, after being exiled from Canada by the British, resettled in New Orleans, Louisiana — it follows that the trinity is a play on the classic French “mirepoix” (a mix of chopped onions, celery, and carrots). The Holy Trinity combines onions, celery, and green peppers, and then sautées them in olive oil or butter with varying amounts of garlic, parsley, and scallions, to release their flavors and form the base of your dish.
The Cajun Holy Trinity can be found in recipes for most gumbos, étouffées, Jambalayas, sauce piquants, red beans and rice, and more.
How to Make the Cajun Holy Trinity
Almost every traditional Cajun recipe calls for the merged flavors of the Holy Trinity to serve as its underpinning, rendering the three aromatic vegetables the most prized ingredients of all in New Orleans cookery.
Essentially, all you need to do is wash your three ingredients (a traditional mirepoix uses two parts onion to one part the rest of the ingredients, while the Holy Trinity tends to use a 1:1:1 ratio), and then chop and mince them up with a sharp knife.
Next, turn your stove on to medium heat, and sauté your vegetables in vegan butter or oil until the water evaporates — this allows the vegetables to begin the caramelization process, thus releasing the residual sugar left behind and creating your base of flavor. Slow cooking is the key here. Once the vegetables begin to cook down, you’re going to want to lower the heat and stir your trinity constantly until its components turn transparent and darken in color. This process should take around 30 to 40 minutes.
If you want, you can add a touch of flour to thicken your Holy Trinity, thereby transforming it into a “roux“, which is a mixture of some kind of culinary fat and flour used in making sauces. If you choose to add garlic in with your sautéeing vegetables, you then are making a Holy Trinity “wit da Pope.” Many Cajun recipes will call for you to garnish with parsley and scallions, so you’ll want to have those ingredients on hand when cooking authentic Cajun dishes.
Once you’ve grasped the correct method and learn how to execute the Holy Trinity, you’re ready to commence your new career as a plant-based Cajun Masterchef. Here are some different dishes you’ll want to begin cooking to showcase off your new skills:
Gumbo reigns supreme as perhaps the number one famous Louisiana dish. There are countless ways to prepare a savory pot of gumbo, which is a stew that’s documented references first appeared around the turn of the 19th century. If you’re making gumbo, you’re going to add flour to your Holy Trinity to make a roux, as showcased in the recipe for this vegan “Meaty” Gumbo above.
Jambalaya is a Louisiana dish that traditionally consists of meat mixed with vegetables and rice. If your one-pot jambalaya recipe features tomatoes, it’s actually a Creole recipe. This Easy Cajun Jambalaya is, therefore, a Creole take, as it begins with your Holy Trinity, and is then loaded with tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, paprika, thyme, sweet peppers, and jalapeños.
Dirty rice is a traditional Cajun dish that is made from white rice that gets a “dirty” color after it’s cooked with the Holy Trinity and small pieces of protein. Traditionally, of course, those pieces of protein come from chicken, but in the recipe for Cajun Tofu With Dirty Quinoa above, the protein is instead tofu. Finish off your dirty rice by seasoning it with cayenne and black pepper.
The Holy Trinity will also feature as the base in such Cajun dishes as étouffée, a French term which translates to “to smother”, like in this vegan Cauliflower Etouffée With Andouille recipe, or this plant-based Creole-Style Eggplant and Tofu Étouffée. These Cajun Quinoa Cakes & Lemon-Dill-Sriracha Rémoulade use the Holy Trinity as the base of their patties,
If you’re looking for ways to infuse your dishes with the flavor of the Holy Trinity, recipes like these gluten-free Cajun-Spiced Jackfruit Sandwiches use celery salt, onion granules, and pepper to mimic the traditional veg-based Trinity; the same method is used to flavor this recipe for gluten-free Cajun Tofu With Creamy Grits and Collard Greens.
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Lead image source: Easy Cajun Jambalaya