And which ingredient gets to be the pope?

By Mary Claire Lagroue
January 12, 2021
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Read the ingredients list on a handful of Cajun and Creole recipes and you'll notice how often celery, bell pepper, and onion make the cut. You'll also notice that these ingredients are among the first to go into the pot or skillet, creating a flavorful foundation for gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish étouffée, and more. These three vegetables make up the Holy Trinity.

History

The French and the Acadians (French colonists who were deported from Acadia in modern Nova Scotia) both influenced Louisiana's cuisine. The Acadians became known as Cajuns to English speakers, and Cajun cooking took on a life of its own in Louisiana as French cooking melded with elements of West African, Spanish, and Native American cooking.

The French contributed two staples to Cajun and Creole cooking: roux-based cooking and a trinity of vegetables called mirepoix. The aromatic base of many French dishes, mirepoix consists of onions, celery, and carrots. In Louisiana, however, carrots didn't grow as easily as bell peppers. So, bell peppers became the norm.

celery, bell pepper, and a yellow onion
Credit: Allrecipes

Where Does the Term 'Holy Trinity' Come From?

Credit for the term Holy Trinity goes to celebrity chef and South Louisiana native Paul Prudhomme, who may or may not have come up with it first. The term refers to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, which describes God as three divine "persons" in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Cajun trinity playfully nods to Louisiana's Catholic heritage — some people even call garlic the pope! But most of all, the name implies how essential celery, bell pepper, and onion are to Cajun cooking.

How to Cook With the Holy Trinity

Mirepoix calls for a ratio of two parts onions, one part celery, and one part carrots. The Holy Trinity, on the other hand, calls for equal parts onions, celery, and bell peppers. If you're using a small onion and small bell pepper, this equals about two stalks of celery. Don't worry about measuring the veggies after dicing them. If you want to cook like a Cajun grandma (which is basically the goal), just eyeball the amounts.

The kinds of vegetables you use matter. In Louisiana, the Holy Trinity always consists of green bell pepper, as it's mild and not sweet. As for onions, choose between yellow onions and white onions; leave purple onions and sweet onions at the grocery store.

Once you've chopped the vegetables, keep them together on your cutting board or in a bowl so you can easily add them to your favorite Cajun and Creole recipes.

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