Mardi Gras, which is French for "Fat Tuesday," is traditionally a chance to have fun before Ash Wednesday and the Christian observance of Lent (a period of fasting and penance leading up to Easter).
The biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States is in New Orleans, where people mark Fat Tuesday in the best possible way: good eating. While this year has made it harder for folks to flood the the French Quarter with floats, parades and floods of tourists tossing beads, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the festive holiday with the flavors of its traditional cuisine.
These Creole and Cajun recipes from many chefs with New Orleans roots are all bursting with flavor and will have you celebrating in style wherever you are. Whether you savor some slow cooker jambalaya, classic gumbo, po'boy sandwiches, colorful king cake or cloud-like beignets, get in the spirit of Hoda's favorite city in the world.
When it comes to comforting Southern food, there's a reason why jambalaya is a go-to dish around Mardi Gras. Spicy, smoky and super hearty, it's a definite winter warmer. This version is made in a slow cooker, so it's a super-easy dinner year-round.
This classic New Orleans stew is bursting with shrimp, crab, oysters and sausage. In true Creole fashion, this version from the famous New Orleans restaurant Tujague's incorporates meat and seafood and is thickened with filé (ground sassafras) instead of okra.
The executive chef of New Orleans' The Franklin, Dane Harris uses local beer and spicy Peruvian peppers for his creamy, Peruvian-inspired mussels. It creates a bright mix of flavor that comes together in just 15 minutes.
The secret to this seafood stew is the addition of homemade crawfish stock. Chef Isaac Toups uses crawfish in his version of the classic dish, but it can also be made with shrimp or other shellfish.
This is a great, quick way to serve beautiful, fresh, head-on shrimp. Need dinner ready in 20 minutes? This is your go-to.
Many of chef Alfredo Nogueira's recipes reflect the Cajun flavors from his native hometown and his Cuban heritage, with even more influences coming from his career along the way. This lively garlic soup is comforting, simple and fairly inexpensive to make.
These barbecued shrimp are so simple to cook, yet make a flavorful main dish served with rice.
When it comes to one-pot dishes, this Creole seafood dish from the executive chef at The Royal Sonesta New Orleans is a real crowd-pleaser. It has bright colors, robust but simple flavors and can be made in just 30 minutes.
This recipe is a New Orleans classic at its finest. It features all the bold and zesty flavors for which the Big Easy is famous.
We love this recipe because pretty much all grocery stores stock sausage and chicken, so pretty much anyone can make this simple-yet-awesome Cajun stew.
Chef Nina Compton has earned many accolades for her Caribbean-inspired cuisine, which shines on the menu of her latest venture with husband Larry Miller, Bywater American Bistro, in the hip Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans. This one-pot fish dish reflects Compton's Caribbean roots.
Crawfish might be difficult to find depending on where you live, but that shouldn't stop you from having a classic seafood boil — shrimp boils are popular in Louisiana, too, thanks to the state's access to wonderful Gulf shrimp. All the vegetables and seafood look beautiful served family-style on a large tray.
This dish comes together in no time with the help of some store-bought marinara sauce.
This recipe really shows off the best of Louisiana's wonderful seafood. The hearty soup is packed with fresh shrimp, redfish, oysters and crabmeat.
Don't worry about missing out on crawfish boils flavor if you don't eat seafood — just use Creole seasonings to brine your chicken. In this recipe from Tory McPhail, former head chef of the famous Commander's Palace in New Orleans, the chicken is coated in flour twice for an extra-crispy texture.
Gumbo isn't all about seafood, as this delicious turkey version demonstrates. If you have leftover cooked turkey, this recipe is a perfect way to use it up.
"I had this sandwich for the first time at Gene's Po-Boys in New Orleans and fell in love with the spicy sausage and the toasted bread," Compton said about this decadent sandwich.
The tangy, tart and creamy remoulade perks up the crispy, sweet fried shrimp and the satisfying crunch of the slaw brings it all together in this irresistible seafood sandwich.
Take the iconic Louisiana sandwich to another level by serving it on garlic bread. Add bacon to coleslaw and pile that onto the sandwiches and you've got a winner.
New Orleans is the birthplace of the muffuletta, a sandwich that's both big and easy to enjoy. This modern version relies on a few jarred pantry staples — namely, spicy giardiniera and olive tapenade — to make assembly a little easier.
Dirty rice is as common at the Cajun table as mashed potatoes and gravy is elsewhere. It's the meatiest, richest rice dish you'll ever eat. It gets its color, its dirtiness, from glorious, glorious meat. The trick to this dish is getting a good char on the ground beef. We like to use ground sirloin, keeping it in a block and searing it like you would a steak before the meat is broken up and braised.
"My sister, who used to hate grits, once said, 'I don’t know what the difference is, but these grits have made me a believer.' I have yet to tell her why they’re so good," said chef Justin Devillier of New Orleans’ La Petite Grocery and Justine. In addition to being a breakfast staple, grits are a great base for a host of hearty soups and stews.
Whip up this hearty side with a little jerk seasoning. The warm, fiery spices give sweet potatoes the perfect balance of flavor to accompany other New Orleans dishes.
Drinks and desserts
Raise a glass on Mardi Gras with this classic cocktail invented in New Orleans.
Ponchatoula, Louisiana, is known as the strawberry capital of the world, and the fresh strawberries stirred into the batter of these fluffy beignets give them a bit of tartness and lightness.
These pillowy beignets are a signature New Orleans dessert everybody loves, and they are surprisingly easy to make.
This cake stays true to the New Orleans traditions, but also incorporates Middle Eastern flavors. The result of this creative combination is a cake you'll want to make not just for Mardi Gras but for any festive occasion.
Pralines are a classic Louisiana confection. The crunchy nuts and creamy candy make them a wonderfully sweet treat.
This post was originally published on Feb. 27, 2017.