Getting Creative with Comfort Food: Mardi Gras Classics
Mardi Gras has become synonymous with the city of New Orleans as a day of parades, eating too much, and merriment in the Big Easy. The festival of Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday in French — certainly lives up to its name. As a Catholic celebration, known as Carnival or Carnaval in other countries, Mardi Gras falls on Shrove Tuesday, or the day before Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent. Due to the fasting of Lent, Mardi Gras is seen as a day of excess — your last chance to enjoy all the fatty foods and indulgences you love.
While Mardi Gras is celebrated around the world, its spiritual home is New Orleans. With that in mind, we’re focusing on the delicious, brightly flavored cuisine of the Big Easy, centered around Creole spices and fried food.
Cajun Grill Packets
Seafood is central to many quintessential dishes in Creole and Cajun cooking. Seafood gumbo and shrimp and grits are classic Southern or Cajun meals, but we’re going to focus on a simple, but delicious recipe. A grill or foil packet is essentially packing several ingredients into tin foil, wrapping it up, and placing it on the grill or a heat source. Generally, this will be a protein and some vegetables, but feel free to mix it up.
The benefit of foil packet cooking limits cleanup, since all the ingredients are inside the foil. All you need to do is add the ingredients to the packet, season, and throw it on the grill! If it’s still too cold outside to grill, you can bake them in the oven. Be sure to put them on a baking sheet, in case there’s any drippings from the packets.
Cajun Shrimp Grill Packet Recipe
- 15 uncooked shrimp, deveined and peeled
- 1 ear of corn, cut into thirds
- 12 small potatoes, washed and quartered
- 3 halibut fillets
- 1 link of Andouille sausage
- 4 ½ tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of paprika
- 1 tbsp of cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp of dried oregano
- 1 tbsp of dried thyme
- 2 tbsp of garlic powder
- 2 tbsp of salt
- 1 tbsp of black pepper
- 1 lemon cut into wedges (optional)
- Mix the dried seasoning into a Creole/Cajun spice mix.
- Roll out three sheets of tin foil that are roughly 12-inches wide and 14-inches long.
- Place five shrimp, one halibut filet, one-third of the ear of corn, four quartered potatoes, and an equal amount of sausage to each tin foil sheet.
- Drizzle each packet with one and a half tablespoons of olive oil.
- Sprinkle each packet with the spice mix.
- Close the foil packets by folding the sides tightly, so nothing slides out.
- Place on the grill or in the oven, both heated to 350°F. If you’re placing in the oven, make sure to put the packets on a baking sheet, to prevent oil from dripping through the grates.
- Bake/grill for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the shrimp have turned bright pink and the sausages are cooked through.
- Serve with an optional lemon wedge for garnish!
Once you’ve enjoyed the main course, it’s time for dessert. There’s no dessert more connected with Mardi Gras and New Orleans than beignets. According to the famous New Orleans institution Café Du Monde, beignets were brought to Louisiana by the Acadians, who later became the Cajuns. Like classic fritters (beignet is French for fritter or donut), beignets are squares of dough that are fried and immediately covered in powdered sugar and served hot. If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Café Du Monde traditionally serves them in threes, meaning you should probably take a walk afterward, or risk busting your diet completely!
If you’re looking to enjoy a beignet, while keeping the calorie count and your blood sugar down, we’ve got a few options for you. First, you can try baking the fritters, which will cut back on calories and fat from the frying oil. Another simple way to reduce the sugar intake is by skipping the powdered sugar bath that is traditional for beignets. If you still want some extra sweetness, try an untraditional, but healthier option. Spreading a bit of honey on your fritters can replace the powdered sugar in a healthy way.
Baked Beignets Recipe
- ¼ cup of warm water
- 1 package of active dry yeast, quick-rising
- 3 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ tsp of baking powder
- ½ tsp of baking soda
- ½ tsp of salt
- ¼ cup of granulated sugar
- ¼ cup of cold butter
- ¾ cup of low-fat buttermilk
- 1 large egg
- Powdered sugar for sprinkling overtop (Optional)
- 1 tbsp of honey to spread overtop (Optional)
- Activate the yeast, using the active yeast and warm water according to the package. Generally, you’ll mix one teaspoon of sugar and the active dry yeast with the warm water. Stir it together and let it rest until foam appears after five minutes.
- In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and granulated sugar.
- Add the butter to the flour mixture and use two knives to cut the butter into small portions; creating a mixture, so the butter and flour almost resemble panko.
- Whisk the buttermilk and egg into the activated yeast mixture.
- Similar to making pasta dough, create a well in the flour mixture and pour the yeast mixture into the well.
- Stir with a fork until a dough forms.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow it to rest somewhere warm for around one hour. The dough should double in size.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Punch the dough down, meaning give it a gentle kneading to remove gas bubbles and redistribute the yeast, sugar, and moisture in the dough.
- Spread flour on a surface and rolling pin to keep the dough from sticking.
- Lay the dough on the floured surface and begin rolling the dough out, until it’s roughly a quarter of an inch thick.
- Using a knife, pizza cutter, or rectangular cookie cutter, cut out six-inch by eight-inch sections.
- Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and place the dough sections on the sheet, between one and two inches apart.
- Bake the beignets in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, turning the sheet halfway through and checking after eight minutes.
- Remove the beignets from the oven and sift powdered sugar or spread honey over them for added sweetness.
- Serve while fresh and hot out of the oven!
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Beignets aren’t the only dessert tied to Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday. Another classic dessert is the Mardi Gras king cake, which is bright and sweet and easy to make. A third famous Fat Tuesday treat similar to beignets is the Pennsylvania Dutch Fastnacht. The big difference between these powdered sugar-covered donuts is the potato dough, which gives a rich depth of flavor.