Fat Tuesday is coming — time for those last-minute indulgences before Mardi Gras signals the start of Lent. I began thinking of ways to get the green, gold and purple into a single menu. This is a great opportunity to get creative in the kitchen.
Stir-fried early-season asparagus, green beans, yellow peppers and purple cabbage would be a delicious treat and include the colors of Mardi Gras: Purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power.
Although it sounds pretty, perhaps we should try something more traditional, such as a spicy shrimp Creole or gumbo with crawfish and crabmeat. (See recipes in this section.)
Though a trip to a seafood purveyor may be in order, I'm thinking of a more land-loving menu this year. Red beans and rice sounds downright enticing. Canned beans make it possible to turn out the beans during the time it takes to cook the rice. They can simmer while you prepare cornbread and make a salad or slaw.
I found several varieties of canned red beans at local supermarkets and some additional ones at specialty shops. Small, dried red beans were available as well as packaged mixes including seasonings, beans and rice, should you choose to spend a little more time.
The quick version includes a quick saute of celery, onion, carrot and peppers with sliced andouille sausage or hot links. I like to include some ham or chopped bacon. I have even used chunks of bacon and chicken sausage links; however, pork maximizes the flavor as it caramelizes with the vegetables.
Deglaze the mixture with a quart of chicken broth. Follow with several cans of drained red beans. Draining eliminates some of the sodium found in canned beans. A mixture of red beans and kidney beans adds color and texture.
Making a Mardi Gras Slaw is a great way to include those traditional colors of the celebration while getting vegetables into the menu. Make thin slices of green and purple cabbage, yellow bell pepper and onions. Vary the amounts according to your preference. A simple vinegar and olive oil dressing is perfect. Whisk them together with a bit of honey, a little salt and a splash of hot sauce and toss with the cabbage mixture.
Add your favorite golden cornbread and decadent dessert for a great little Mardi Gras meal. I am hoping to make my favorite creme brulee or maybe lemon meringue pie. It all sounds like a great way to indulge before the simpler foods of Lent. Enjoy the feast before the fast.
Quicker red beans and rice
This version of the Louisiana tradition can be made in about 45 minutes, which is about the time it takes to cook a good batch of rice. This Mardi Gras menu timetable starts with putting the rice on, preparing the vegetables, slicing the sausage links and sauteing them in a little olive oil. After the liquid, beans and seasonings have been added, let it simmer while you make some cornbread and a salad or slaw.
Andouille adds an authentic touch, but other links or ham produce great results. Think of this recipe as a starting point. It will serve 6 to 8 easily and freezes well.
TEXMATI BROWN RICE
(Prepare enough for 8 servings, according to package directions)
1 large onion, chopped
1 poblano pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 stalks celery, sliced in ¼-inch segments
3 carrots, sliced
2 to 4 links sausage, sliced (Andouille, hot links, chopped ham and/or bacon)
1 quart chicken broth or stock
5 (15 ounce) cans red beans or kidney bean combination, drained
1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning, recipe follows
1 can fire-roasted tomatoes
3 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons oregano
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
½ tablespoon Cayenne pepper
½ tablespoon black pepper.