Mardi Gras refers to events of the Carnival celebration leading up to the Christian period called Lent. A direct contrast to Lent's self-reflective, sacrificing feel, Mardi Gras celebrates the joy of life through music, revelry, and most importantly, food.
Mardi Gras is celebrated throughout Louisiana and over in the Gulf states of Mississippi and Texas with devotion. Carnivals and parades abound during Mardi Gras season, from January 6th (Epiphany) until (Mardi Gras) Fat Tuesday. Seas of purple, gold, and green (symbolizing justice, power, and faith) can be seen everywhere. Mardi Gras Parade Krewes select their own kings of Mardi Gras and put on elaborate float parades in their communities. No celebration would be complete without food and drink, though, and Mardi Gras is no exception.
New Orleans is known for both Creole and Cajun cuisine, so it makes perfect sense that some of the most popular Mardi Gras festivities feature recipes from those cultures.
Partygoers usually have a cocktail in hand, and boozy, fruity Hurricanes are notorious New Orleans favorites. End the season with a powdery, pillowy Beignet and transport yourself to Café du Monde, or evoke the spirit of Leah's with a buttery sweet pecan praline. You might not get a strand of beads thrown at you this year, but you won't miss the French Quarter with these delicious recipes.
Robin Shreeves joins Marta Rivera in compiling this list.
Shrimp étouffée is a smothered dish that begins with the holy trinity of Creole and Cajun cooking: Onions, bell pepper, and celery. The shrimp stock is optional, but the amount of flavor it packs into this dish can’t be beat. Serve this étouffée with steamed white or brown rice. MR
This classic American dessert originated in New Orleans. It's an easy and elegant dessert that impresses because you set it on fire before serving. Bananas are coated in a butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon sauce. Add rum and set it on fire. When the fire is out, serve with vanilla ice cream. RS
Red Beans and Rice
Red beans and rice is to Louisiana what amazing street musicians are to Jackson Square. In fact, on most Sunday evenings in Louisiana, you can find a pot of red beans soaking in preparation for Monday’s dinner. Make this version with pork shanks or replace the pork with smoked turkey sausage. MR
The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans. A combination of rye whiskey, anise-flavored liquor, bitters, sugar, and lemon, it's a balanced drink you need to give a try. RSContinue to 5 of 20 below.
Marinated olive salad, two types of Italian cheese, and savory Italian cold cuts fill this traditional New Orleans sandwich. As the fillings sit in the seeded muffuletta loaf, the oils from the olive salad seep into the bread. The sandwich is so large, it feeds four. RS
New Orleans Beignets
New Orleans beignets transport you to coughing in Café du Monde after having inhaled too much powdered sugar from your fluffy piece of fried dough. You haven’t lived until you’ve done it at least once. Serve these piping hot with a warm mug of your favorite chicory coffee for a true Louisiana experience. MR
Shrimp Po Boy Sandwich
Shrimp po boy sandwiches are made with humble ingredients ingeniously put together to create a complex-tasting meal. The mayo-based remoulade shouldn’t be skipped. Its creaminess is punctuated with spicy horseradish and tabasco. A crispy baguette is the best vessel for carrying the juicy, breaded shrimp to your mouth. MR
King cake is a staple, especially on Twelfth Night or Epiphany (January 6th), the first day of Mardi Gras season. Tradition holds that whoever finds the hidden baby in the king cake, which is really an enriched bread, is responsible for providing next year’s king cake party. You can add a baby to this cinnamon-sugar-filled cake or go baby-less, but I highly recommend decorating it with the colors of Mardi Gras for some flair. MRContinue to 9 of 20 below.
This bread pudding is similar to the recipe from the now-closed famed Bon Ton Cafe in New Orleans. It's full of raisins soaked in bourbon and drizzled with a luscious bourbon sauce—although you can make it alcohol-free, too. It's a simple dessert for Mardi Gras. RS
Chicken Gumbo with Andouille Sausage
Chicken gumbo with andouille sausage is another quintessential New Orleans recipe. This version combines juicy chicken thighs with spiced andouille sausage, but you can omit them and make a vegetarian version by replacing the chicken and sausage with 2 to 3 pounds of chopped portobello mushrooms and the chicken stock with vegetable stock. MR
Hurricane cocktails in New Orleans are served cheaply and in massive quantities. These fruit punch libations are a fixture in the French Quarter, and now you can whip up a glass (or a pitcher) for your festivities. To make this a slushie-type drink, replace the passion fruit puree with frozen passion fruit pulp (found in the frozen Hispanic foods section) and add an extra shot of rum. MR
Slow Cooker Jambalaya
Slow cooker jambalaya is a less hands-on version of the classic Creole recipe. The rice and the shrimp are added in different stages. They’re brought together in a savory, mildly spicy tomato sauce loaded with chunks of chicken and sausage. I like to peel my shrimp before adding it to the slow cooker to make eating this flavorful dish easier. MRContinue to 13 of 20 below.
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes Creole Style
Stewed okra and tomatoes Creole style is a fantastic side dish if you’re not able to commit to an entree for Mardi Gras. However, topping steamed rice with it has served as my dinner many an evening. You can make this dish vegetarian by omitting the bacon and using a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to replace it in the recipe. MR
Pecan Pralines is a confection that’s beloved by many in the Gulf States of the U.S. This version is sweet and buttery. Be sure to toast your pecan before using them in this recipe. I find the candy turns out more flavorful that way. MR
Collard Greens with Bacon
Collard greens with bacon is definitely a cornerstone of Southern cooking. This version is from Louisiana and, though it calls for bacon, it can be made with smoked turkey necks or omitted completely. MR
Vieux Carre is a potent way to celebrate Mardi Gras. Made with whiskey, cognac, vermouth, and an herbaceous Benedictine liqueur, you won’t miss the booze in this cocktail. I garnish mine with a dark cocktail cherry, but a twist of lemon peel works well, too. MRContinue to 17 of 20 below.
Shrimp Creole is a classic Louisiana dish. It's rustic with tomatoes, spices, and shrimp that’s perfect for serving over rice. If you don't have a lot of time to put together you're Mardi Gras dinner, this is the one to go for—it comes together in just about an hour. RS
Fish Po' Boy
Similar to the shrimp version above, this sandwich is an upgrade from any regular fish sandwich. Stuff crispy cornmeal crusted catfish, fresh chopped lettuce, thick tomato slices, dill pickles, and a remoulade sauce into French bread and enjoy. RS
A New Orleans brunch standard, this milk punch is a cousin of eggnog. A simple combination of rum, cognac, milk, and simple syrup. It's deceptively strong and memorably delicious. RS
Slow Cooker Banana Bread Pudding
Slow cooker banana bread pudding will give your tastebuds a break from savory dishes and transport you to the dimly lit dining room of Brennan’s. This decadent dish packs the flavors of their famous bananas foster dessert into a hands-off bread pudding complete with a buttery caramel sauce. It’s tasty on its own, but even more so when served a la mode. MR