Monday, February 27, 2017

A True Cajun Mardi Gras

This is the time for Mardi Gras and all the flavors of New Orleans.However, it's the cuisine of the Cajun backwoods that's the true taste of the holiday. some recipes have been handed down , first originating in Nova Scotia and France and marrying dishes from Africa and Spain. Their traditional dishes is what the holiday is all about.

Gumbo is an excellent example of  Cajun cooking. Every family probably has a recipe handed down through the decades. Its origins are from the French seafood stew bouillabaisse and the hearty soups of West Africa.Okra is the binder in it,In fact the name gumbo comes from the Bantu word for the plant nkombo. Any kind of caught meat , from squirrel to venison is used. A meatless variation, gumbo z'herbes for Lent. made with beet greens spinach and turnip greens. Spanish colonists brought paella to the area and it was refashioned in jambalaya.Again, the recipe varies from family to family. The basic one is made with chicken and shrimp along with the holy trinity of Cajun cooking, celery onions, and bell peppers. Thyme, bay leaf and parsley are also added.  Some parish home chefs add andouille the homemade garlic laced sausage along with alligator (!). Tomato paste is omitted from the recipe unlike the professional ones in New Orleans.Crawfish is a huge part of any celebration and the spicier the better. The fish is dipped in a blend of paprika , cayenne and chile powder along with garlic , salt and pepper.

Sweets also plays an important part in any Cajun country celebration. There is the King Cake a fun sweet yeasty brioche type  bread. It's decorated with a vanilla glaze that's been sprinkled with gold, purple and green sugar. Gold symbolizes power, green means faith, and purple means justice . Home bakers hide little trinkets inside such as a coin meaning prosperity in the coming year, a baby doll representing the infant Jesus and a wedding ring , hinting at a possible marriage for the finder. Another sweet Mardi Gras treat is chocolate yummy  or pudding cake..It begins with a cookie base , followed by layers of chocolate pudding, sweetened cream cheese and Cool Whip. Every house has a different spin on it. Instead of cookies, the first layer can be a cake or a mixture of  flour , pecans and butter.. Some home bakers will add an extra layer of vanilla pudding to the layer of chocolate pudding. Instead of a third layer of Cool Whip, freshly whipped cream can easily be used as a third layer.Chopped pecans or chocolate chips can be sprinkled on top.

True Mardi Gras celebrations are in the parishes surrounding New Orleans. Locals revel and eat these delicious dishes that have been  handed down. It is a fun way of enjoying the last day before Lent.

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