For centuries, Mardi Gras – or Fat Tuesday, also called Carnival – has celebrated the last day of indulgence before the start of the Lenten season. During Lent, millions of households will cut back on meat and other rich foods during this period of purification. The word Carnival itself stems from the Latin carne vale, or “farewell to flesh.”
Holly Clegg, one of the Top Louisiana Chefs of 2011 and author of Trim & Terrific: Gulf Coast Favorites, offers her advice for a healthy, meatless Mardi Gras with Cajun cuisine that you can use to go Meatless Monday all year round. “It may seem like an oxymoron, ‘healthy Louisiana food,’” says Clegg, “but it’s absolutely possible to eat healthier and still have all your traditional favorites.”
One effective strategy for healthier eating –on Mardi Gras and beyond- is to sample traditional, plant-based Cajun dishes and then use them as part of your Meatless Monday repertoire. According to Clegg, the right seasoning is all it takes to get your recipes ready for Carnival:
“You don’t need two sticks of butter for a delicious meal! Blackened seasonings –chili powder, paprika, brown sugar and a bit of salt and pepper- aren’t overly spicy, but add a Cajun kick to all sorts of recipes. You can even try the mix on top of roasted sweet potatoes! Of course, red beans and rice is another traditional Mardi Gras dish that you can easily leave the meat out of.”
For a meatless take on traditional Etouffee, sample this week’s recipe for Smothered Mushrooms cooked in a spicy cayenne gravy. Spicy Rice with Kale can cure your craving for Cajun “dirty rice,” while Holly Clegg’s own Sweet Potato Chili over Couscous serves up classic Louisiana flavors with a healthy twist. End the meal on a sweet note with Citrus Crepes or this lighter version of traditional King Cake.
If you’re planning a Mardi Gras party, start the season right with a mix of traditional Meatless Monday dishes and healthful produce in festive colors. Clegg suggests a platter of green and purple grapes, or her signature Mardi Gras punch, made with pineapple juice, orange juice, grape juice, ginger ale and a garnish of fresh cut limes. “You can also use vibrant green edamame, red yellow and green peppers, shredded purple cabbage and fun pasta shapes to create an easy, Mardi Gras themed pasta salad.”
No matter what healthy dishes you decide to celebrate this week, Mardi Gras can start a tradition of exciting meatless meals. So take a big break from fat this Monday and each week thereafter with the help of Holly Clegg’s Cajun cooking tips!