February 12, 2018
Photo Credit: MyRecipes
February 13, 2018 marks MARDI GRAS! Also known as Fat Tuesday, this Christian holiday is celebrated around the world, but no where celebrates Mardi Gras quite like New Orleans! In the Big Easy, Mardi Gras is spent dancing in the street donned in purple, green, and gold beads, enjoying live music, and, of course, feasting.
Creole and Cajun foods are staples in Louisiana, and sought after during Mardi Gras. However, since both Creole and Cajun cooking styles share numerous similarities, there is a lot of speculation as to what really differentiates them.
Here’s the scoop:
Creole food is a melting pot of flavors and cultures. First developed in the 18th century, creole refers to the early European settlers of New Orleans. These wealthy landowners of European descent (or their imported chefs) combined French cooking styles and Spanish seasonings with African American and Caribbean influences - all utilizing unique local ingredients. This melting pot of flavors and techniques, executed in fancy kitchens with a refined preparation, is what creole food is all about. Jambalaya is a creole interpretation of Spanish paella, and gumbo was likely borne from a French soup called bouillabaisse.
In the early 1700s, French colonists initially residing in Canada migrated to the swampy bayous of southern Louisiana. Extremely resourceful, these hunter-gatherer flavor geniuses lived off of the land, hunting and preparing game all while developing their own cuisine that is generally cooked in a single cast-iron pot. Cajun food is more than just cayenne pepper - this style of cooking utilizes fresh vegetables and herbs to provide a flavor base to dishes.
While spice and seafood often come to mind when we think of Cajun and Creole cooking, produce plays an important role in flavor and texture. Below are a few items that are vital to some of the most iconic Mardi Gras dishes, and are otherwise used often in Creole and Cajun cooking:
Bell peppers are plentiful in Creole and Cajun recipes, ranging from the classics like jambalaya and gumbo to “dirty” rice. Red, yellow, orange, and green bell peppers are available year-round. Not only do bell peppers offer a pop of color to any recipe, but depending on which color of bell pepper used, they provide a distinct taste, too. For example, green bell peppers are typically bitter since they do not spend as much time ripening on the vine, whereas the red bell pepper is sweet and tangy. Looking for a twist to the classic jambalaya recipe? Poblano peppers would make a nice substitute as they are not spicy, but offer a smoky flavor that can’t be found in bell peppers. For more of a kick, try substituting the bell pepper with a jalapeno pepper.
Red bell pepper is used in this chicken-andouille gumbo recipe.
Green okra was first introduced to America when the French colonists, mentioned above, migrated to Louisiana and brought okra seeds with them. Since then, okra has continued to be a predominant ingredient in Southern American cooking. Okra appears in gumbo and creole recipes. Thai okra and Chinese okra varieties are also available, with Thai okra being most similar to green okra.
This cajun jambalaya recipe uses one cup of okra, sliced into rounds.
Thyme is available year round and lends savory, woody flavors to Cajun and Creole dishes. Thyme pairs well with seafood, which is no wonder that it’s included in seafood-centered dishes like Shrimp Étouffée.
Thyme is whisked into this creamy crawfish bisque recipe.
Mardi Gras, Produce, Bell Peppers, Thyme, Okra