Food

11 Recipes to Celebrate Mardi Gras

Getting into the Fat Tuesday spirit? Here's how to enjoy flavorful Louisiana cuisine while staying on Plan.

New Orleans starts partying in January and really gets going in February, right up to "Fat Tuesday," the day before Lent begins. There are parades galore, masquerade balls and Cajun and Creole feasts.

Food (and drink) may be central to Mardi Gras festivities, but that doesn't mean you have to skip the celebration if you want to stay on Plan. Even if you can't say no to fresh beignets (to name one New Orleans favorite!), you can at least shoot for not gaining weight. Just remember these two words: portion control.

The more you know about these delicious cuisines, the more prepared you'll be to make smart decisions about what to eat.

Traditional Regional Cuisines and Signature Dishes

 

Cajun cooking 

 

A cross between Southern and French cuisines, this "fiery" style of cooking originated with the French Canadians who settled in Louisiana in the 18th century. Though it relies heavily on animal fat for flavor and texture, its dishes can also be veggie-heavy, containing healthy portions of peppers, onion and sometimes celery.

 

Creole cooking 

 

Spanish, French and African cooking techniques are combined to yield this well-spiced cuisine. Although it is sometimes confused with Cajun cooking, Creole cooking is generally considered to be heavier on butter, cream and tomatoes.

 

Crayfish/crawfish 

 

These small, freshwater fish resemble — but aren't related to — lobsters. They're low in calories, but while they're healthy on their own, you have to watch out for deep-fried varieties. Opt for crawfish sautés, soups and stews.

 

Gumbo 

 

This stewlike dish typically teams up chicken, pork or shellfish (or a combination thereof) with a wide variety of vegetables such as peppers, onions, okra and tomatoes. It's one of your better Mardi Gras choices from a nutritious standpoint.

 

Jambalaya 

 

In this dish, rice, tomatoes, green pepper and onion are mixed with poultry, meat, shellfish and sometimes sausage, then sautéed and simmered. The chicken or shrimp varieties are tasty lower-fat options.

 

King cake 

 

This oval-shaped, sugary pastry is served up with a surprise: a small plastic doll baked inside. Tradition holds that whoever gets the piece with the doll is expected to host next year's party. Calories for this specialty are quite variable so we created our own low-calorie version (see below).

 

Muffuletta 

 

Piled high with ham, salami, cheese and an olive "salad," this New Orleans hero packs quite a flavor — and calorie — punch. Either share one with a few friends or pass it up in favor of some gumbo.