Recipes for a midweek Mardi Gras feast

Gumbo, seafood stews and king cake help brighten a wintry week with a festive dinner from New Orleans.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

By this time in February, I’ve usually had enough distance from the winter holidays that I feel finally ready to make a celebratory dinner. Thankfully, this typically coincides with Mardi Gras, a holiday that I was raised celebrating where I grew up in Mississippi, which is smack in the middle between Mobile, Ala., and New Orleans, where it’s celebrated in the most famous, bombastic fashion.

Growing up, we’d have a weekly party at school where we’d all vie for finding a tiny plastic baby (a.k.a. Jesus) in a king cake. A different confection from French galette des rois, the cake looks more akin to the Spanish rosca de reyes. If you found the baby Jesus, it meant that you were “king for the day” — but it also meant your parents had to bring the cake for the next week’s party.

The New Orleans king cake is basically a pillowy giant doughnut ring, laced with cinnamon and sometimes stuffed with cream cheese or fruit, then glazed and decorated with purple, green and gold sprinkles — having one every week during that season was the highlight of the year.


And when it came time for the actual holiday itself, we’d make giant pots of chicken and sausage gumbo, crawfish étouffée or jambalaya; anything to evoke the flavors of New Orleans.

Now that I live in L.A., I still carry on that tradition at home. I will absolutely be making a pot of gumbo like this Chicken and Andouille Smoked Sausage Gumbo, teeming with andouille, the lightly spicy, deeply savory sausage that permeates the broth and vegetables and is an essential component to the dish. A bowl of gumbo with a scoop of rice on top is my version of comfort food heaven.

If you want to make the occasion a dinner party, try my Cajun Seafood Stew with Spicy Sausage and Fried Okra, which takes all the components of a seafood gumbo and kinda lets them shine in a new way. A lighter, white wine-based broth made without a roux, the stew is teeming with shrimp, fish and mussels and topped with fried okra strips so they stay crispy instead of melting into the liquid.

If you have any leftover andouille (or just prefer it to be the main meat of the dish), try my easy Red Beans and Greens, which combines the sausage and collards (or any greens you have on hand) with red kidney beans for a simple spin on red beans and rice. And if you’re not eating meat, swap the andouille for a vegetarian version or Soyrizo to bring plenty of heat to the broth.

And for dessert, a King Cake is a must. This version stuffs the soft, brioche-like dough with two fillings — cinnamon-apple and cream cheese — but you could just use one or neither. The requisite glaze on top adds plenty of sweetness to the intentionally over-the-top treat, so don’t skimp on the sugar here.

And if you’re craving something sweet, but that isn’t such a project, try out New Orleans-Style Beignets, the famous fritters the city is famous for. A couple of them, coated in a thick blanket of powdered sugar, is just the type of thing to have with coffee (the chicory kind if you want to be authentic) after a big celebratory meal that feels like a fresh reset in our current period of colder-weather cooking.

Chicken and Andouille Smoked Sausage Gumbo

Andouille sausage, a smoked and spiced pork sausage, is an essential component of this gumbo, made with chicken and thickened with roux, okra and filé powder, a dried and ground root that adds a saline earthiness to the stew. If you can’t find andouille, use fresh chorizo or another spiced sausage you like.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 40 minutes.


Cajun Seafood Stew with Spicy Sausage and Fried Okra

Frying the okra results in shoestring-fry-like strands and rids the pods of their gelatinous stickiness. If you’d rather use one type of seafood, try 3 pounds of mussels or 3 pounds of peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp or 4 pounds of fish fillets.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - Jan. 23, 2020: Ben Mims' Cajun Seafood Stew
(Silvia Razgova)

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Red Beans and Greens

Take any greens, such as mustard, collard or kale, left over from your CSA or restaurant produce box and sauté them in olive oil, infused with andouille sausage, before stirring them into tender Cajun-style red beans for a hearty one-pot meal to eat over rice.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 2 hours.

Spicy andouille sausage flavors both red kidney beans and sautéed young mustard greens in this comforting one-pot dish.
(Ben Mims / Los Angeles Times)

Mardi Gras King Cake

Whether flavored simply with a touch of cinnamon sugar or decked out with any of a number of creative fillings, there’s nothing subtle about king cake. In this cake, chunks of apple alternate with a light cream cheese filling. Each slice is a wonderful play on flavors: not too tart, not too sweet.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 1 hour 45 minutes.


New Orleans-Style Beignets

Beignets are a New Orleans specialty: squares of yeasty dough fried until puffy, then smothered in powdered sugar, to be eaten with the local chicory coffee. When frying, the beignets will sink to the bottom, then pop right up as they lighten and cook to golden brown.
Get the recipe.
Cook time: 30 minutes. December 20, 2007. New Orleans style beignets.
(Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

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