Not just a Saturday parade, Mardi Gras is an entire holiday season. It begins Jan. 6, and usually ends with a blowout celebration on Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday, which is Feb. 16 this year). Unlike other winter holidays, Mardi Gras promises a good time with significantly lower demands. You have beads? You have booze? Congratulations, you are crushing Mardi Gras.
So it’s not a coincidence that the food we associate with Mardi Gras is as much of a stress-buster as the carnival itself. Cook once, using simple ingredients you already have on hand, to make a large pot of nutritious, filling stew that becomes even more delicious as the days roll on. While we may not be able to let our hair down and take our masks off this year, Mardi Gras comfort food still offers a much-needed respite from our wintertime worries.
This mushroom étouffée is perfect for both Meatless Monday and Fat Tuesday. Start with a roux, which is the lovely combination of fat and flour that is the heart of many saucy entrees. In a break with tradition, I use vegan buttery sticks instead of real butter for my roux. The vegan butter gently toasts into a bronzy golden color, and is harder to scorch than its dairy-based counterpart.
Add the vitamin-kissed “Holy Trinity” of onion, green bell pepper and celery, but skip the shellfish to reduce cholesterol. Instead, substitute a variety of savory mushrooms. Whether or not your étouffée should include tomatoes is a matter of debate and personal opinion; I always side with adding more vegetables. Serve your étouffée over brown rice for a healthy, hearty meal, with high hopes that spring will bring more to celebrate.
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