Fat Tuesday feast

Gumbo, Sazerac, and king cake

Today is Fat Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) and festivities are in full force in New Orleans. Celebrated as the last extravagance before the austere days of Lent, Mardi Gras features indulgent food and drink. Even if you don't celebrate the religious holiday, the festival is a good excuse to eat classic New Orleans-inspired food. Indexed magazine Saveur features an entire Fat Tuesday menu, starting with the classic New Orleans cocktail, the Sazerac. If rye whiskey doesn't suit your style, you might enjoy another classic, the hurricane cocktail.

Moving on to appetizers, Saveur recommends oysters. You can't go wrong with these Cajun and Creole oyster starters. Other New Orleans-inspired appetizers feature crawfish, beignets, shrimp, fritters, and cheese spreads.

New Orleans feasts frequently include gumbo as the main dish. There are varieties to suit almost any appetite, with variations that include shrimp, chicken, sausage (including andouille and tasso), duck, and even severel vegan offerings. If you are daunted by the thought of making a long-cooked roux, a hallmark of most gumbo recipes, jambalaya would also suit the occasion.

Jambalaya doesn't require a roux yet it is thicker than gumbo, featuring rice in the dish itself whereas gumbo is usually served over rice. Many people think of jambalaya as a relative of paella but with a definite New Orleans slant. Jambalaya often includes many of the same meats as gumbo including chicken, shrimp and sausage, but there are ham and vegetarian versions as well.

While colorful king cake may be the king of Fat Tuesday desserts, there are other tasty options. Pillowy beignets and rum-spiked bananas Foster are also quintessential New Orleans sweets. Bread puddings are also popular desserts from the region.

What's on your Mardi Gras menu?

Photos of Creole okra gumbo and Sazerac cocktail from Saveur, and photo of king cake from Sweet by Food Network Magazine

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