Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. I know that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday because I know today is Fat Tuesday.
And why do I know today is Fat Tuesday? Because here in East Texas, bordering Louisiana as we do, we’ve been seeing King Cakes in the grocery stores — and King Cakes mean Mardis Gras!
As Wikipedia tells us, King Cake is “a cinnamon-roll like cake inside with sugary icing with traditional Mardi Gras colored sprinkles on the outside. The cake has a small trinket (often a small plastic baby, sometimes said to represent Baby Jesus) inside, and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations (such as buying the cake for the next celebration).”
And if you’re unfamiliar with Mardis Gras, never fear, it’s Wikipedia to the rescue again! “The terms “Mardi Gras”…”Mardi Gras season”, and “Carnival season”,…in English, refer to events of the Carnival celebrations, beginning on or after Epiphany and ending on the day before Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” (in ethnic English tradition, Shrove Tuesday), referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Related popular practices are associated with celebrations before the fasting and religious obligations associated with the penitential season of Lent. Popular practices include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, etc.
King Cakes + Mardi Gras festivities = Cajun food. 🙂
Not that Cajun food is only for Mardi Gras — it is tasty year ’round — but I like to use Fat Tuesday as a reason to turn on the Zydeco music, put on some colorful beads, and cook up something Cajun-style.
And you can’t get much more Cajun than gumbo. Today, I’m making us a big ol’ pot of Sausage Gumbo based on a recipe I came across a couple of years ago printed by one of our local grocery stores, Brookshire’s (http://www.brookshires.com/), in an edition of their monthly “Celebrate Cooking” magazine. This version of gumbo comes together rather quickly and easily, making it a perfect busy-day meal. Chock full of tomatoes and okra, I make this dish with smoked turkey sausage — and to help keep my carbs in balance, I go easy on the rice in my bowl. Smoked turkey sausage gives that rich flavor associated with gumbo and with the traditionally indulgent Fat Tuesday foods, but without the extra calories and fat of more traditional beef or pork sausages.
Smoked Turkey Sausage Gumbo (Makes 8 to 10 servings — gumbo is meant to be shared!)
- 14 ounces (one package) smoked turkey sausage, bias cut in about 1/3″ or so slices
- 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) creole seasoning (I’m using Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, and I added in another teaspoonful — just let it simmer and add more to taste as you desire)
- 1 or 2 teaspoons Canola oil (I sometimes use up to a tablespoon or a wee bit more, as unlike beef or pork smoked sausage, the smoked turkey sausage renders almost no additional fat)
- 1 large onion, diced
- Garlic (cloves or powder), to taste (equivalent of 4 cloves or so recommended)
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 28 ounces (2 cans of 14 ounce tomatoes or one 28-ounce can) diced tomatoes, UNDRAINED
- 4 cups chicken broth or stock (suggest reduced sodium) OR 4 cups water and 2-4 chicken bullion cubes (I’m using a no-salt-added carton of chicken stock)
- 2 1/2 cups frozen okra, sliced or chopped (I really like okra, so I usually add more — I used an entire 16 ounce bag)
- Cooked rice (gumbo is traditionally served over white rice)
- Lightly spray or season with oil a non-stick Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high heat and brown sausage. Remove sausage to a plate or bowl.
- Add a couple of teaspoons of oil and cook onion over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until softened and turning translucent (about 3 to 5 minutes). Add in garlic and Cajun seasoning, stirring almost constantly, until fragrant (about 30 to 60 seconds).
- Stir in flour and cook to brown flour (about 1 minute or so).
- Add tomatoes –with their juice — and chicken broth. Stir. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil.
- Stir in sausage and add in okra.
- Reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook until okra is heated through, anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.
- Serve in a bowl over a scoop of rice. Cornbread is also a tasty accompaniment.
This smells so yummy that you’ll be wearing beads, dancing ’round your kitchen while you’re blasting out some Zydeco! (Go on, take a peek — it’s the Muppets! And if you don’t know what Zydeco is, you will after you watch the video — I guar-an-tee!)