Southern Louisiana Style Food: 10 Classic Celebratory Dishes

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Known for the abundance of culture and its use of creole and cajun cuisine with the most authentic and flavorful dishes, Southern Louisiana is the place to be. It is especially the go-to place for celebrations such as Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, where locals and people from around the globe fill the streets with music, dancing, and coming together as a community to pay homage to the heritage.

Unfortunately, celebrating these festivals looks a little different this year with rising COVID-19 numbers. Regardless of not being able to honor these festivals in person, you can always have a little taste of celebration at home. Here are some dishes to try with family or a small group of friends as a way of bringing the festival to you!

1. Beignets

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody that this tasty dessert is a necessity when visiting cities in Southern Louisiana. These light, pillowy, yet somehow dense pastries are fried to a golden-brown and should be smothered in powdered sugar. No, not lightly dusted, SMOTHERED. You should barely see the golden-brown of the beignets peeking through. Powdered sugar is the must-have ingredient to truly enjoy beignets — think of it as the glue that pulls everything together. It gives that much-needed sweetness that isn’t overpowering. Without it, it can leave the pastries bland. 

Recipe from Baker By Nature: New Orleans-Style Beignets

2. Jambalaya

The famous rice dish of the south — typically loaded with meat, seafood and vegetables combined with a sauce that might kick you with a little bit of heat. Food Republic describes jambalaya as the love child of risotto or paella because of the thick and filling finish while providing a creamy-like texture. Jambalaya is the perfect main course centerpiece for your little Southern feast. Just don’t eat too much in one sitting because you won’t have enough room for the rest of the goodies listed ahead. 

Recipe from Confetti and Bliss: New Orleans Jambalaya Recipe | Easy One-Pot Meal

3. Po-Boy

The perfect handheld sandwich nestling all the ingredients within. In cities like New Orleans, the typical po-boy will contain fried seafood depending on what’s in season. It could vary from fried soft-shell crabs, fried oysters, or fried shrimp. You can also get it in duck or roast beef. It is almost always served in a warm baguette and complemented with lettuce, tomatoes and dressed with a classic remoulade or aioli sauce. 

Recipe from Favorite Family Recipes: Shrimp Po Boys with Creamy Cajun Sauce

4. Dirty Rice

Not the best name for a dish, but trust me, once you take a bite of this you’ll forget all about it. The base is white rice which then turns into a “dirty” color once everything is mixed together. It has a mixture of browned ground beef, chicken, and pork with an array of vegetables and cajun spice. If the flavors can change the rice’s color, just imagine what it will do to your taste buds. 

Recipe from The Spruce Eats: Classic Cajun Dirty Rice

5 .Shrimp and Grits

The popular boiled cornmeal dish can be served either sweet or savory but is commonly paired with shrimp. Make sure to add an extra amount of cheese to the grits to achieve that perfectly rich and buttery appearance. To give it an even more Southern sparkle, add some cajun seasoning! 

Recipe from Immaculate Bites: Cajun Shrimp and Grits

6. Red Beans and Rice

This is not your ordinary beans and plain white rice on a plate. Dishes like that don’t exist in Southern Louisiana. The beans are usually combined and simmered with andouille sausage or ham,  and then poured over a heaping bowl of white rice.

This dish is usually made on Mondays because, during the 19th century, Mondays were considered laundry days. However, since not everyone had access to washing machines back then, women had to hand wash every article of clothing in the household consuming most of their time. Because of this, there wasn’t enough time to dedicate to cooking. And in Southern Louisiana, all meals are very authentic and they take their food seriously. Going to a nearby drive-thru at a fast food joint wasn’t an option. Instead, they would leave the beans on the stove all day to cook while they do laundry so the household can have a meal to eat later in the day. 

Recipe from Southern Bytes: Louisiana Red Beans and Rice

7. Crawfish Boil

This mouthwatering seafood bounty is a crowd favorite during the spring and summer months. A mixture of crawfish or other seafood including shrimp, crab, or lobster boiled in a spicy broth accompanied with corn, potatoes, smoked sausage, and lemon.

It’s essential to really get your hands everywhere to truly experience the boil. If you’re not messy afterward, then you didn’t do it right. A must-have on the side is bread — to soak up the rest of that magical sauce, so none of it goes to waste. 

Recipe from This Ole Mom: Louisiana Crawfish Boil

8. Gumbo

A hearty stew exploding with a parade of flavors inside. There are no limits to the number of meats and seafood you can add. Honestly, the more the better. It also holds the “holy trinity” of Creole and Cajun cuisine — celery, onions, and bell peppers.

Locals say that the key ingredient to a successful gumbo is the roux. Roux is a mixture of flour or a type of fat like butter or oil used to thicken soups and stews. For gumbo, the roux is what gives it that amazing consistency and color.

This adored staple of the South is traditionally served with white rice because of the vigorous flavors. It needs a side that is more subtle for an overall well-balanced meal. 

Recipe from Tastes Better From Scratch: Authentic New Orleans Gumbo

9. Etouffee

A dish very similar to gumbo, but instead only focuses on one type of protein — shellfish.  Additionally, it’s also slightly thicker because of the amount of seafood stuffed into this one dish.

In French etouffee translates to “smothering,” a fairly popular method in Creole and Cajun cooking where the protein is stove-top braised with a little bit of liquid in a pan and covered with a lid. Proteins that use this cooking technique are first browned to give it that beautiful caramelized surface.  Then it’s cooked or “smothered” is its own juices producing a sauce, then thickened with a roux or slurry. Smothering brings out the flavors of the protein you’re using.

Recipe from Spicy Southern Kitchen: Shrimp Etouffee Recipe

10. King Cake

A delicacy appealing to the eye with the vibrant colors of purple, gold, and green. This brioche-like cake is rolled into an oval shape and similar to a bundt presenting a hole in the center. It can be eaten plain or filled with cream cheese, chocolate or cinnamon. 

The cake is also filled with a lot of meaning. According to Southern Living, each color symbolizes something. Purple represents justice, green is for faith, and gold for power.

King cake also has a lot of religious background to it. People in the south only eat this cake from January 6th all the way to the eve of Mardi Gras, as stated by Forbes. Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday,” because it’s the last time people can enjoy meaty and plentiful foods before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the Lent season. The name of this treat comes from the Three Kings, which is studied in the bible. If you buy this at a local bakery, you may see a plastic baby somewhere on the cake. The baby represents baby Jesus and whoever finds it will be rewarded with good luck. It is also the person’s job to bring or make the cake the following year. 

Recipe from My Recipes: Traditional King Cake

Despite the celebrations of Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest not being the same this year, these fulfilling dishes will bring the celebration to your home — filling not only the stomach but also the soul.