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March/April 2012

The season of Lent has arrived. And I’m betting that there are many who partied much too hard during the Carnival season who welcome the season of repentance, prayer and sacrifice with open arms. Well, maybe not open arms, but at least might relish the thought of six weeks of Lent as a time to have a spiritual renewal of the soul, not to mention some recuperation of the body.

In the not too distant past, meals during Lent were not only meatless, they were simple, albeit nourishing, and because there were certain days of fasting, when snacks between meals were forbidden.
Most of the meals prepared during Lent in New Orleans were referred to as Lenten soups or in French, potage maigres. And these soups were simple broths or consommés, flavored with carrots, onions, turnips, beans or peas, cabbage, and parsley. Sometimes a handful of spinach or a potato or two might be added as well.
In rural areas of south Louisiana, the locals made a stew of potatoes and eggs. A roux was made, then water was added along with cubed potatoes. The mixture was seasoned with the usual salt and cayenne, and sometimes eggs were poached in the liquid, or finely chopped hard-boiled eggs were added to give the meager stew some texture.
Of course in the city and in the country there were meals consisting of different types of seafood. Perhaps there was a courtbouillon or bouillabaisse, or a shrimp stew, fried fish, crab soup, and now and then, a crawfish etouffée. I can attest to the fact that I ate, as a child, my fair share of tuna salad sandwiches, butter and sugar sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches grilled cheese sandwiches, and a whole lot of fish sticks accompanied by macaroni and cheese.
Of course these days, they’re a great variety of vegetarian dishes that have come into vogue that are not only delicious, but also nutritious. With all of that said, I usually try to make Lenten dishes a challenge. There is such a wealth of fresh vegetables available year-round in the supermarkets and at local farmers’ markets, no one should be hard pressed to be a bit creative. And of course, we here in south Louisiana have a great wealth of local seafood—shrimp, crabmeat, crawfish, oysters, and fish—to choose from.

So here then are some recipes that might give you some inspiration for your Lenten meals.

Makes 4 servings

  • 6 pounds large shrimp, heads on (don’t peel them)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1½ teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco® (or more, according to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
  • 1 teaspoon oregano leaves
  • Rinse the shrimp in cool water and drain. Spread the shrimp in a large shallow baking pan. In a saucepan, melt butter, then add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well. Pour sauce over shrimp and marinate for one hour. Bake at 325 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir a couple of times with a spatula. Do not overcook. Serve in a soup bowl with lots of hot French bread to sop up the sauce. Be sure to have some trays around on which to put shells and such. Be forewarned – this can only be eaten with your hands and I would advise you not to wear your best outfit since it can get rather messy. I sometimes have plastic bibs for guests or, if nothing else, large napkins to tuck in the collar.

    Makes 8 servings

    • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
    • 2/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 medium-size onions, chopped
    • 1 medium-size green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
    • 2 celery ribs, chopped
    • 3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
    • 2 cups diced canned tomatoes
    • 1 can Ro-tel tomatoes (tomatoes packed with peppers—use the mild version)
    • 1 quart warm fish stock or water
    • 1 tablespoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
    • 2½ pounds fish (such as redfish, speckled trout or any white-fleshed firm fish) cut into 2-inch chunks.
    • 1 bunch green onions (green part only), chopped
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
    • Combine the flour and oil in a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stirring slowly and constantly make a roux the color of chocolate. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and Ro-Tel and stir to blend. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the oil forms a thin layer, like paper, over the top of the mixture, about 30 minutes.
      Add the fish stock or water, the salt and cayenne and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour. The mixture should be slightly thick. (If the mixture becomes too thick, add more stock or water.) Add the fish, cover and cook (do not stir) until the fish flakes easily with a fork, 10 to 15 minutes. Adjust seasoning if necessary with salt and cayenne.
      Add the green onions and parsley, and serve immediately in soup bowls with steamed rice and pass plenty of hot French bread at the table. (Note: I always have a bottle of hot sauce at the table in case guests want to add a little bit of “heat.”)
      Shrimp Creole is a dish that I love, but I’ve eaten some really nasty ones through the years. This is a recipe I’ve worked on for a few years and I think you’ll like this version.

      Makes 4 to 6 servings

      • 4 tablespoons butter
      • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
      • 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
      • 1 cup chopped bell peppers
      • 3/4 cup chopped celery
      • 3 garlic cloves, minced
      • 2 bay leaves
      • 2 cups peeled, chopped fresh tomatoes or 2 cups canned, chopped with their juice
      • 1 cup shrimp stock or chicken broth
      • 1 teaspoon salt
      • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
      • 2 pounds medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
      • 2 teaspoons chopped parsley
      • Combine the butter and the flour in a medium heavy pot over medium heat. Cook, stirring, to make a blond roux, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft and lightly golden, 8 to 10 minutes.
        Add the bay leaves, tomatoes, shrimp stock, salt, and cayenne. Simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the shrimp and cook until they turn pink, 3 to 4 minutes.
        Remove the bay leaves. Add the parsley and serve over rice.
        And for you crabmeat lovers, here is a simple casserole that can be put together quickly and shoved in the oven to bake while you have a cold beer or a glass of wine.

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