After the Christmas rush and before Lent begins is a great time to enjoy a European tradition similar to Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
Mardi Gras is a French word that means Fat Tuesday because we have until that day to get fat, so to speak, before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
For many Christian cultures the season of Mardi Gras begins when the Christmas season is over. In Italy it is called Carnevale. In English the word translates to Carnival, which literally means in Italian “meat goes away.” Since Lent is a time of sacrifice for the things we enjoy, like meat dishes, this season is a time to celebrate all the foods we enjoy eating before we give them up, as a sacrifice during Lent.
When I was studying to be a priest in Rome, Italy, we seminarians often made jambalaya during Carnevale, because it is an American tradition that originates in Southern Louisiana. It is a combination of French, Spanish and Western African cuisines. Just like the USA is a melting pot of sorts, jambalaya is a combination of the food culture in New Orleans.
The spiritual aspect of jambalaya is that while you are cleaning out your cupboards and refrigerator using multiple ingredients, in preparation for Lent, you can contemplate ridding your spiritual life of excess vices as well. You may even have some of your own family traditions for preparing for Lent at this time of year as well.
As we get ready for Lent, we should think about how we will deepen our relationship with almighty God by increasing our prayer, fasting and alms giving. Although, we should practice these disciplines in some form all year, we intensify them during Lent.
Keep in mind that the fasting we do during Lent is intended to counter the excesses in which we habitually indulge. It helps us to learn how to resist bad habits. We also learn more about our strengths and weaknesses through these disciplines that Christ himself calls us to.
Ash Wednesday is Feb. 26 this year. So while we contemplate getting ready for Lent and Easter we can enjoy certain things that we plan to give up. That is what the season of Mardi Gras or Carnevale is all about.
With all this in mind I’d like to share my favorite Carnival recipe for jambalaya:
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch cubes
- ½ pound smoked sausage, sliced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
- 1 stalk celery, chopped
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ½ cup of dry white wine
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 2 teaspoons Cajun or Creole seasoning
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce or cayenne pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 pound frozen peeled and cooked shrimp, thawed (optional)
- 2 cups of raw rice
In a slow cooker, combine chicken, sausage, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, celery, wine and chicken broth. Stir in oregano, Cajun seasoning, hot sauce, bay leaves and thyme.
Cover, and cook on low for 7 hours or on high for 3 hours. Stir in the thawed shrimp, cover and cook until the shrimp is heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaves and enjoy. You’ll know it’s ready when the rice is cooked. Serves up to eight people.
The Rev. James Williams is pastor of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salida.