The period before Lent goes by many names – Mardi Gras, Carnival, Carnevale, Fasching – but the idea is the same. It’s a kind of last hurrah before the more somber period in the run up to Easter. Many places celebrate with parades, and as a result street foods like fried pastries are common. Since many fast, eat less rich foods, or at least abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, sometimes features dishes to use up some of those stocks (carnevale means “goodbye meat”).
Then unsurprisingly, there are many celebratory dishes and ones that feed a crowd. Here’s a look at some of the foods enjoyed around the world along with a recipe to enjoy, Brazilian chocolate truffles known as brigadeiros.
Mardi Gras in the US is most famously celebrated in New Orleans. It’s a time when many celebrate with large pots of their favorite dishes such as gumbo, crawfish étouffée and jambalaya. (See our Sunday Supper tastemakers’ versatile jambalaya recipes for some creative choices.) You’ll also see special local treats like oysters Rockefeller and muffuletta sandwiches. On the sweet side, look out for beignets and king cakes, as well as bananas Foster.
The biggest celebrations are often argued to be in Brazil where Carnival is big and colorful. There are huge celebrations in all the major cities which all have their own character. Carnival is often an excuse to enjoy one of Brazil’s most famous dishes, feijoida, a bean and meat stew. Especially on the coast, there will be plenty of fish dishes such as moqueca Baiana, a seafood stew. There’s also plenty of street food such as grilled meat on sticks, pão de queijo or cheese bread balls, and sweet treat like brigadeiros – keep reading for the recipe.
Trinidad and Tobago also battles for the biggest festivities and favorite foods include corn soup, roti bread and doubles, curried chickpeas over a flatbread called barra. You’ll also see other local favorites like chow, fruit seasoned with chili, cilantro and garlic.
Cyprus dedicates two whole weeks to the celebration – one for meat and one for cheese. For meat, think souvlaki or lamb kebabs and tavva, a lamb, potato and tomato stew, as well as favorites like youvetsi, a lamb or beef stew with orzo, and moussaka, a kind of lasagna with eggplant. Cheese naturally includes the nation’s favorite, halloumi (you could try this salad with grilled halloumi), as well as cheese ravioli and bourekia, cheese-filled pastries.
Italy’s Carnevale may be most famously celebrated with masks and parades in Venice but there are many other celebrations across the country. Foods range from doughnut hole-like castagnole, frittelle, a softer version more like fried pancakes. You’ll also find various pasta dishes, especially lasagna, tortolini, gnocchi and sweet ravioli with ricotta.
Germany might have the longest celebration period, starting on November 11th and running right through the winter. The festivities go by different names in the different regions (Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht) and there are some local favorite foods as well as some common favorites – pretzels, sausages and jam-filled doughnuts (krapfen or pfannkuchen). You’ll also see festival/cold weather favorites like mulled wine or gluhwein, German potato pancakes and goulash.
These are only a taster of some of the delicious ways Mardi Gras/Carnival is celebrated in different places across the world, and I haven’t even mentioned pancakes that are common in many places, including my birthplace, the UK.
Do you have any traditions in your family or area? Do share, we’d love to hear! In the meantime, why not try some delicious brigadeiros from Brazil – they’re a really easy sweet treat that the whole family will love. They were apparently invented by a brigadier’s wife (hence the name – “brigadeiros,” Portuguese for brigadier.) When he went into politics, she would make and serve them at fundraising parties and they soon became a hit. Whenever you choose to serve them, they’re sweet, gooey and delicious, so enjoy!
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (14oz)
- 3tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2oz butter (plus a little more for hands/plate later)
- Chocolate vermicelli or chocolate sprinkles (approx 2oz)
- Mix together the condensed milk and the cocoa powder until smooth and there are no lumps of cocoa. Note - if your cocoa powder looks lumpy before you use it, sift it into the condensed milk to make a little easier.
- Melt the butter in a small pan then add the cocoa-condensed milk and mix in. Cook over a low-medium heat for around 10 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickens enough so that it takes a few seconds to flow back to cover the bottom of the pan when you stir it from the bottom. It will also hold to the spoon pretty well.
- Lightly grease a plate with butter then pour the mixture onto the plate. Leave to cool completely (you can speed up in the fridge).
- When the mixture is cool, pour some chocolate vermicelli/sprinkles on a small plate and lay out some mini baking cups. Lightly grease the palm and tips of the hand you’ll use to roll with a little butter.
- Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll it in your hand to form a ball. Roll it in the chocolate vermicelli/sprinkles so that it is covered on all sides (you may need to press them on a little) then place in the baking cup. Repeat with the rest of the mixture. They’ll keep a day or two out in a cool place, a good week or more refrigerated.
Weekday Supper recipes are great for when life gets busy! It’s easy to find them. Search the #WeekdaySupper hashtag across social media or click here for more on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Weekday Supper Pinterest board for plenty more ideas and inspiration.