created at: 2014-02-27I don’t have any real ties to New Orleans. I’ve visited every state that surrounds Louisiana, and although the city has been a longtime fixture at the top of my list of future vacation destinations, I haven’t yet been. But you don’t have to live there or have visited to respect the food culture, especially with Mardi Gras right around the corner.

And while I celebrate Fat Tuesday almost every week, New Orleans really ups its game this time of year. Aside from the religious ties that it represents, the holiday comes with some of the best food-centric backstories. There’s the tradition of making pancakes, or finding the miniature baby figurine inside of a king cake, or preparing a vat of jambalaya for the feast before the feast.

While New Orleans cuisine isn’t the most kosher-friendly (you can’t make gumbo without the pork products or an oyster po’ boy without the oysters), many of the dishes have a universal theme: indulgence.

The most indulgent snack I can think of is prepared by my friend Kelly, who isn’t allowed to attend our mutual friends’ dinner parties unless she promises to bring a plate of her jalapeno poppers. What they lack in sophistication (sorry, Kelly!), they make up for in gooey cheesiness and hot pepper bite. I’ll be whipping up a batch next week and indulging in my own Fat Tuesday festivities.

Kelly’s Jalapeno Poppers

Makes 24

If you’re sensitive to jalapenos’ heat, you may want to wear latex gloves when slicing the jalapenos and discarding the seeds.

12 jalapeno peppers, about 2 ½ inches long
1½ cups grated cheddar cheese
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more for spicier poppers)
2 large eggs
Plain breadcrumbs
Pizza or marinara sauce for dipping (homemade or store bought)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut peppers in half lengthwise; scrape out and discard seeds.

2. In small bowl, mix together cheddar cheese, cream cheese, garlic powder and cayenne pepper; fill each pepper half with some mixture.

3. In medium bowl, lightly beat eggs until frothy. In second medium bowl (or shallow plate), combine breadcrumbs and salt. Roll each filled pepper in eggs, then transfer to bowl with breadcrumbs and roll until completely covered. Place peppers on baking sheet.

4. Bake on middle rack until cheese has melted and breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm, with sauce for dipping.