By now you’ve probably realized that Cajun cooking is my favorite cuisine. I was born in Louisiana (although raised in Pensacola, Fla.), and most of my family still lives there. I’ve also managed to convert my New Jersey-born, Texas-raised husband into a spice fiend. Still, cooking Cajun presents a minor challenge for vegetarians, and I sometimes struggle to maintain the great flavor I’ve grown up with sans meat. So, when I got the craving for jambalaya and Kevin mentioned taking the leftovers to the fire house, I knew it was the perfect time for another veggie vs carnie throwdown.
No worries; the veggie version stayed home with me, although Kevin has met a veggie firefighter since joining the FWFD. While flipping through John Besh’s “My New Orleans,” Kevin and I learned that jambalaya is a fusion dish, blending the spiciness of Cajun cuisine with Spanish paella. Kevin decided to follow Besh’s recipe for jambalaya, omitting the shrimp. Besh’s recipe is meat centric, combining bacon (rendered in duck fat instead of lard because Kevin is crazy), 2 types of sausages and chicken thighs. Kevin also put a lot of heat in the dish with 2 teaspoons of cayenne in addition to 3 teaspoons of smoked paprika. When I came home from work, the entire house smelled like a New Orleans kitchen.
I went far left for the veggie version, combining ingredients from recipes from both FatFree Vegan Kitchen and Emeril Lagasse. One of the things that drew me to the Emeril recipe was that he used farro. I’m a big fan of whole grains, so I decided to try the jambalaya with quinoa because that’s what I had on hand. The veggie version was delicious; it had the right flavors, especially with the addition of liquid smoke. However, I missed the bulkiness of the rice that makes jambalaya, well, jambalaya. So, I would definitely try farro next time, and rice would be great in a pinch. Also, my recipe used a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes, and I think that was far too much tomato. Again, that much sauce might be fine for farro, but it overpowered the tiny quinoa. So, I would either sub in a smaller amount of crushed tomatoes next time or opt for a can of diced or stewed tomatoes. Still, the veggie jambalaya was packed with heat and flavor, and the artichokes rocked this dish.
Vegetarian Jambalaya 1¼ cup quinoa, rinsed (or try 1 cup farro, rinsed w/3 cups vegetable broth – note that the farro will take longer to cook) 2½ cups vegetable broth + ¼ cup vegetable broth 1-2 tablespoons olive oil 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced 1 medium yellow onion, diced 1 medium zucchini, halved and sliced 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 can kidney beans 1 can artichokes 1 can crushed tomatoes (or diced/stewed tomatoes) 1½ tablespoons dried parsley or 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley 2 teaspoons dried oregano 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or several sprigs of fresh thyme) 1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon salt ½ teaspoon black pepper 3 teaspoons cayenne pepper (adjust this based on your heat tolerance) ½ teaspoon Liquid Smoke seasoning Louisiana or other hot sauce – to taste chopped green onions Rinse quinoa in a mesh strainer and combine with 2½ cups vegetable broth in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low heat and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed. In a large nonstick saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add green peppers, onion, zucchini and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium heat until softened. Stir in the kidney beans, artichokes, tomatoes, ¼ cup vegetable broth and seasonings. Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Fold in the cooked quinoa and liquid smoke and cook for 5 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently. Season with hot sauce and top with chopped green onions.