I've never been to the Deep South, but just mention the word "jambalaya" to me, and my imagination immediately finds itself in deepest darkest Louisiana - or as deep and dark as Gonzales is, that is. I dont know what it's like, you see, because while my imagination has set foot in the Jambalaya Capital of the World, my foot has not.
Actually, if ever I DO manage to be there (in person, that is) for the Jambalaya Festival, it would be the most pointless exercise in terms of my ability - or rather, inability - to eat this renowned Creole/Cajun dish... the reason being that I'm 99.99% vegetarian and prefer my food not to have been sentient at any point in its lifetime. I guess I could always savour the experience, if not the food...
Anyway, I decided to make jambalaya at home, as the first dish made on the first day of the new year. I had some vegetarian sausages (made of soya) that Pete had kindly bought for me on an impromptu shopping trip. While on the subject of vegetarian sausages and other meat-replacement attempts, do you know just how difficult it is for non-vegetarians to understand that genuine Indian veggies like me do NOT crave for meat substitutes, whether in texture OR taste? The mock-meats and soya/tofu products are all for former carnivores who miss their carne. It's by turns tiring or boring - sometimes both - trying to explain, and even in these enlightened days, I get the occasional baffled "But what do you eat?" question.
Digression aside, the jambalaya recipe that served as the basis of my inspiration was Jag's, posted on his blog, Route 79. Jag's recipes are painstakingly photographed and captioned and believe me, I go there sometimes just to read his recipes and drool a little. (Ok, drool a lot. Dammit, this honesty thing is overrated.) As far as I'm concerned, everything vegetarian he has on his blog is on the list of "my favourite foods", all of them crowding for first position.
I say that Jag's recipe is the basis of mine because I had to make some substitutions and omissions for the usual reasons. For instance, I didnt have celery (mainly because I dont like it!), so I used a little 21-seasoning mix that's strong on celery seed, as a substitute. I didnt use chicken or prawns or chorizo sausage either. What I followed were the actual cooking instructions from Jag's recipe. A good thing too, because the rice was cooked to perfection. Not dry, not mushy, not clumpy - just perfect.
Recipe for: Jambalaya
1 cup vegetarian sausages cut into 1-cm rounds
2 medium onions, sliced into long thin pieces
1 large green (or any other colour) bell pepper, sliced long and thin
1/2 tsp celery seed (or use 1 celery stick, sliced thin)
1" piece ginger, grated
3 cloves of garlic, chopped or grated
1 chicken or vegetable stock cube
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tbsp periperi, tabasco, habanero or any other spicy sauce (or as per taste)
2 cups basmati rice, washed and drained
4 cups boiling water
2 tbsp oil
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp chopped spring onions for garnish
1. Prepare the stock using the stock cube and the 4 cups of boiling water. Stir in whichever spicy sauce you're using. Reserve.
2. Pour 1 tsp oil in a large pan (make sure it's one with a lid that fits correctly) and fry the "sausage" pieces, stirring often, till golden.
Remove from the pan and reserve.
3. Now pour the remaining oil into the pan and add the onions.
4. When they start softening slightly, add the sliced bell peppers.
5. Turn the heat up to high and stir fry till the onions and peppers begin to acquire brown edges.
6. Now add the chopped garlic and ginger and stir fry for a minute or so.
If you're using celery, add it now and stir it all around for a couple of minutes more.
7. Toss in the fried "sausage" pieces and stir it in, making sure the pieces are coated with whatever oil is left in the pan.
8. Then add the drained soaked rice, stirring it in till well distributed.
Pour in the prepared stock and stir, letting the liquid come to a bubbling boil.
9. When the stock is bubbling, add the bay leaves and the chopped tomatoes. Stir them in.
10. Cover the pot and turn the heat down as low as possible. Leave the rice to cook covered and undisturbed for 20 minutes. Do NOT lift the lid or you will lose precious steam and the rice will not cook well.
11. After 20 minutes, turn off the gas and let the jambalaya sit covered for 10 minutes in the pan. Then take off the lid (ahhhh the aroma!),
sprinkle the chopped parsley and spring onions over, and serve the jambalaya hot.