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Easy dish has Big Easy roots

If you enjoy recipes that are easy, flavorful, filling and feed the whole family on the cheap, have I got a recipe for you. Let’s talk about jambalaya, the timeless Creole comfort food made with sausage, chicken or pork, loaded with vegetables and served over rice. Scrumptious.

Meaning “jumbled or mixed up,” jambalaya is the Big Easy classic with roots in French, Spanish, African and Native American cuisines. This down-home dish features the holy trinity: onion, bell pepper and celery. The holy trinity is a cousin of both the French mirepoix and Spanish sofrito and the savory backbone of Cajun and Creole dishes. Add some andouille sausage and you have the spirit of New Orleans on a plate.

This family favorite is my twist on traditional jambalaya. However, even though it tastes similar, we call it “Just About Jambalaya” because I do four things that disqualify me from claiming this as an “authentic” jambalaya recipe.

First, I use Old Bay seasoning instead of Cajun seasoning. I don’t cook the rice in the jambalaya because it gets mushy that way. I cook it separately and serve the jambalaya on top. I throw a handful of baby spinach over the rice before I ladle on the jambalaya, because I’m a sneaky vegetable hider.

Lastly, I garnish with sour cream because I have family with delicate spice-phobic palates. I’m fairly certain all this would get me hunted down by a pitchfork-wielding mob in the French Quarter.

This recipe is versatile. You can shop the sales and still come home with everything you need. You can use light or dark meat chicken, or any cut of pork. Traditionally, we’d add spicy andouille (ahn-DO-wee) sausage, but any variety of smoked sausage works, so pick what’s on sale. Those who don’t eat pork can substitute turkey sausage. It’s naturally gluten free. Those eating low carb can skip the rice and serve over a bed of baby spinach. Vegetarians can opt for vegan sausage or substitute a pound of quartered mushrooms and a can of small red beans for the meat in this recipe.

I take a shortcut by using frozen vegetables, specifically a mixed bell pepper and onion blend. Sometimes labeled “pepper stir fry”, this is a staple in my freezer a due to its ease, long shelf life and incredible versatility.

This recipe freezes well and easily doubles or triples for serving a crowd. I hope you’ll try this soon and see if your family agrees with mine, Just About Jambalaya is just about irresistible.

JUST ABOUT JAMBALAYA

Yield: 6 regular servings or 4 obnoxious ones

Time: 1 hour

What you’ll need:

2 cups brown or white rice to yield 6 cups cooked rice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 12-to-14-ounce link andouille or kielbasa sausage

1 pound boneless, skinless white or dark meat chicken or pork

1 16-ounce bag frozen bell pepper and onion blend

1½ cups celery, sliced

1 14.5-ounce can Italian-style diced tomatoes

1 14.5-ounce can chicken broth

1 teaspoon Old Bay or Cajun seasoning

Serving suggestions: baby spinach, sour cream, green onion, hot pepper sauce

Here’s how:

Prepare rice according to package directions.

Slice the sausage into 1/8-inch slices then into half moons.

Cut the chicken or pork into 1-inch cubes.

In a large skillet on medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the sausage and sauté until browned and some flavorful fat has rendered. Push the sausage to the side of the pan and add the chicken or pork in batches to brown, pushing aside as you go. I’m going for color here; you don’t have to cook this completely because it’s going to simmer in liquid before serving.

When the meat has browned, remove from pan, set aside and keep warm. To the same deliciously dirty pan, add your frozen pepper and onion blend and celery. The frozen vegetables will release liquid; that’s OK. Let this liquid reduce as it brings lots of flavor to the dish. Keep cooking until vegetables are softened and most of the liquid has evaporated.

Now add the tomatoes, broth, seasoning and return the meats to the pan. Give it a good stir and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and let this simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice, with a handful of spinach and garnish with sour cream, (if you’re not afraid of angry mobs) and green onion. Pass the hot sauce at the table.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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