With all this talk of Louisiana, I got hungry for some Cajun food. So I put Aaron Neville on the CD player and started chopping onions, celery, and bell peppers, the Cajun trinity.
Every now and then I glanced at the stained pages of Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen, in case I'd forgotten any vital ingredient. White pepper, check. Bay leaves, check. Smoked tofu...okay, Prudhomme never used smoked tofu, but I bet he'd approve—the result, I must say, was heaven on a plate.
I don't know if it was Neville's soulful rendition of "Louisiana 1927" that got me teary eyed or the cayenne pepper, but right then and there I determined, you can take the girl out of Louisiana, but not the Louisiana completely out of the girl. It's like a good stock, making its presence felt despite hearty influences from abroad.
But then, jambalaya itself is sort of a half breed, part French, part African, by way of the Caribbean. Some compare it to paella, but I think the result is more like a hopped-up risotto, buzzing with cayenne and joie de vivre.
Jambalaya with Smoked Tofu
First, put Aaron Neville on the CD player. Dr. John will also do, for a less maudlin effect.
Then, make some vegetable stock. You may have been saving pieces of leftover vegetables in your freezer for this: the ends of leeks, carrot tops, green onions, etc. Into a pot of 5 cups water place a carrot, cut in half; one onion, quartered; the leafy ends of a bunch of celery; bay leaves; a handful of parsley, including stems; sprigs of rosemary; a shallot or two; a couple of peeled garlic cloves; a twig or two of fresh oregano and thyme. You get the picture, right? Avoid cruciferous vegetables: broccoli, cabbage, etc.
Boil for a half hour or so and set aside on a low burner.
While the stock is simmering, get out your best knife, and prepare the vegetables for the jambalaya.
2 onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped (green, red, or yellow, or any combination thereof)
3 or 4 celery sticks, chopped
3 cloves of garlic (or 2 if they're large)
1 bunch green onions, chopped (add the green parts to the stock)
1 cup chopped parsley (reserve 1/4 cup for the end)
1/2 teaspoon white pepper, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon thyme; 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Combine in a small bowl and set aside.
1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
1 small can tomato sauce
2 bay leaves
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, or 6 tomatoes peeled, seeded and chopped
8 ounces smoked tofu
1/2 pound vegetarian link sausage, such as Boca Italian links, sliced (optional)
2 cups uncooked white rice
1 more tablespoon olive oil
more red pepper to taste
Saute the vegetables (onion, celery, bell pepper, green onion, parsley and garlic) in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add spice mix, tomato sauce, tomatoes, and tofu and links. Stir. Add 3 - 4 cups stock and rice. Stir, and add more stock as needed while the mixture cooks, covered, over low heat, about 25 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Taste to see if the rice is done. Add more spices if needed, and stir in more olive oil. (This gives the creamy mouth feel you'd normally get from all the fat.) Add the reserved parsley, stir to mix completely.
Serve hot with a green salad, cornbread and beer or red wine.
Notes on ingredients: I used beech smoked tofu, which is readily available here. The sausage links are optional (my husband, a jambalaya purist, insisted) but you may prefer to add another half pound of tofu or steamed tempeh. Quorn "chicken" pieces might also work, if you have them. If you use brown rice, I can't be responsible for the results. It will require more cooking time, which gives it more opportunity to stick and the tofu to get mangled. Try adding the tofu later on in the cooking process. Aaron Neville is available on CD or from the Apple Music Store.