Sans Meal Plan: Bringing the Big Easy to Brown

Shrimp, meet Tabasco.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that folks on practically every continent have been celebrating Carnival for the past two weeks in preparation for Lent. The culmination of these two weeks of vice and frivolity is known here in the States as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

New Orleans is an amazing city full of life and culture, and no other place celebrates Mardi Gras like the Big Easy. Apart from the tales of nudity and reckless drinking in hopes of building one’s bead collection, New Orleans is famous for great food, great people, and a great atmosphere. Much to my dismay, I have yet to make it to New Orleans; despite this, I have tried my share of NOLA cuisine from Creole to Cajun, beignets to pralines, and beyond. Louisiana is one of those places that has about a million “original” recipes that could probably instigate some serious problems with the locals if done incorrectly. One of my favorite dishes is Creole jambalaya.  I must admit, I used to have some difficulties differentiating between jambalaya and gumbo, but I’m pretty sure I understand the differences now: jambalaya is a rice-based dish whereas gumbo is more of a stew that is then served atop rice. There are nearly the same number of variations of each dish as there are cooks, each involving different meats, seafood, vegetables, and so forth.

Creole jambalaya, or red jambalaya because of the added tomatoes, is the most widely known variation of jambalaya. Meat, usually chicken and sausage (spicy Andouille), is added to onions, peppers, and celery. Then, tomatoes and other vegetables are added in, followed by seafood. Lastly, rice and stock are thrown in and everything is simmered together until the flavors combine to create Creole euphoria.

Because jambalaya is one of my favorite Louisiana traditions (apart from King Cake, that is), I knew it was a solid choice for my Mardi Gras feast. However, after a weekend of delicious albeit heavy food with my friend visiting from home, I wanted to use a somewhat lightened up recipe. Although my go-to jambalaya is not so traditional (one, it’s from Cooking Light; two, I switch out rice for barley due to personal tastes), it is delicious and spicy and can be made in one pot (can I hear a woop woop?!?). Also, it feeds me for a few meals so I can take a couple days off of dinner duty. What more could I ask for from a recipe?

If you’re using quick cooking rice (or, in my case, barley), this recipe comes together really quickly; it usually only takes me about 45 minutes even with chopping and prepping and wiping the tears from my onion-fumed eyes. Even better, most of the ingredients needed for this jambalaya are already in a well-stocked kitchen, so chances are that all you’ll need to buy is some spicy sausage and some shrimp (unless you’re crazy like me and always have frozen shrimp on hand). So, hurry up and make some jambalaya in honor of Mardi Gras, and laissez les bons temps rouler, y’all!  Unless you’re Catholic, that is, then maybe laissez les bons temps cesser till Easter…

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