Belonging Cookbook: Melanie's Jambalaya Recipe

written by Erica Richmond

For Melanie Jacobs, food is an expression of creativity and love.

From the time her kids were small, she made it her mission to create fun and nutritious recipes for her family. Despite living on a fixed budget, Melanie used what was in the cupboard and stretched it into amazing meals with little to no waste! These days her now adult kids still ask for some of their simple childhood faves, like beans and pitas, along with new menu additions. (actually – they love all food!)

Melanie was introduced to jambalaya as “the better chilli” while at a field party. It was love at first bite. She came away with a vague idea of a recipe and has since perfected not only a traditional meat version but also a vegan recipe using okra. In fact, part of the reason Melanie chose this recipe for the cookbook was due to the vegan aspect.

“It spoke to the theme of belonging in the sense that it’s kinda great to adapt recipes for loved ones with dietary restrictions because… we love them!”

Today, Melanie feels quite fortunate to be able to provide meals like jambalaya for her family (who have BIG feelings about this recipe) and anyone else who joins them. Her prowess in the kitchen is well known in the community and her kids will often hear their friends ask, “When is your mom going to feed us?”

Melanie believes that when food is being shared, life is good. In fact when asked what ingredient signifies belonging in her recipe, she replied

“I would have to say time. Time is an overlooked ingredient in many recipes, but making the time – away from so many distractions – to prepare and sit and break bread is pretty meaningful. It’s a luxury we don’t all have or don’t have often, regardless of where we’re at in life.”

Melanie offers many of her recipes and stories on her blog. Follow her here: https://melanisms.wordpress.com/

 

Jambalaya

So many things that would be used on the bayou are difficult to come by here in Peterborough, so I often swap stuff out. Andouille sausage, for example, pretty pervasively used in “authentic” jambalaya, but I tend to use the extra-smoky, street meat style sausages one can easily acquire from any grocer as a substitute. Dried chorizo is also a good stand-in. Sometimes I have two sausages on hand and just use those. Sometimes I have four on hand and use them all just to get them out of the way. Green peppers are also more standard that poblanos, but I have a lot of feelings for poblanos, so I use those. If you don’t like dark chicken meat, use white. If you don’t like fiddling with skins and bones in the chicken, buy it boneless and skinless. I am very picky about rice in that I don’t like its texture after it has sat in liquids for a long time, so I tend to make the rice separate from the jambalaya if I feel there will be leftovers, but cook it right in when I’m feeding a small army. I have included instructions for both in the recipe.

This recipe makes about eight, meal-sized servings and is a great make-ahead dish when you need to feed a small crowd (just keep that rice thing in mind!).

Jambalaya

Ingredients

• 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
• 3 smoked sausage cut in half inch rounds
• 1 lb chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
• 2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly ground
• 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly ground
• 2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly ground
• 2 tsp chili flakes
• 1 poblano pepper, finely chopped
• 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 cups of chicken or veg stock
• 1 796ml can of diced tomatoes
• 1 tbsp dried thyme
• 2 tsp dried French tarragon
• 1 tbsp maple syrup (or 2 oz whiskey)
• 1.5 cups cold water (you may need more to keep things hydrated)
• 2 sweet red peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
• 3/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
• ½ lb raw shrimp, thawed and shelled
• 1.5 cups uncooked rice (I recommend par-boiled) or 3 cups cooked

Method

1. In a large pot or dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat and cook the chicken until browned and cooked through. Set aside.
2. In the same pot, cook the sausage in the juice and fat remaining from the chicken just until browned. Set aside.
3. Heat the spices in the pot until fragrant, then add the remaining olive oil, the onions, celery and peppers and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes or until everything is very tender.
4. In the meantime, de-bone your cooked chicken and cut it into bite-sized pieces.
5. Once the veg is quite tender, deglaze the pot with a bit of the stock, ensuring any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot are lifted and incorporated into the vegetable mixture.
6. If you are cooking your rice apart from the jamba, get cooking this now.
7. Add the remaining stock, the tomatoes, the herbs and the maple syrup or whiskey, the sausage, chicken, the water and the rice if you’re choosing to cook it in the jambalaya. Cover and let simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, or until everything is nicely stewed together and the rice is tender. Be sure to give it a stir every once in a while, adding water as necessary to keep things from sticking.
8. Stir in the red peppers, the shrimp and ½ cup of the parsley, taste test and season with salt and pepper to taste.
9. Re-lid the pot and cook the jambalaya for another ten minutes, adding water as necessary, until the peppers are tender and the shrimp is cooked through.
10. Serve hot in bowls garnished with the remaining parsley and enjoy!

 

Vegan Jambalaya

Vegan Jambalaya

This recipe makes eight, meal-sized servings.

Ingredients

• 1 large, firm eggplant (about 3 cups), chopped into bite-sized pieces
• 1.5 cups of okra, chopped into bite-sized pieces
• 2 medium-sized yellow onions, diced
• 1 tsp salt
• 2 tbsp smoked paprika, divided
• 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
• 2 tsp cumin seeds, lightly ground
• 1 tsp fennel seeds, lightly ground
• 2 tsp coriander seeds, lightly ground
• 1 poblano pepper, finely chopped
• 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
• 2 bay leaves
• 2 cups of chicken or veg stock
• 1 796ml can of diced tomatoes
• 1 tbsp dried thyme
• 2 tsp dried French tarragon
• 1 tbsp maple syrup (or 2 oz whiskey)
• 1.5 cups cold water
• 2 sweet red peppers, chopped into bite-sized pieces
• 3/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
• 1.5 cups uncooked rice (I recommend par-boiled) or 3 cups cooked

Method

1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, toss the eggplant, okra and half of the onion together with half of the olive oil, the teaspoon of salt and half of the smoked paprika until well-combined.
3. Lay these out in a single layer on a baking sheet (you will likely need two so they’re not over-crowded) and roast in the preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until nicely browned, turning halfway through.
4. Remove from the oven and set aside.
5. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, toast the remaining spices, stirring continuously, until fragrant.
6. To the pot, add the remaining oil, the remaining onion, the celery, the poblano and the bay leaves. Cook this mixture, stirring occasionally, until everything is very soft and beginning to brown.
7. Deglaze with a bit of the stock, ensuring any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot are lifted and incorporated into the vegetable mixture.
8. If you are cooking your rice apart from the jamba, get cooking this now.
9. Add the remaining stock, the tomatoes, the herbs and the maple syrup or whiskey, half of the water and the rice if you’re choosing to cook it in the jambalaya. Cover and let simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 minutes, or until everything is nicely stewed together and the rice is tender. Be sure to give it a stir every once in a while, adding water as necessary to keep things from sticking.
10. Stir in the red peppers and ½ cup of the parsley, taste test and season with salt and pepper to taste.
11. Re-lid the pot and cook the jambalaya for another ten minutes, adding water as necessary, until the peppers are tender.
12. Serve hot in bowls garnished with the remaining parsley and enjoy!