Jazzy Vegan Jambalya

by by Malcolm Burnley

Seeing the Saints triumph in the Super Bowl reminded me of my own visit to the Big Easy, back in 2004, when Katrina was still just another name. While nature and neglect have destroyed much of the city, New Orleans remains vivid to me, especially its food: each bite a harmony, a history, a haven. Jambalaya is an emblem of New Orleans cuisine.
Jambalaya is traditional Creole food: a culinary mix of Caribbean, French, and Spanish influences. Cooking itslowly in the cozy confines of a single pot produces a thick broth of rich flavors.  Usually, the orchestra consists of marinated vegetables, tender meat, and seafood complemented by bold spices of chili powder, cumin, and pepper.  But jambalaya is a dish open to creativity; simmering varied ingredients expands the flavor. Experiment by adding in favorite ingredients such as green beans, hot sauce, jalapenos, and potatoes.  Fresh herbs such as cilantro add subtle flavor.
When I became vegan, these aromas and tastes remained so seductive in memory that I adopted my own variation of jambalaya, free of animal products. Celebrate the ‘Aints, I mean Saints’ victory with a spicy rendition of a Mardi Gras great, vegan-style.

Prep time:  45 minutes
Cooking Time:  30 minutes

1 onion, diced
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
3 ripe tomatoes roughly chopped (or 1 more can)
2 green bell peppers, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic thinly sliced
1 package seitan (this vital wheat gluten can be found at Whole Foods)
1 package of any other meat substitute (can be tofu, more seitan, or real meat)
5 ribs celery, roughly chopped
1 cup dried brown rice
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp cumin
1 Tbsp oregano
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper to taste
fresh baguette for serving

1. Cook rice according to directions on package.
2. In a large pot or wok over medium heat, sauté garlic and onions in olive oil until they begin to soften.
3. Add chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, and  lemon juice.
4. Add green peppers, celery, and additional vegetables. Cook on medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Add stock and tomatoes (canned and fresh), seitan, and meat substitute. Continue to cook on medium heat for  five more minutes.
6. Add cooked rice to the pot, stir, and cover.  Simmer on low heat for another 10-20 minutes.
7. Serve in bowls with bread and hot sauce.