March: Mardi Gras! Time for a Little Cajun Jambalaya

Filed under: Food



When the season of Lent arrives, families who observe it more stringently will be incorporating dietary limits that can make those 40 days feel more like 400.

The big items on the Lenten food hit list? For Catholics, it's meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays. For the Orthodox community, it's pretty much all animal products. And in other corners of Christendom, it may boil down to sacrificing whatever you love most -- chocolate, sugar, coffee, or anything else that's good and tempting.

But before the official fast begins, there's a festival that acts as a springboard to the oncoming period of austerity and abstinence: Shrove Tuesday -- or as many of us call it, Mardi Gras, the French phrase for Fat Tuesday. With New Orleans being the hub of Mardi Gras celebrations in the U.S., we focused our monthly family cooking foray on that region's signature cuisine: Cajun food.

Well, loving our red-pepper fix as much as anything, my daughter Anna and I decided to prepare jambalaya, which is a spice-infused concoction of rice, meat and seafood not unlike its Spanish cousin, paella. We often throw together a quick version from the popular boxed mix. But this month, we wanted to make the real deal -– something from scratch, the way you'd probably find it in a French Quarter café.

We don't know exactly how this dish came to be. Theories abound that the word "jambalaya" may be derived from a blending of various French, Spanish or African words for some of the ingredients found in it. But what we do know is this: It creates a one-pot meal that starts with the classic "trinity" of Cajun cooking –- sautéed onions, celery and green pepper -– and combines it with the aforementioned staples to create a warm and lively meal that stands alone. We don't even throw in a side dish or bread when jambalaya's in the house.

Below is the recipe we used for jambalaya, from KitchenDaily.

Mardi Gras jambalaya

Credit: Deborah Kloha

Ingredients:
1 pound fresh or frozen peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/3 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped green sweet pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. cooking oil
2 c. chicken broth
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
8 oz. andouille or kielbasa sausage, halved lengthwise, cut in 1/2-inch slices
3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice
1 t. dried thyme, crushed
1/2 t. dried basil, crushed
1/4 t. black pepper
1/4 t. ground red pepper
1 bay leaf
1 cup cubed cooked ham

Directions:
Thaw shrimp, if frozen. Set shrimp aside. In a 12-inch skillet cook onion, celery, sweet pepper and garlic in hot oil until tender. Stir in chicken broth, undrained tomatoes, sausage, rice, thyme, basil, black pepper, red pepper and bay leaf. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Simmer, covered for 15 minutes. Stir in shrimp.

Return to boiling. Simmer, covered, about 5 minutes more or until shrimp turn opaque and rice is tender. Stir in ham; heat through. Discard bay leaf. Makes about 7 cups (6 main-dish servings).

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