I’m a born and raised New Orleanian and I’m quite proud of that. I love this city: the history, the people, the culture and the foods. Just because I’m vegan doesn’t mean I have to miss out on the traditional New Orleans food. And neither do you!
There are two main types of jambalaya. These are brown jambalaya and red jambalaya. (Technically there are three, but I wouldn’t consider the third type to be jambalaya. It’s a short-cut way to make the dish which is unnecessary and doesn’t result with the same flavors.)
The first type is brown jambalaya. This jambalaya is made by first browning meat in a pot before adding the rest of the ingredients. The browning process tints the color of the dish which is how it gets it’s name. Brown bits coat the bottom of the pot, and when liquid is added the brown bits come loose and flavor the dish. (I personally think of brown jambalaya as more of a dirty rice dish.) Brown jambalaya is made throughout Southern Louisiana. It is commonly found in more cajun areas such as Thibodaux and Lafayette.
The second type is red jambalaya. Red jambalaya is made with tomatoes, which gives it the red color. The rest of the cooking process is very similar, identical in some cases, to making brown jambalaya. Red jambalaya is almost exclusively made in New Orleans. You know a New Orleanian is fixing jambalaya if they’re using tomatoes. This recipe will teach you how to make red jambalaya.
Jambalaya is both a quick meal and a slow meal. Let me explain. Jambalaya doesn’t take a long time to prepare, approximately 45 minutes from start to finish, which makes it a quick dish in my book. It’s a dish that is normally prepared at some type of gathering, be it a football game or a family reunion. Everyone will pile around the kitchen (if cooked inside) or the large pot on a burner (if cooked outside). Stories are shared and friends are made while the dish is cooked. This is why it’s a slow meal. It comes together in whatever amount of time is necessary to hear the latest gossip.
Whether you’re making red or brown jambalaya, you have to start with the “trinity” or “holy trinity.” The trinity, also referred to as “seasoning”, is used in most cajun cooking. (It can also be served on top of prepared foods to add more flavor and crunch.) The trinity consist of onion, bell pepper and celery. The ratio is 50% onion, 25% bell pepper and 25% celery. It’s more common to use a green bell pepper, but I don’t like green bell pepper because they aren’t ripe (google it) so I opt to use red. You can use whichever you prefer.
Allow the trinity to cook down until the onions are translucent and the veggies are soft. Next add your garlic and cook just until the garlic is fragrant. This won’t take long, about 2-3 minutes. Do NOT allow the garlic to burn. If this happens, don’t try to fix it. Just toss the whole thing into the compost pile and start over. Burnt garlic will make the whole pot taste like cigarette ash. I speak from experience. My father-in-law will probably never attempt to cook jambalaya again.
This is when you would add your “meat.” You have a few options at this point. You could opt to go meat free or you could choose to add vegan sausage and/or vegan chicken. For this recipe I used canned young jackfruit as a chicken replacement.
Don’t be intimidated. This is REALLY easy. I found the jackfruit at my local Asian food store. Make sure you get your canned green young jackfruit in either brine or water. I choose water to limit some of the sodium. Jackfruit has a very neutral flavor and tends to take on the taste of whatever spices you pair with it. Simply drain and rinse the jackfruit. I cut it into smaller pieces and used my hands to shred them a bit in an effort to mimic shredded chicken.
When talking about cajun cooking, you’ll often hear people talk about a “cajun spice mix.” You can purchase pre-made cajun spice mixes or you can make your own. Basically it’s a mix of spices that most cooks have on hand any way: paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, thyme, oregano, parsley and cayenne pepper.
Add the jackfruit, spices, bay leaves, diced tomatoes with juice, uncooked rice and liquid to the pot with the garlic and seasoning.
I know it looks like soup now, but don’t worry, it will cook down. Bring this mixture to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, fluff the jambalaya with a fork and enjoy with either cornbread or french bread. Remember to remove the bay leaves before serving.
Hopefully you have a large group of friends and family to share this dish with. It always tastes better when enjoyed along with good conversation.
Vegan New Orleans Jambalaya
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 bell pepper, diced
- 4 ribs celery, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can green young jackfruit in water or brine, drained rinsed and lightly chopped and shredded
- 1 15oz can diced tomatoes with juices
- 2 1/2 Tbsp paprika
- 1 Tbsp dried parsley
- 1 Tbsp onion powder
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 1 Tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp thyme
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 bay leaves
- 2 cups uncooked white rice
- 4 cups water or vegetable broth
- Saute the trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery) until onions are translucent and veggies are soft. Approximately 5-8 minutes.
- Add garlic and allow to cook until garlic is fragrant. Approximately 2-3 minutes.
- Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
- Cover the dish, reduce the heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed by the rice.
- Let the dish sit for two minutes, remove bay leaves and then fluff with fork.
Serve with cornbread or french bread.