Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Zucchini Jambalaya: Not Really Louisiana

I checked with my informant on such matters, Katy, a New Orleanian Katrina exile who knows a lot about cooking. She says zucchini would not, to her knowledge at least, be used in jambalaya.

Zucchini is recent in Lousiana cooking, and jambalaya traditional. So traditional, in fact, that it goes back to the dishes of rice cooked with meat, seafood or vegetables introduced by the Spanish Lousiana Creoles. Few Americans recall that Spain ruled New Orleans and Louisiana for decades in the late 1700s, including when the "Cajuns," the defeated French who were driven out of the Canadian region of Acadie, arrived.

Jambalaya is in an extensive family of rice dishes cooked with seasonings and various ingredients (think paella, think pilaf) that originated in Central Asia and came to Spain with the Moors and Arabs.

Although non-traditional, zucchini, for which I am seeking more ways to fix, gives an interesting freshness and tang to jambalaya. Try this otherwise traditional recipe if you doubt it.

Jambalaya with Zucchini

3/4 pound smoked ham (from the deli, sliced 1/4-inch thick)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, in 1/4-inch dice
3 sticks celery, in 1/4-inch dice
1 small red bell pepper, in 1/4-inch dice
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, in 1/2-inch cubes
2-1/2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning ("Louisiana" or "Cachere")
3 tablespoons tomato paste plus 1/2 cup water
1-1/2 pounds young zucchini, in 1/2-inch dice
2 cups long-grain rice
1 teaspoon salt
Sliced green onions (green and white parts) plus coarsely chopped parsley for serving

Cut ham in 1/4-inch cubes. In heavy pot, fry it gently in oil until starting to brown.

Add onions and celery, and fry until softened, stirring from time to time. Add bell pepper, and fry briefly.

Add chicken and Cajun seasoning, and fry until raw color changes. Add tomato paste, water, and zucchini. Simmer, covered and stirring from time to time, until zucchini is tender. Turn off heat.

While the mixture is cooking, rinse and drain rice. In a different pot, bring it to a boil with the salt and 2-3/4 cups water. Do not stir. Cover tightly when mixture boils, reduce to lowest heat and simmer without opening lid. Set timer for 20 minutes. When time is up, turn off heat, but keep pot covered. Let rest 10 minutes.

Stir, then taste zucchini mixture. Add salt if necessary to make it just faintly salty.

In large bowl, gently toss the mixture and the rice together. Return jambalaya to meat-zucchini pot, place sheet of waxed paper over pot and replace lid.

Keep warm until needed for serving. If holding for a while, place in 150 degree oven, or place pot in a large frying pan, add water 1-inch deep to pan, and keep on simmer.

Serve sprinkled generously with sliced green onion and parsley. Accompany by Louisiana hot sauce.

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