Sunday, May 11, 2014

Creole-style Barley Jambalaya

In Minnesota, the hotdish reigns supreme. A hotdish includes meat, vegetables, starch, and some type of soup or similar to stick it all together. One reason the hotdish is so popular is that there are thousands of variations, and therefore it's easy to prepare with what you have on hand, and it's easy to create your own signature hotdish with all your favorite flavors and ingredients.

In the deep South, they have something similar in jambalaya - thousands of flavor and ingredient combinations are possible, so it's easy to be inventive. Many different meats may be used and even combined: chicken, beef, pork, sausages, shrimp, duck, alligator, and ham. Vegetables always include the South's Holy Trinity: red or green bell peppers, onions, and celery. Other vegetables may be added, such as mushrooms, carrots, squash, or garlic, but the Holy Trinity is a must. There are a couple of basics that are useful to remember: Creole-style jambalaya, also known as red jambalaya, has tomatoes and/or tomato sauce. Cajun-style jambalaya, also known as brown jambalaya, is made with a browned chicken stock or beef stock. Rice serves as the starch for this dish.

I decided to experiment a little with more traditional jambalayas by substituting pearled barley for rice (Is this heresy? A sacrilege? Will I be struck down by lightning with a Southern accent?) and cooked it all day in a slow cooker. I like using barley because I love the nutty flavor and the chewiness of the grain. In addition, you can cook it for a very long time in a slow cooker without it getting mushy and falling apart. For the meats, I chose chicken and smoked sausage, because that's what I had on hand. I like tomatoes, so this was a Creole-style or red jambalaya. My family loves garlic, so I used both garlic and shallots along with the onions, celery, and peppers. A few mushrooms and carrots rounded out the vegetables.

This little experiment turned out to be so easy to make, made the house smelled wonderful all day, and was bursting with hearty, spicy flavors. If your family doesn't like it very spicy, just modify some of the spices and concentrate on using paprika, bay leaves, thyme, and oregano. It will still be very flavorful, but not spicy. Be sure to use a smoked sausage or kielbasa rather than a hot or andouille sausage.

Creole-Style Barley Jambalaya
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup pearl barley
1 uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced
1 andouille sausage, diced
2 - 4 ounces ham, diced
2 stalks celery, diced, including leaves
1 large onion, peeled and diced
1 large green or red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 shallot, peeled and diced
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
8 mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can petit diced tomatoes

2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon cayenne (ground red) pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in a 5 quart slow cooker; mix well
  2. Cover and cook on LOW for 8 hours or longer
  3. Remove the 2 bay leaves and serve the jambalaya

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