Takeaways Episode #2: Vegetable Jambalaya

I live in Grand Junction, Colorado, not far from the Utah border. Out here, we refer to our side of the state as the Western Slope; that is, the west side of the Rocky Mountains. Denver, in contrast, is on the Eastern slope of the mountains. The Eastern slope is more commonly called the Front Range. I am mentioning this because at this time there is an event—happening virtually this year—called the West Slope Startup Week. This event offers many sessions for entrepreneurs and others who are involved with starting and maintaining businesses.

Because I live with Bryan, who helps put on this event, I got to tag along to a session that was all about local agriculture and cooking. I helped a bit with setting up the tables, getting the cook presentable for the video (ha ha, his collar was askew and needed a little straightening), setting up the lighting, and making sure the background wasn’t too cluttered. Mostly, I got to just watch and listen. There was a lot of great conversation, but I tried to focus on the main recipe that the chef, Jonathan St. Peter, made with the farm fresh vegetables with which he was presented. Since it is a healthy and easy dish—and delicious—I will share that with you today as my takeaway.

It is called Vegetable Jambalaya. According to Wikipedia, Jambalaya is a popular dish of West African, French, Spanish and Native American influence, consisting mainly of meat and vegetables mixed with rice. Traditionally, the meat always includes sausage of some sort, often a smoked meat such as andouille, along with pork or chicken and seafood, such as crawfish or shrimp.

There isn’t really a recipe to follow. Chef Jonathan mentioned a few times how important his precise measurements were. Not! I will tell you what Jonathan did and you can do something similar.

First, chef Jonathan began chopping up vegetables, including hot peppers, red onion, zucchini, eggplant, kale, bok choy (I believe), and some others that I can’t recall. You can use almost any vegetables that you have handy and enjoy. I noticed that he was cutting most of these into one-inch pieces, larger than I would have done had I not watched him.

While chopping, he had olive oil warming up in a large pan. When all of these vegetables were cut, he tossed them into the pan and coated them with the olive oil. He explained how important it is to let the veggies sit and turn brown and begin to caramelize. This helps release the sugars in them and really enhances their flavors.

After the vegetables had begun to caramelize, he threw in some sushi rice. He prefers to use sushi rice because it is slightly sticky and has a good “meatiness” to it. By “meatiness” he did not mean a meaty flavor but a great texture in the mouth. Also, he said that sushi rice cooks faster than brown rice, another reason you might like to use it. I noticed that the bag said Calrose Botan at the top and had a picture of a red rose. Nowhere did it say on the bag “sushi rice.” The chef said that it is found in most grocery stores. Of course, you can use any type of rice that you prefer—white, brown, wild, basmati, etc.

After the rice was in the pan for a few moments, water was added. I did not catch the ratio, but I’m sure it is written on the bag. At no point did he put a lid on the vegetable and rice mixture. While the rice was cooking, he chopped up several tomatoes and added them in.

Chef Jonathan explained that it is important to use a lot of spices while cooking with vegetables, again to bring out their incredible flavors. Of course, salt and pepper are the most important of these. He used several others. I did not see what all he added, but he did say fennel, oregano, chili powder, bay leaves, and a few others. The point is to use spices that you like and to taste it as you go and add more until it tastes right to you. Again, precise measurements are not required.

Another way to add additional flavor to this dish is to put in kombu, which chef Jonathan did. Kombu is an edible kelp widely eaten in East Asia. It is available at Asian markets. You can throw in the piece of kombu whole and use it to flavor the dish but not actually eat it (it’s kind of leathery); or, you can chop it into small pieces and eat it along with the other vegetables.

Toward the end of the cooking process, the chef added in a spoonful of coconut oil and stirred everything up again. In his opinion, coconut oil adds additional flavor and heartiness to the dish.

That was about it. When the rice was done, it was time to taste it. It was delicious! With all those farm-fresh veggies, the sticky “meaty” rice, and coconut oil, it felt very fulfilling.

So give it a try! You can use farm-fresh veggies or good old vegetables from the grocery store. You could also add in sausage, seafood, or other meat. This is a healthy and satisfying dish that is easy to make.

Thank you to Chef Jonathan St. Peter from Grand Junction, Colorado for sharing his passion and expertise with the West Slope Startup Week. Thank you to local farmers Dawn from Green Junction Farmstead and Blaine from Blaine’s Tomatoes for providing the beautiful fresh produce and to Bryan Wachs from MySalesButler.com for organizing and facilitating this session.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. betunada
    Dec 17, 2020 @ 14:35:06

    i think i could have jambalaya several times a week, given the chance and serendipity !


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