I guess it is time to reveal my Cajun roots, y’all. Half-Cajun that is.
My Mom hails from the heart of Cajun country: Lafayette, Louisiana. Let me tell you , she and that entire side of the family can cook.
She makes a hard-to-beat seafood gumbo, crawfish etoufee, and fried crawfish, but so do my grandfather, Pa, and cousin, Nicole. Pa usually spends the entire visit with us in Savannah looking over my mom’s shoulder when she is cooking, and clandestinely dumping cayenne pepper into the etoufee because its not spicy enough. He’s a character. He also says “fark” instead of fork in that thick Cajun accent you see on “Swamp People” , gets 20 year olds’ phone numbers because he like to paint them, and fishes sun- up to sun-down in the bayou. Did I mention he is in his mid-80’s? Sounds like a reality show in itself, really.
But I digress, back to the Cajun-food, the sole reason I grew up loving to cook!
Gumbo was always reserved for cold weather and special occasions growing up. Pretty much every Christmas Eve, the kitchen is a bustle of people making their respective dishes, but Mom or Pa can be seen making good ‘ole gumbo. And all of the neighbors invite themselves over because they know when Pa is in town, gumbo is not far.
Jambalaya is a dish we eat every year at the beach on vacation because it is quick, cheap ,and everyone on the face of the Earth seems to love my Mom’s recipe, even picky people.
Crawfish etoufee, my personal favorite, is a rich crawfish and sauce dish served over white rice.
Lastly, fried crawfish. You toss those little mudbugs up with some cornemal and flour, deep fry, and eat like candy with ketchup. Yum.
Before I tell you more about my lightened up version of jambalaya, here is some advice on Cajun food:
#1Cajun food does not have to be spicy, but if you order it in Lafayette, Louisiana, it will be. Do not ever order anything “Spicy” in Cajun-country unless you want to spend dinner wiping off rivers of sweat from your forehead and dabbing your lips with ice or milk… Order” mild”, and you can expect it will still be spicy, but in a good way that does not completely erase all flavor from the dish!
#2 Do not expect any Cajun dish to be remotely the same anywhere you go.In New Orleans, they cook in Creole-style, so you will find lots of tomatoes and okra.
In Lafayette, you will find true Cajun food. No okra or tomatoes in their gumbo, and everyone eats this scary-looking, delicious sausage called “boudin” . It’s a staple in the Cajun household. My Dad made it once with a sausage -maker he bought
himself the Family for Christmas, but that is a whole other post in itself….
#3 Order boiled crawfish if you are visiting in crawfish season. You won’t be sorry. Try to ignore the other Cajuns in the vicinity sucking the heads to get all that flavorful juice out. You don’t have to participate.
#4 Never count calories while in Louisana . It’s futile.
Ok, now that you have read through that incredibly valuable advice, let me introduce you to a lightened up version of one of my personal favorite Cajun dishes, jambalaya! I made this recipe up completely on a whim yesterday because I had some ground turkey that needed cooking, and honestly, was rather skeptical that I could make it work. I was delighted that it turned out better than any jamabalaya I have ever made. Bold statement, I know, but I am serious.
This recipe uses brown rice instead of white, much less butter than the traditional recipe calls for, and instead of the traditional sausage or chicken, includes ground turkey. I swapped canned tomatoes for fresh.
If you are a runner like myself or athlete of any form, you will find this is a perfect dish to fuel a long run or workout the next day because it includes whole grains, little fat, and is dairy-free if you replace that butter with Earth Balance!
Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Translated “Let the good times roll!”
Ground Turkey Jambalaya
Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Hot
This lightened up jambalaya gives a new twist on an old Cajun classic!
- 1lb ground turkey breast
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 onion
- 1 bell pepper
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander
- 1/2 heaped teaspoon thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 extra large, beefsteak tomato (diced)
- 5 1/2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups brown rice (uncooked)
|Cook the 2 cups raw rice in 5 cups of chicken broth until all water is absorbed. Reserve the other 1/2 C of broth for later use. |
|Meanwhile, saute the pepper and onion for 5 minutes in 2 Tablespoons of butter on medium-high heat. Add in garlic and saute another minute or two. |
|Dump in all the spices and tomato paste and stir with the onion mixture until combined. |
|Keeping pan on medium-high heat, mix the ground turkey and broth in with the spices and onion mixture. |
|Cook and stir the meat mixture until cooked through. If it drys out, add a little bit of chicken broth as needed. |
|Add bay leaf and stir the cooked rice into the mixture. Stir until mixture is thoroughly mixed and has taken on a reddish color. |
|Stir in fresh chopped tomato and 1-2 more tablespoons of butter and season to taste with more salt and pepper. |