A sudden drop in temperatures in December means heartier fare. A simple salad usually means a stew. A rice dish becomes a barley dish. And the flavours attached usually need to be bolder, more comforting.
The classic Louisiana dish, jambalaya, has a mixed heritage in its origins. African, French, Spanish all collide to create a harmonious blend of flavours based on the region they reside in.
When you add a prairie Canadian winter to the mix, a land rippling with various grains in the fields, barley is one of the more common crops you see. I recall seeing waves of that alternating with wheat, canola, flax and oats growing up in a smaller city. The fringes of town bordered right on farms so a farm was no more than a walk or bike ride away. Plucking wild oats from the edges of the road and chewing them was a common thing amongst the sillier of kids (ahem….I mean mmmm….I mean….. 😉 )
These memories are triggered each time I cook with barley and I’m fortunate to know a farm, Gold Forest Grains, who grows exceptional barley and a host of other heritage varieties of grains and pulses.
I also have a wonderful friend who has roots in Louisiana and has taught me a great deal from her passion for southern US food. Real Jambalaya isn’t a dry rice dish. That’s a pilaf. Jambalaya is almost creamy and luxurious like a risotto. It’s pure comfort.
By combining these two elements I connect my life in prairie Canada and a friendship with a great friend. A great joy that comes through the dish and warms both the heart and belly.
- 1 tsp oil
- 100g/4 oz smoked pork sausage, chopped
- 1 cup chopped onions
- ¾ cup chopped celery
- ¾ cup chopped bell peppers
- 1 chopped jalapeño
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp Creole seasoning
- ¾ cup uncooked barley
- 1 cup ham hock stock (the liquid from simmering a ham hock. I usually have a few containers in my freezer. They add a boost of smoky flavour to soups, stews or rice/barley dishes)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the sausage and sauté until golden.
- Add the onions, celery, bell peppers and and jalapeño and sauté until the vegetables are softened but not browned (about 4-6 minutes).
- Add the tomato sauce and Creole seasoning, stirring, coating and toasting over the rest of the ingredients until the tomato sauce reduces by half and the spices become very aromatic.
- Add the barley and coat it in the flavourful vegetables, stirring and toasting it briefly. Add the ham hock and chicken stock, stirring to loosen the barley from the tomato-y flavour base. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid and simmer for 40-45 minutes. Remove the lid and stir the mixture more consistently for another 15-20 minutes until it becomes thicker and more luxurious. Serves 4-6.