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
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped bell peppers
1 chopped jalapeño
1 cup tomato sauce
2 Tbsp Creole seasoning
3/4 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.