The concept of community is relatively new for me, but I’m learning to embrace the idea. I’m lucky, because my neighbors are warm and welcoming – something that I’ve not always been completely familiar or comfortable with. I’m getting there, though – more and more every day.
I signed on with Slow Food USA about a month ago to take their $5 challenge. I had these grandiose ideas that I’d throw an elaborate dinner party and invite friends and family to be a part of it. Then I realized that the scheduled date for the challenge coincided with a writing workshop that I’d already paid to attend. So, I decided that instead of doing it on the 17th, I’d do it on the 18th, mostly so I could do it justice. And it wouldn’t be a dinner party, per se. It would just be dinner for the family. The immediate family – the ones that live in this house. At least, that’s how it started.
Anthony Bourdain says, on his Travel Channel blog, that “the greatest , most beloved and iconic dishes in the pantheon of gastronomy—in any of the world’s mother cuisines—French, Italian or Chinese–originated with poor, hard-pressed, hard working farmers and laborers with no time, little money and no refrigeration.”
For this $5 challenge, I decided to look to one of those beloved and iconic dishes – one that originated in a culture that thrived mainly because the people who cultivated it knew how to stretch just about everything to make it last longer and go further. Jambalaya (both the Creole and the Cajun version) derives from Spanish paella, and uses inexpensive but flavorful ingredients to create an abundant, filling meal.
There is a sense of community in the Cajun/Creole culture. An ingrained reliance on neighbors and extended family for support and sustenance. A cooperative spirit. As a whole, we’ve moved away from this sense of community – everyone is so isolated, so insulated from each other. We’ve forgotten where we come from in our hurry to get where we’re going, and we ignore the importance of tradition and camaraderie in our quest for self reliance. And I’m as guilty of it as the next person.
Yesterday, as I gathered the ingredients for this simple dinner, intending for it to feed only myself, my husband and our two boys (and perhaps my mother, if she didn’t already have dinner plans), I got a text message from our neighbor across the street. She was inviting us to come over for an afternoon swim. I had just started cooking, and I wasn’t sure whether my husband would be done with yard work in time, or that I’d have dinner ready anytime soon, so I started to text her back with a “thanks, but no thanks – maybe next time” kind of message.
But then I reconsidered. I looked at the pound of sausage that I was browning, and the 8 chicken legs I had waiting in the wings, and the two cups of rice, and I thought: this is enough to feed all of us, and still have food left over. So instead of “thanks, but no thanks” I told her I’d just started cooking jambalaya, but that we’d love to share with her and her husband. So, an hour later, we trekked across the street in our bathing suits, carrying a large pot of jambalaya and some of the last tomatoes from our garden, and we shared a meal with our neighbors. And it was that much better because of the sharing.
I managed to make this meal for about $16 total, but that’s mainly because the majority of the ingredients came from my garden and my canning pantry. I used chicken stock that I’d put up a while back, a jar of tomatoes that I’d canned during the peak of tomato season, and the bell peppers, thyme and parsley also came from the garden. The andouille came from a regional supplier to Harry’s Farmer’s Market and was probably the most expensive part of the dish at $6.99 a pound. The chicken came from two pounds of organic drumsticks that I’d bought for $2.99 a pound a while back and froze for use at a later date. I don’t think they were local, but they were just about the only part of the dish that wasn’t – well, except for the rice. If you break that down, we fed seven people for about $2.25 per person, and we had leftovers.
prep time: 10 minutes
cook time: 1 hour
- 1 lb. fresh or smoked andouille sausage
- 2 lbs. chicken parts
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 1/2 cups brown rice
- 3 cups canned diced tomatoes, with juice
- 2 cups chicken stock
- Begin by browning the sausage in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, allowing some of the fat to render out.
- Remove the sausage to a plate and brown the chicken parts in the fat from the sausage. I removed the skin from the chicken legs, but you can leave it on if you want (more flavor that way, but also more fat).
- Remove the chicken to a plate
- Saute the onion, celery, pepper and garlic in the same pan you browned the meat in
- Add the uncooked rice, parsley, thyme, salt and pepper and stir to combine.
- Slice the sausage into 1/2-inch thick rounds and add it and the chicken back to the pot.
- Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the pan and stir to combine.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Allow to simmer, covered until the rice is cooked through. Cook uncovered to thicken sauce if necessary.