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Thursday, October 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 41.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Meat substitutes make for a flavorful vegan jambalaya (recipe)
Protein shake-up
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Credit:Marcelle Richards

At our house, there's a copy of Tal Ronnen's The Conscious Cook on loan, and in it are pictured succulent cuts of Gardein protein, which I had not heard of until opening said cookbook. Oprah's apparently all over it. And Ronnen is the chef who worked with her during her "21-day cleanse." I figured it must be some space-age celebrity super-food or something, and that I would never see it at a grocery store near me.

Wrong! I found it in the freezer aisle, and I even turned down andouille sausage to try it. Here's how it went down.

Ever since I watched a delightful little flick called Schultze Gets the Blues (about a German accordion musician who gets hooked on Zydeco and all things Louisiana), I couldn't get my mind off jambalaya. I wandered over to the Willy Street Co-op to look for ingredients, where I spotted the Gardein that Ronnen had fashioned into all sorts of delectable chicken look-alikes in his cookbook.

I put away the chicken and the sausage and opted for a vegetarian, vegan version of jambalaya. I was dying to know what Gardein tasted like. (Tastes just like chicken.)

I also spotted another recent addition to the co-op's freezer section - Bandung's homemade tempeh, modestly cloaked in cellophane wrap and nestled in a plastic bag with a homemade label.

On my way to the cashier, I was distracted by a staff pick for Upton's Naturals Seitan. I am on the record as saying that homemade seitan is superior to store-bought, but this is by far the tastiest commercial version I've had and is an excellent quick alternative to making your own.

I'm not usually a label-monger, but these three brands really upped the ante for vegan protein options. And since jambalaya is such a grab-bag dish anyway, it seemed the perfect vehicle in which to try everything at once.

There are two types of jambalaya: a red Creole jambalaya with tomatoes, and a brown Cajun jambalaya without, both usually featuring an assortment of meats that can include poultry, shellfish, ham, sausage or other meats. This is closer to the red Creole version, without andouille, chicken or shrimp, but still starring different proteins for a variety of flavors and textures.

Vegan Jambalaya
Serves 8-10

  • 12 ounces Bandung tempeh, cubed
  • 9 ounces Gardein crispy tenders, cubed
  • 8 ounces Upton's Naturals Traditional Seitan, crumbled
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne (more or less depending on spice tolerance - 2 teaspoons is what I use, and that's very spicy)
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 28 ounces diced tomatoes, with juice
  • 16 ounces vegetable broth
  • 3-1/4 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups white rice
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 scallions, finely chopped
  • salt to taste

In a large cooking pot, heat oil over medium heat and cook onions for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add celery, bell peppers, tempeh, Gardein tenders and seitan; cook for another 5 minutes until faux meat is slightly browned. Add minced garlic, cayenne and oregano, stirring 1-2 minutes until fragrant. Add diced tomatoes with juice to deglaze pan, then add rice, broth, and 3/4 to 1 cup water. Add bay leaves and bring to boil, leaving pot slightly covered. Stir occasionally and simmer until rice absorbs liquid, about 20 minutes, and add remaining 2 to 2-1/2 cups water and tomato paste. Cover and simmer another 45-50 minutes until rice is soft and liquid is absorbed, stirring less frequently toward the end. Serve warm, and garnish with fresh scallions.

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