Vegetable Barley Jambalaya

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1 cup pearl barley
3 1/2 cups hot water
1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 small eggplant or zucchini, diced
8 to 10 medium button mushrooms, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 16-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 1/4 cups water
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 to 3 teaspoons tabasco or other hot sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
10 to 12 broccoli florets
1 cup cooked or canned red kidney beans, drained (optional)

In a medium saucepan, place the barley and hot water and cook over medium heat for 35 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender. Set aside.

In a large saucepan, heat the oil. Add the green pepper, onion, eggplant, mushrooms, celery, and garlic and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the crushed tomatoes, water, and seasonings. Cook over medium-low heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to low and fold in the cooked barley, broccoli, and beans, if desired. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes more, stirring frequently. Serve with bread and a tossed salad. Pass the Tabasco at the table.

You may sprinkle shredded low-fat provolone cheese over the top before serving.

Notes: Jambalaya is a rowdy, highly spiced Creole dish. Although usually made with rice, this variation uses pearl barley, which is equally inviting. Traditional jambalaya also contains meat, but a cornucopia of vegetables is infinitely more interesting. This makes a lively party dish

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