The dish most associated with New Orleans and Mardi Gras is no doubt Red Beans and Rice.
But there are two other dishes strongly associated. One of which is Dirty Rice.
In a way, this is ironic since most people outside New Orleans have only experienced Dirty Rice via Zatarain’s boxed rice mix or by way of the Bojangle’s drive through.
Google a few recipes, and you’ll be under the impression Dirty Rice is a pretty crude dish – rice with ground beef or sausage, bell pepper, onion, and perhaps some paprika or cayenne pepper.
So I was quite surprised when I looked at some old, authentic New Orleans recipes and learned Dirty Rice is actually a fairly elegant dish, with the full trinity (celery, green pepper, onion), an array of spices, and fresh parsley. In fact, very similar to the “company rice” my family made for special occasions.
And the meat? Not sausage or beef at all, but chicken giblets – you know, livers, hearts, and gizzards. (Ok, that part’s not so elegant.)
Well. You certainly aren’t going to find chicken giblets in my kitchen these days. (They haven’t been in my kitchen since I was ten and we used to boil them, chop them, and feed them to my very picky poodle, Chou Chou.)
However, this is one recipe I didn’t mind taking liberties with, since so many other people had already taken liberties before me. (Hmmm, sounds kinda like what the local boys used to say about my cousin Annabelle.)
Trying to be true to the spirit of the recipe, I decided to cook the rice in mock-chicken broth. While I don’t have experience eating giblets, my very young self did have experience chopping them, so I decided that diced mushrooms would somewhat mimic the look and texture, if not the taste. Additionally, I decided to use TVP re-hydrated with a little broth and Liquid Smoke, to further add variety and texture.
The resulting Not So Dirty Rice turned out to be absolutely delicious! So delicious, in fact, that I ate the (scanty) leftovers for breakfast the next morning.
Note: If you prefer, you can use gluten-free vegan ground “beef” crumbles instead of TVP. In that case, choose veggie broth or a faux beef broth to cook your rice. If you prefer to avoid anything even remotely resembling meat, simply double the amount of mushrooms. I haven’t tried it yet, but I think mixing your mushrooms – say, cremini with oyster – would also yield delicious results.
Note II: This also departs from a truly authentic recipe because I’m skipping the roux. In part because I have so many gluten-free readers; and in part because I don’t think it makes a significant difference in this recipe.
Ingredients for Not-So-Dirty Rice:
1 Tablespoon Canola or Olive Oil
1 Yellow Onion, diced
1 long Celery Stalk, diced
1 Smallish Green Pepper, diced
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 8-0z. Package Mushrooms, minced
1 Cup TVP +1 Cup Diluted Mock Chicken or Vegetable Broth + 1 tsp Liquid Smoke – OR
1 1/2 Cups Vegan Ground “Beef” Crumbles
1/2 Teaspoon Paprika
2 Teaspoons Cajun/Creole Seasoning (such as Tony Cachere’s Original Creole Blend)
1 Teaspoon File Powder
1/2 Cup Fresh Parsley, Chopped (Italian flat-leaf parsley, not curly, and don’t you dare even consider using dried parsley flakes.)
2 Cups Cooked Rice (Leftover OR 1 Cup Uncooked Rice + 2 Cups Diluted Broth)
Directions for Not-So-Dirty Rice
First, do your prep!
Chop your veggies so they’re ready to go.
Rice: If you have leftover rice that’s great! If not, set a pot of rice on to cook – for extra oomph, use veggie broth diluted by half. (For lower sodium – this dish can get salty if you’re not careful). For example, I used Better Than Bouillon No-Chicken Base, which calls for 1 teaspoon per 8 oz. I used 1/2 teaspoon per 8 oz. If you use boxed broth, use 1 cup broth and 1 cup water.
TVP: If using TVP, hydrate it. Pour a cup of HOT diluted mock chicken or veggie broth over it and add one teaspoon of liquid smoke. (Hickory flavor works well, and is easy to find. Colgin also makes a Pecan and Applewood flavored liquid smoke which are both sodium-free.)
Veggie Ground Beef Crumbles: If using veggie crumbles, brown in a pan. You could microwave, but browning in a pan always gives a MUCH better texture. Select the least seasoned crumbles possible – you don’t want a lot of competing Italian or Mexican flavors. As you are browning the crumbles, try to break them up as small as possible.
Once your veggies are chopped, your rice is cooking, your TVP is hydrating or your crumbles are browned … START RATTLING THOSE POTS AND PANS!
In a large, deep skillet, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the “Trinity” – onion, bell pepper, and celery. Saute for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally – until the onion starts to turn translucent.
Add the mushrooms, garlic, TVP or veggie crumbles, and Cajun/Creole seasoning.
Saute for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Somewhere around this point it may look like things are getting a little dry – add 1/4 cup water and continue cooking for another 5 minutes, until the mushrooms look “done.” Add the parsley and file powder and stir just until the parsley is wilted.
Add the cooked rice and mix well.
This can be served as a side dish or a main course.
Spice Note: File powder may be new to you, especially if you live outside the South. It is made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, which is grows throughout the Eastern US and is especially common in the Louisiana area and Deep South. File powder is used extensively in Creole cooking, especially gumbos. Some people mistakenly believe file powder is only used as a thickening agent, but it also has an earthy, yet delicate taste. If you plan to do much Louisiana-style cooking (gumbos, jambalayas, etouffees), I highly recommend purchasing some. It just gives your food that little extra sumpin’ sumpin’. Zatarain’s Pure Ground Gumbo File Powder is one that is widely available.
Random Note Vaguely Related To Spice Note: Growing up eons ago in the South, children cursing was a much bigger no-no than it is today. Our mothers used ground sassafras leaves to cook and our grandparents drank sassafras tea in the very early spring. Some of us even had sassafras trees growing in our yards. Sassafras became a common euphemism – as in, “Kiss my sassafras!” or “I’m gonna kick your sassafras after school today!” So I was amused when that Manhattan boy, Steven Tyler, famously sung about wanting to “kiss your sassafras” in Love In An Elevator.