This delicious vegan jambalaya goes straight to the top of my favourite one-pot dishes. Featuring Cajun spices, tender rice grains, aromatic veg, meaty tempeh pieces, chunky chickpeas, and nutty cashews, we're talking flavour-packed comfort food that's made entirely from plants.
I'm amazed it's taken me so long to get this recipe up on the blog. I've tinkered with it a lot over the years, and it's one that I love to return to when I've got time on my hands and I'm in the mood for some good ol' hearty vegan eats.
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What is jambalaya?
Jambalaya is a rice dish originating from the Creole and Cajun cuisine of Louisiana in southern USA.
Drawing on a variety of influences from Africa and Europe, it traditionally comprises rice, vegetables, seasonings, and meat such as smoked sausage, pork, chicken, and/or fish and crustaceans.
Why you'll love this recipe
- It's hearty and nutritious
- You'll need just one pot (with a tight-fitting lid)
- It's full of flavour from all the aromatics and seasonings
- It has a wide variety of textures despite being completely meat-free
- Although it does require a few fresh ingredients, it uses plenty of pantry staples meaning there's a good chance you'll have a lot of what's needed
Recipe testing notes
- Tempeh vs. tofu: I’ve tried this recipe with both and enjoyed both. For me, it's just that little bit better with the firm texture of tempeh.
- Pulses: I like chickpeas as they tend to have more bite than other legumes, however pulses such as black beans, black-eyed beans, pinto beans, or butter beans (a.k.a. lima beans) are also nice.
- Rice: You want long-grain rice, but I'd avoid 'easy-cook' varieties if possible as I find these can turn a bit mushy. Basmati rice works well – see section below for more info.
- Cajun seasoning: Whether homemade or shop-bought, the Cajun spice blend you use will determine whether or not you want to add a little extra heat (i.e. chilli powder or hot sauce) or smokiness (i.e. smoked paprika or vegan smoked sausage).
Making jambalaya vegan
Whatever your take on a traditional jambalaya, it's clear that people tend to go in
pretty very heavy on the animal products. So, in order to get big flavours while still delivering on a variety of textures, we need to chill out a bit and make a few plant-focused tweaks (that hopefully aren't too offensive to the good folks of Louisiana).
Although protein is found in all plants, I do acknowledge that this dish would do well to address the 'meatiness' of its classic counterpart. With that in mind, I recommend a combination of tempeh and chickpeas for satisfying forkfuls of varying textures.
If you have them, I'd suggest adding raw cashews to the party. Not only are these nutty and nutritious, they also have the secondary benefit of imitating the shape of shrimp or prawns – a nice visual element for those who care deeply about appearances.
Of course, any of the above could be replaced (or supplemented) with the likes of tofu or your favourite meat substitutes. Vegan chicken or smoky vegan sausage would be good choices – extra points for anyone who's managed to track down a company that makes vegan muskrat...
Creating the base
In Cajun and Creole cuisine, the so-called holy trinity of onion, celery, and green pepper provides the base for many dishes. In this jambalaya recipe, I've used both a green pepper and red pepper along with the onion and celery, not to mention a few cloves of chopped garlic for good measure.
A common question people ask is whether or not tomato belongs in jambalaya. The simple answer is it depends – Creole 'red' jambalaya will often include tomatoes, whereas Cajun 'brown' jambalaya won't.
In my case, I've gone with one tin of tomatoes to add an extra layer of flavour.
Whereas traditional jambalayas rely on various meat ingredients for flavour, this vegan version uses a clever combination of plant-based seasonings to deliver on taste.
In addition to a classic Cajun spice blend, I also include dried sage and bay leaves.
A dollop of yeast extract then adds plenty of umami flavour, with red wine vinegar and hot sauce adding sharpness and tang to help balance everything out.
Best rice for jambalaya
Jambalaya has its origins in the long-grain rice grown in Louisiana, which thrives there thanks to the warm climate. I find that basmati rice also works well as a long-grain variety, and it's what I've used here.
Washing the rice: For one-pot dishes like this, I find that it's best to give the rice a good rinse to help prevent the grains from sticking together. Since you'll also be draining and rinsing the chickpeas, it makes sense to do these together before then adding to the pan.
The grains, pulses, vegetables, and nuts in this hearty jambalaya provide a well-rounded meal packed full of healthy nutrients. In just one serving of this recipe, you'll find:
- Calories: 434 kcal
- Protein: 17 grams (34% of RDA)
- Fat: 15 g (23% of RDA)
- Fibre: 7 grams (29% of RDA)
- Iron: 4 mg (22% of RDA)
- Vitamin C: 60 mg (73% of RDA)
- Vitamin A: 2264 IU (45% of RDA)
(Amounts based on a third-party nutrition calculator)
What you'll need
I've covered a lot of the ingredient decisions in the sections above, but here's the full line-up of what you'll need for a top-drawer vegan jambalaya:
- Tempeh, chickpeas, and cashews (optional) for a variety of textures and plenty of meat-free protein
- Aromatics in the form of onion, celery, peppers, garlic, and tomatoes
- Flavourings in the form of Cajun seasoning, sage, bay, yeast extract, red wine vinegar, and Tabasco hot sauce
- Long-grain rice for fluffy, nicely separated grains
How to make vegan jambalaya
Optional step: If you want to remove some of the bitterness from the tempeh, add the cubes to a wide microwaveable bowl with a small amount of water and microwave for a couple of minutes. Remove and set aside.
Using a large pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat one tablespoon of oil on a low-medium heat.
Add the tempeh pieces and fry for 5-6 minutes until lightly golden on all sides. Remove and set aside.
To the same pan, add the onion and celery and soften for 5 minutes. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper.
Add the peppers and garlic and cook for another few minutes until starting to soften.
Once the aromatics have softened, add the tinned tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, yeast extract, red wine vinegar, dried sage, hot sauce, and bay leaves.
Stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes to reduce some of the tomato liquid, increasing the heat slightly if necessary.
Meanwhile, rinse the rice and drained chickpeas together in a colander.
Once the tomatoes have had a few minutes to cook down, add the rice, chickpeas, hot vegan stock, tempeh cubes, and cashews.
Stir everything gently, bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes and don't stir during this time.
After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and check quickly to make sure the rice grains are tender. Return the lid to the pan and leave to steam for another 5 minutes off the heat.
Give the jambalaya a gentle stir, adjust the seasoning to taste, and serve.
This one-pot jambalaya is good to go as it is, but I usually like a sprinkling of fresh parsley and an extra dash of hot sauce (Tabasco if you're keeping things within the bounds of Louisiana).
If you want to stick with the southern soul food theme, sides such as cornbread or corn on the cob would be welcome additions.
I find that washing the rice helps to prevent the grains from sticking together. You'll be draining and rinsing the chickpeas anyway, so it makes sense to do both.
Dried chickpeas will need to be cooked in advance before using in this recipe. For more info, check out my post on how to cook dried chickpeas.
To ensure this recipe is 100% gluten-free, use a vegan stock that is labelled as such (or just use water). You may also want to check any sides or toppings that you include.
Once it has cooled down, store the jambalaya in the fridge in an airtight container for up to three days.
Freeze leftovers for 2-3 months and defrost and reheat thoroughly before eating.
Variations and tips for vegan jambalaya
- Basic version: If you want to strip this recipe back for a much simpler (and slightly cheaper) version, you could skip ingredients such as the tempeh, cashews, red wine vinegar, sage, and bay leaves to create a tasty chickpea jambalaya.
- Rice: Some long-grain rice varieties may take slightly longer to cook than basmati, in which case check after 15 mins and add a little extra liquid if necessary.
- Larger batches: If scaling up the amounts, note that the cooking time may need to increase slightly.
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Hearty Vegan Jambalaya
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
- 7 oz (200 g) tempeh or tofu, cut into small cubes
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 2 bell peppers, chopped (I used green and red)
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1x 14 oz (400 g) tin tomatoes
- 1½ tablespoons Cajun seasoning
- 1½ tablespoons yeast extract
- 1 tablespoon vegan red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dried sage
- 1 teaspoon hot sauce (such as Tabasco, plus more to taste)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1½ cups (270 g) basmati rice (or other long-grain white rice)
- 1x 14 oz (400 g) tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- ½ cup (70 g) raw cashews (optional)
- 3½ cups (840 ml) hot vegan stock
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- Optional step: If you want to remove some of the bitterness from the tempeh, add the cubes to a wide microwaveable bowl with a small amount of water and microwave for a couple of minutes. Remove and set aside.
- Using a large pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat one tablespoon of oil on a low-medium heat. Add the tempeh pieces and fry for 5-6 minutes until lightly golden on all sides. Remove and set aside.
- To the same pan, add the onion and celery and soften for 5 minutes. Season with salt and plenty of black pepper.
- Add the peppers and garlic and cook for another few minutes until starting to soften.
- Once the aromatics have softened, add the tinned tomatoes, Cajun seasoning, yeast extract, red wine vinegar, dried sage, hot sauce, and bay leaves. Stir well and cook for 3-4 minutes to reduce some of the tomato liquid, increasing the heat slightly if necessary.
- Meanwhile, rinse the rice and drained chickpeas together in a colander.
- Once the tomatoes have had a few minutes to cook down, add the rice, chickpeas, hot vegan stock, tempeh cubes, and cashews. Stir everything gently, bring to a simmer, then cover with a lid and reduce the heat to very low. Cook for 15 minutes and don't stir during this time.
- After 15 minutes, turn off the heat and check quickly to make sure the rice grains are tender. Return the lid to the pan and leave to steam for another 5 minutes off the heat.
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