Dirty Rice

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With Thanksgiving around the corner, and friends and relatives gathering to feast, you may want to think about adding this dish to the table. It’s hearty, tasty, vegan, and gluten-free. It can be served as a main dish, with veggies on the side, or as a filling and protein packed side dish. It’s fast and easy and there are a number of excellent variations you can do if this seasoning doesn’t grab you.

Dirty rice is a Cajun dish. It gets its name from the various meats in the traditional version, which color the rice to some extent and are the “dirt” in the rice. Typically it is mostly rice. In my vegetarian version the proportion of other ingredients to the rice is a bit more generous. This isn’t a family recipe, but I did have the traditional dirty rice a number of times when I was growing up. This makes a large amount — the bowl in the picture is 11″ across and 5″ deep — so how many servings it is depends on whether you serve it as a side dish, or as a main dish. Make sure you have a large skillet or large pot to make it in and a large bowl for serving — or storing leftovers.

You can use leftover rice for this recipe because the rice is cooked separately from the other ingredients. Adjust the amount of meatless crumbles and seasoning according to the amount of rice you use and what you want the proportions of rice to other ingredients to be. If you want this to look like more traditional dirty rice, you should use less meatless crumbles for the amount of rice. Traditional dirty rice is rice which uses veggies and meat for flavoring. In this recipe the rice and meatless crumbles share equal billing. There’s a fair amount of leeway in this recipe for variations, which I’ll get into after the recipe

  • 1 cup rice, which you will cook separately
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 1 onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp file powder
  • 1 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne powder
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp parsley
  • 1 pkg Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles

Cook 1 cup of rice using whatever your usual cooking technique is. (I make the rice in the microwave.)  While rice is cooking, dice celery and bell pepper. Coarsely chop onion. How finely you dice or chop the veggies is to some extent a matter of preference. Saute the bell pepper and celery in a generous amount of olive oil over a moderate heat. Add onion and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Add the meatless crumbles. I use a whole package, but since the crumbles are frozen loose in the bag, you can use as much or as little as you want if you want to make a smaller amount or are using leftover rice.

Stir them in and let them thaw and cook with the veggies. Add seasonings and liquid smoke. Stir in well. You will probably need to add a little water once or twice while the mixture is cooking. I add about 1/4 cup at a time, as needed. It doesn’t need to cook long: just enough to cook the crumbles. The rice will probably be ready slightly before the mixture is, depending on type of rice and cooking method, but that’s okay. Just keep the lid on the rice so it remains warm. Then dump the rice and seasoned mixture into a big serving bowl and stir thoroughly until it’s well mixed.

A note on seasonings: File is a powder which is an ingredient in gumbo and other cajun seasoning. It’s made from ground sassafras leaves. If you can’t find it, it’s okay to omit it, though that will change the flavor slightly. The cayenne gives the dish its characteristic spiciness, but isn’t enough to really light you up. On the other hand, if you really like things to be very spicy, you can always add some heat to your plate when serving. This amount of cayenne, I think, perfectly balances with the other seasonings and doesn’t overwhelm the flavors. It’s not hot enough for my husband’s palate, though. He thinks this dish is perfect only after he’s adding a generous amount of Iguana Deuces Vicious Jalapeno sauce to it. 😉

Seasoning variations: If a Cajun-style dish isn’t to your taste you can change the seasonings. Onion, bell pepper, and celery are a common triad in Cajun cooking. I’d recommend dropping the celery if you convert it into a different type of ethnic dish, such as Italian. Substituting oregano and basil for the thyme and parsley would give it an Italian flavor. There are any number of flavor variations you could do on this: Italian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian…It’s kind of a fast, easy, hash which can have pretty much any flavor you want.

Serving options, fancy and leftovers: One thing you could do to portion out the servings and make the presentation better, is to use the mixture as a stuffing for bell peppers. This adds an extra step because the bell peppers will need to be baked after stuffing, but on the other hand if you have the mixture as leftovers — or you did a make-ahead thing the day before — this is a nice variation because you’d need to heat up the mixture again anyway and the stuffed peppers can roast while while you kick off your shoes and relax after a long day. See here for my Stuffed Bell Peppers recipe. It uses a different mixture for stuffing, but prep for the bell peppers and cooking technique (note my little microwave cheat) would be the same no matter what you stuffed them with. Slicing the peppers lengthwise is another option for showing off the filling — and you can get away with heaping it up a bit, whereas stuffing a whole pepper filling is limited to the capacity of the pepper.

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Spicy Quesadillas

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This is made similar to my Mushroom Quesadillas with Chiles and Chipotle Cheese, only instead of mushrooms and chiles, I’ve used a spicy soy protein mixture. These meatless crumbles soak up liquid and seasonings very well, and because it’s frozen loose in a package, you can scoop out as much — or as little — as you need for a dish. You do not need a quesadilla maker to make quesadillas. All you need is a good skillet (I use a big cast iron skillet, but a non-stick skillet would probably work as well.)

The trick, as always, is to not overload the quesadillas with too much filling in addition to the cheese. The whole idea is that the cheese acts as glue. There’s always a chance of filling falling out when you eat quesadillas, but if you don’t overload the tortillas, cheese will do a pretty good job of holding things together.

I used Mexene chili powder. Most pre-mixed chili powders aren’t extremely spicy, but if what you use has a strong kick, you might need to adjust to your tastes. Most chili powder combinations also have cumin, but I add a bit more to balance things out since some of the quesadillas’ spicy flavor is coming from the chipotle cheese. If using plain cheddar or some other unseasoned cheese, you could increase the spiciness of the soy crumbles by adding red pepper, Hungarian hot paprika, cayenne powder, or Tabasco, etc. Also be aware that there are now a number of different brands of chipotle cheddar cheese on the market and the heat of the cheese may vary between brands.

This makes enough filling for at least 5 quesadillas, maybe 6, depending on how much filling you use in each one. It also depends on the size of tortilla you use. I prefer the medium sized which are larger than taco-sized, but significantly smaller than the big burrito size. I’ve tried using both the smaller and larger for quesadillas and the small just seemed too small and the large was extremely awkward to turn over — even with my big spatula.

  • 1 1/2 cups Simple Truth Meatless Crumbles
  • 2 Tbls chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • Block of chipotle cheddar
  • medium sized flour tortillas

20150407_190543Simmer the meatless crumbles in a small amount of water with the spices, stirring well, until it’s cooked down. Use just enough water that it can soak it up and simmer for just a few minutes. The filling will be moist but it shouldn’t be liquidy.

You can assemble the quesadillas either on a plate next to the stove, or in the skillet itself. Place a generous amount of the cheese on the tortilla, but not all the way out to the edge. I used sliced cheese; it’s faster and easier than grating and I seems like I have a better idea of how much cheese and what the coverage of the cheese will be with slices. Do whatever works best for you.

20150407_190823Spoon two generous spoonfuls of the seasoned meatless crumbles onto the cheese. Top with another flour tortilla. Toast each side of the tortilla on the ungreased skillet for a couple of minutes on medium heat. It should be browned and slightly crispy. This only takes one or two minutes, depending on your stove. Flip using the biggest spatula you have and toast the other side. (I have an enormous round spatula that I use for many things.) The cheese should be melted enough to hold the thing together when you turn it over.

Cut each round into 6 wedges and serve hot with salsa on the side. People will eat them as fast as you make ’em, so make the first one for yourself to snack on while you toast up the others. 😉 Prep on the filling (slicing, simmering) takes mere minutes and assembling and cooking just a few minutes more. This is a fast fun meal and one that can usually be made from ingredients on hand. (I always have flour tortillas, meatless crumbles, and some kind of cheddar on hand.)