As a kid, my mother would often cook jambalaya for us. It was quick, it was cheap, and it was easy.

Unfortunately, younger me sort of hated the dish. Yeah, I’d slog through it, but not very happily. It wasn’t the sausage she chose, because I kind of love kielbasa (though I love it more when it’s paired with some mashed potatoes and a healthy serving of sauerkraut). Maybe it was the rice mix she used occasionally. All I knew was, when Mom would tell us that we were having jambalaya, my heart never wanted to sing a happy tune. I love her, though, so I’d eat it… And she was also pretty hard-line about, “Well, this is what’s for dinner, and if you don’t like it, I guess you’re not going to eat.” So I’d eat it for that reason, too. I mean, the woman worked pretty hard to keep food on the table for us, and I wasn’t going to be the kind of brat that disregarded that and demanded a brand-new meal to be made, which would waste whatever I’d typically eat if my mom was the type to give in to her kids’ desires.

So as time went on, and I struck out on my own, I was happy to be rid of meals I didn’t enjoy. I could eat whatever I wanted, especially after I got a job and wasn’t depending on whatever was left for living expenses after I spent the bulk of my student loans on, well, school. And after I’d been out on my own for awhile, I started to crave better foods. I stopped buying cheap convenience foods like box mixes, and I started to broaden my own horizons food-wise. I was in California by that time, meaning I had better access to fresher, higher-quality food year-round.

Don’t get me wrong: Box mixes were my jam as a kid. There’s a reason the box mixes are popular. You just add a couple of things, and bam — dinner’s on the table. And for better or worse, they were cheap, and while my mother worked hard, it didn’t mean she was paid a lot. With three kids to support, she wasn’t even paycheck-to-paycheck, because kids are expensive to house, clothe, and feed. I kind of shudder to think how often she went without something she might have needed because she felt we needed something else more.

I hope that someday I can be the mother she was to me.

Looks like I got off-track from my original point! Jambalaya. Didn’t like it as a kid. I grew up and started cooking for myself. And when I really decided to get my ass in gear health-wise, I turned to the Internet for help.

Cut to last year at some point, with me discovering BudgetBytes. She does her best to make sure that the meals she makes are not only inexpensive, but good (and in most cases, good for you). No box mixes there. I came across her recipe for pastalaya, and upon reading the post that accompanied the recipe, she mentioned that it’s jambalaya, but with pasta instead of rice. Remembering the jambalaya that I had as a kid, my heart sank a bit, but I glanced over the ingredient list, anyway. I kind of perked up. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad, after all. And I tried it.

I was pretty much instantly addicted. That stuff is good. Nothing like the jambalaya from my childhood (sorry, Mom — you know I love almost everything else you make!).

This time around, I had to make it a bit healthier. I’ve been losing and re-gaining the same 5 pounds for a couple of weeks now, so I’m scrutinizing my diet pretty closely…though you’ll rip my carbs from my cold, dead hands. The only things I really changed, though:

  • 12 oz of chicken sausage (this time, a spicy jalapeno version) instead of Andouille
  • Vegetable stock (it’s what I had in my freezer) instead of chicken broth
  • No half-and-half or cream; just a splash of flax milk instead
  • No parsley or onions

I lowered the servings to 6 just in case we were, like, super-hungry or something, and it turns out this recipe still fits my needs. And it’ll be nice to eat something so filling and satisfying on nights that I’ve had a particularly difficult workout.

Pastalaya

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 25 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Calories per serving: 374

Fat per serving: 9.2 g

Saturated fat per serving: 2.1 g

Carbs per serving: 53.2 g

Protein per serving: 20.5 g

Fiber per serving: 2.9 g

Sugar per serving: 3.1 g

Sodium per serving: 633 mg

Pastalaya

Delicious pasta dish that can be made in a single pot! Low in calories, but high in the pleasing factor.

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 12 oz smoked chicken sausage of choice (macros are for spicy jalapeno chicken sausage by al fresco), sliced into rounds
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 10-oz bag frozen peppers and onions (if you want to cook from fresh: probably about 2 bell peppers and 1 large onion)
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I made my own according to the one posted at BudgetBytes)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • 16 oz (2 cups) vegetable stock (homemade preferred, but just as good with store-bought)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 lb penne pasta
  • 2 tablespoons milk of choice

Instructions

  1. 1. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the oil, then add the chicken sausage. Saute until heated through and the sausage starts to brown a bit. (Brown = flavor!)
  2. 2. Add the garlic to the skillet and saute until fragrant and soft.
  3. 3. Add the pepper-and-onion blend to the skillet and saute until soft and cooked through, with bonus points for letting 'em brown a bit.
  4. 4. Once the peppers and onions are cooked through, add the diced tomatoes, spices, vegetable stock, water, and pasta to the pot. Stir to combine, then place a lid over the pot.
  5. 5. Allow the mixture to come to a boil, lift the lid off of the mixture, and give it another quick stir before lowering the heat to low and putting the lid back on. The BudgetBytes blog has specified to let it simmer for 12-15 minutes, but I've found that 8-9 minutes are sufficient, especially because my husband and I eat the leftovers over the course of a few days. It prevents the remaining noodles from getting too soggy. No matter your preference, let it simmer, lifting the lid to give it a quick stir every once in awhile, replacing the lid immediately after.
  6. 6. Add the splash of milk to the pastalaya, being sure to stir and let the milk coat the mixture.
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