When you experience the flavors of New Orleans, from the food to the music, to the culture and to the people, you just want more of all of it. And as delicious and rich as all of it is, finding a healthy way to enjoy it back home is challenging. You can crank up the jazz easily enough, but cranking out the food is more challenging.

Digging into the pleasure of the culinary gifts of New Orleans brings on unique spices, seafood, chicken, sausage, rice, vegetables and more. However, finding a healthy balance of culinary therapy and gluttony can be accomplished! The key is how much, especially when it comes to the roux and the rice.

A third cup of cooked rice is approximately 70-80 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrates. Therefore a cup of rice brings you to about 200+ calories and 45 grams of carbs. Take a moment to measure both of these portion sizes. The third cup is likely less than you are calling one serving, and one cup is likely not what you had in mind for 3 servings. But it is what it is :), so how can we work our Nola delights into a nutritionally balanced equation?

Going with less rice or removing rice completely from dishes does not change the comfort deliciousness of this spicy cuisine. Brown rice provides you with the bonus of some extra fiber and nutrients, yet you are still managing with the same portion challenge. Choosing which dish you may include the rice (it is kinda impossible not to have rice with the traditional rice and beans :)), go with less rice, or skip the rice, replacing it with extra peppers, tomatoes and onions, will create a non-carb loading experience.

The roux. There is a roux in quite a few of your traditional Cajun fare as well, which is an equal portion of a fat (usually oil or butter) and flour. It is not a lot when you break it down into servings, but it is indeed necessary for the consistency of the dishes. Just another piece of the caloric puzzle to keep in balance. I used the least amount possible in each dish, without losing any flavor.

These authentic Louisiana entrees can still take you down to Nola without having to loosen up your jeans upon your return.

photo by author

NOLA-STYLE GUMBO

Here is where the roux is most important, as it defines the consistency of the gumbo. It is most important to stir the roux constantly, as otherwise it will easily burn and you will have to start over. To lighten up this dish, I removed the rice and made it an appetizer versus a main dish. If you desire the gumbo as a main dish, just be sure to serve with a side salad or grilled veggies, to balance your meal.

INGREDIENTS
The Roux:
1 cup of all-purpose flour
2/3 cup canola oil
The Gumbo:
1 bunch celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, chopped
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 Tablespoon)
1 bunch fresh parsley leaves, chopped + 1 Tablespoon for garnish
2 Tablespoons Cajun seasoning
7–8 cups low sodium chicken broth (or veggie)7–8 cups low sodium chicken broth (or veggie)
1 pound chicken andouille sausage, sliced (again, can go veggie-style here)
12 cooked shrimp, jumbo size

PREPARATION
The Roux: In a large stock pot combine flour and oil. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly for about 30–40 minutes. Be patient, as it should be chocolate in color and thick consistency. Set aside in pot.

The Gumbo: Place a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cooked until well-browned, about 6–8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan and set aside.

Add celery, peppers, onion and garlic to skillet, and continue cooking over medium-high heat until tender, about 6–7 minutes. Add cooked veggies, parsley and 6 cups of broth to the stock pot with roux. Stir well and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook 6 minutes. Stir in cajun seasoning. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cooked sausage and stir well. Add 0–1 more cup of broth as needed, for consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve in 12 ramekins with one jumbo shrimp and garnish with fresh parsley. Not having 12 guests tonight :)? Feel free to refrigerate for 3–4 days.

photo by author

JAMMIN’ JAMBALAYA

This traditional jambalaya dish is healthy comfort by going with a lean chicken sausage, less oil and less rice. Not a fan of chicken? Go with a spicy veggie sausage instead, doubling the portion and skipping the chicken breasts. Either way, I suggest Jon Batiste for your happy tunes while cooking.

INGREDIENTS
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 pound andouille chicken sausage (or other lean, spicy chicken sausage), sliced into thin slices
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3 ribs celery, chopped
2 medium bell peppers (any color combo), chopped
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons Cajun seasoning, separated
2–3 medium tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
3 cups low sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth if going veggie)
1 1/2 cups long grain brown rice
Nonstick cooking spray

PREPARATION
Prepare rice according to package directions and set aside.

In a large skillet (that has a fitted lid) add the oil and place over medium high heat. Add the sliced sausage and chicken pieces and brown well for about 8 minutes, sprinkling 1 teaspoon of Cajun seasoning and making sure to brown all sides. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Add butter and flour to the pan (roux time!) and stir well, scraping up leftover brown bits from the pan. Add the onion, garlic, celery and bell peppers and saute’ for about 5–6 minutes. Add basil, teaspoon of Cajun seasoning, diced tomatoes and stir well to combine. Simmer for 2–3 minutes.

Add broth and reserved meat. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cooked rice, stir well and simmer with lid for another 10 minutes or until broth is mostly absorbed. Remove from heat, stir to combine and cool about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes 5–6 servings.

photo by author

ROCKIN’ RED BEANS AND RICE

During our recent visit to New Orleans, one of my favorite meals was in a casual bar, with zero expectations for what might come out of the kitchen. It was the tastiest red beans and rice I had ever consumed. It was the inspiration for this entire blog :). Always adjust seasonings to taste, you can even give your serving a splash of cider vinegar for an extra zing. DEFINITELY go with the dried beans, which require an overnight soak. This could be an entree or a side dish, as long as you are keeping those carbs in balance.

INGREDIENTS
1 pound dried kidney beans
5–6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 Tablespoons)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 bell peppers (green and red), chopped
10 cups water (6 +4)10 cups water (6 +4)
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 Tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
1 pound chicken andouille sausage, sliced (again, can go veggie-style here)
2–3 medium tomatoes, diced (about 2 cups)
2 cups long grain brown rice
Nonstick cooking spray

PREPARATION
Day 1: Rinse beans and soak in large pot of water overnight.

Day 2: Place a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. Add onion, bell peppers, garlic and cook for 6–8 minutes, or until onions are lightly browned.

Pour beans into a colander and rinse well. Rinse the large pot and place 6 cups of water and beans back into pot. Place over high heat and add cooked veggies, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, thyme, sage, parsley and Cajun seasoning. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer with lid for 2 1/2 hours.

Stir in sausage and continue to simmer with lid for another 30 minutes. While simmering, prepare rice according to package directions. Serve beans over cooked rice. Adjust seasonings, which may included the vinegar splash. Makes 8 side dish servings or 4–6 main dish servings.

Beans, beans, they’re good for you heart❤️, the more eat, the more you…why are they worth it ;)?? This little tune is right. Beans are good for you for many reasons:

❤️Beans are an awesome source of fiber. Why does fiber matter again? Fiber helps keep you regular and is protective against heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and digestive illness. Remember your goal is to consume the recommended 25 to 38 grams each day.

❤️All the fiber helps keep you fuller for longer, keeping your hunger satisfied for longer, and therefore, helping you manage your total caloric intake and weight.

❤️Beans are packed with protein. A half-cup has about 7 grams per serving. This is equal to an ounce of cooked chicken, beef, pork or fish. An easy add to a salad, side dish or entree topping. Keep in mind, if most of your protein comes from plants, make sure that you mix up your sources so no essential components of protein are missing.

❤️Beans contain other nutrients we need like folate and potassium. Eating more plant-based foods (even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) will benefit your purse, your health and the environment.

Don’t follow the path. Go where there is no path and begin the trail. When you start a new trail equipped with courage, strength and conviction, the only thing that can stop you is you! ~Ruby Bridges

A nutrition expert and middle child, I am writing to promote health and wellbeing, recipes and tips in a relatable, slightly rebellious fashion.