Creole Style Vegetarian Jambalaya

1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups yellow onions, small dice
1 cup red onions, small dice
1 cup bell peppers, small dice
1 cup celery, small dice
2 cups eggplant, diced
1 cup yellow squash, diced
1 cup zucchini, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced shallots
3 cups chopped tomatoes
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste optional
2 teaspoons creole seasoning, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
4 cups long grain rice
1 cup tomato paste
8 cups vegetable stock
1 cup chopped green onions

Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the onions, shallots, bell peppers and garlic and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant, squash, and zucchini, and sauté until they're tender, another 5 minutes or so. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt, Creole seasoning and additional cayenne if desired. Add the bay leaves, then add the rice and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.

If you're making this Creole-style, heat the tomato paste in a non-stick pan and stir, making sure it doesn't stick or burn, until the sugars in the paste begin to caramelize, and the paste begins to turn a deep mahogany color. Deglaze with some of the stock, stir and combine thoroughly, then add the tomato paste to the rest of the stock and stir until well-blended.

Add the vegetable stock/tomato mixture, stir and cover. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid has been absorbed. Do not stir the jambalaya while it's cooking. Remove from heat and let stand for 2-3 minutes. Add the green onions and mix thoroughly.

Garnish with some fresh long chives, and serve with a salad and good beer.

Yield: 12 generous servings

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