Arroz Con Gandules
There are many things for which Puerto Rico is famous: salsa bands, carnivals, the rainforest, and the food, to name a few. Because I’m an avid cook when I’m at home in Washington, DC, I’ve decided to try my hand at making authentic island dishes whenever I can. One of the staples of daily life in the islands is rice, cooked a bunch of different ways. Arroz con gandules is a dish which is distinctly Puerto Rican, and in order to gain street cred, I donned my apron, rolled up my sleeves and went to work. Gandules, by the way, are called pigeon peas in english and they are becoming more common in stateside grocery stores.
The recipe and method were straightforward, actually. Like a lot of folks I know, I was always afraid of cooking rice until recently. I had burned, dried out, and made mushy messes of many a serving of rice in the past, much to my own horror. I’m not sure when or even how I made peace with the rice gods, but make peace I did. I strongly suggest buying a quality rice cooker and experimenting, for those of you who are still rice-challenged. Arroz con gandules calls for stove top preparation, though, and a patient hand is required. While researching the recipe, I came across a very well presented video in english, and I based my efforts upon this fine tutorial. Many thanks to elagasse for his excellent website, videos and authentic recipes.
My first effort paid off with a very tasty plate of rice, and when I offered samples to my friends in San Juan, they were quite impressed. As some of my readers are all too aware, I frequently make unsolicited offers of matrimony when suitably ispired, so you can imagine my surprise when an offer of marriage was immediately iterated by a very pretty Puerto Rican woman after her first bite of my home made arroz con gandules!
The trickiest part of the recipe is the achiote oil, which is really a cinch to make. Simply toss 2T of annatto seeds (from your spice market or latin grocery) in a cup of vegetable oil (I use corn, but olive oil works too) and heat for 10 minutes over a medium flame. Strain out the seeds, and viola! The resulting oil can stain things, so be careful with your clothes and countertops.
This dish is now a staple in my kitchen – I make a batch nearly every week, which has come in handy when my lazy friends drop in unannounced for a quick meal. Here is a shot of a plate that I brought to my neighbors for an impromptu dinner party.
From left, clockwise: Zuhal’s coconut rice, arroz con gandules, fresh mango. You know, I think the old saying has some truth to it – ‘Living well is the best revenge!’