I am from New York and in New York we have such a variety of food. From that famous NY slice (of pizza) to food cart hot dogs to a plethora of culturally diverse foods. My absolute favorite is foods from the Caribbean. Whether it’s Jamaican, Haitian, or of course Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Dominican (from Dominican Republic, not Dominica).
That’s where the rice and peas come in. Rice with peas or beans is a staple in Latin America and Caribbean kitchens. Generations have survived off of this dish. It is a meal in and of itself. It is inexpensive and I find it easy to make.
I was already an adult before I learned how to make actual rice. Yes ya’ll! There was a time I wouldn’t even TOUCH dry rice. Remember, I didn’t cook growing up so, I never learned. Then I came home from college and did lots of Uncle Ben’s microwaveable rice. When I moved the California I “upgraded” to boil-in-a-bag rice. I thought I was chefing it then!
But something was missing. California isn’t really known for it’s Latino food outside of Mexican and some Central/South American dishes. (OMG the papusas!!! I had my first papusa in 2011 and was hooked). What it didn’t have? Arroz con gandules, pernil, tostones, beef patties, mais moulin, mofongo…all the food I loved.
And so, I had to learn how to make it myself. I was terrified I’d mess up. I kept thinking about Esmeralda Santiago in Cuando Era Puerto Riquena (When I was Puerto Rican) and her story of making rice. Side note: That book was also how I learned to eat a guava.
Okay so the arroz con gandules. You only need a few ingredients and some spare time. I can usually get this done in under an hour.
So let’s get to it. I’m going to show you how I make arroz con gandules.
When you’re cooking disabled-ly, you HAVE to make sure your kitchen works for you. So I gather together all of my ingredients and make sure they are within arms reach. That even includes the water. It takes me a minute to maneuver my wheelchair and I’d rather not burn food. I also keep any utensils I will need within easy reach. Thus, all my ingredients lined up on the counter.
You will need:
- White rice (I’ve never tried it with brown)
- A small can of tomato sauce (maybe 12 fl oz?)
- A packet of Goya Sazon
- Goya Adobo
- Goya red sofrito
- Chicken Caldo
- Pigeon Peas (Goya gandules – I found out these come frozen. I’ve never used frozen so, I will have to test this out one day).
- Garlic powder (or fresh garlic)
- Onions (optional)
- Diced smoked sausage, ham or bacon (optional)
- Oil (vegetable is best)
- A caldero (a pot)
- Add some oil to the caldero. If you are using a meat that makes its grease (like bacon, skip this step). If you are not using that type of meat, then the add oil. It should be just enough to cover the bottom. This is to keep the rice from sticking. Let it heat up. Check to see if it’s ready by sprinkling a couple of drops of water into the oil. If it sizzles/pops, it’s hot enough.
- Add your meat if you’re using any. Make sure it cooks thoroughly. Remember, some meat, like bacon, will make it’s own grease. If that is the case, do not use oil…yet. You will in a minute though.
- Add your onion and garlic/garlic powder if you are using it and saute until browned. Remove the meat and the onions for now but leave the drippings.
- Add a little more oil to re-cover the bottom of the pot. Make sure it heats up.
- Add the can of tomato sauce, the packet of Sazon, about 2-3 tablespoons of Sofrito. (I kinda just use a regular spoon or eyeball it), and some Adobo and pepper. Stir all of this together and let it cook on low heat for a few minutes.
- Now that you have the base flavors melded together, it’s time to add the rice. I usually add about 1.5-2 cups of rice. This might be the only time I actually measure in this recipe.
- Stir the rice into your tomato base until it is well coated. You should no longer see any white grains. Once the rice is well coated, let it cook in the sauce some. It is softening just a tad and it is absorbing the flavors of the tomato base.
- Add the can of gandules/pigeon peas and stir. Some people drain the peas. I do not since it means I don’t have to add as much water and dilute all those flavors. Get the peas well distributed.
- At this point I add the caldo de pollo (chicken bouillon). I use the powdered kind, but many people use the cubes. If you use the cubes, bring water to boil in a separate sauce pan. You want enough liquid to cover the rice and an inch more. So if you made 1 cup of rice (but why tho?!) use 2 cups of water. If you did NOT drain your peas, use less water.
- Add the cube and dissolve it. Then add this water to your rice and peas. Add more water if you need to. Stir
- Turn the heat to HIGH and let the pot come to a boil. The liquids will begin to reduce. Before all of the liquid is absorbed, add your meat and onions (if you used them).
- Cover your pot and leave the heat on high. Keep checking on it. You don’t want to burn the rice, although I think the best part is the pegado, the rice that cooked (burned) onto the side of the pot. Give it a stir but you don’t want to keep stirring. You’ll end up with clumpy rice.
- When the liquid is almost fully absorbed, but not quite, turn the heat down to low, or a simmer. You can even turn it off and let the heat circulate as the covered rice absorbs the remaining liquid.
- Give the dish one last fluff with a fork or just stir from the bottom with a serving spoon. I like to let it sit uncovered for a few minutes. Otherwise, it’s ready!
And that’s it! That’s how I make my arroz con gandules.