Another Mariel original! Sort of. It’s really my version of a family recipe for this traditional Puerto Rican dish. My family has this dish for every holiday or special event. This past Thanksgiving, Ryan and I hosted for his family and I insisted that I had to make this dish. As I was simultaneously watching the turkey, potatoes, veggies, I had Ryan on the phone with my mom confirming that I was making the rice correctly. I was nervous, I wanted to have this staple dish and impress my in-laws. When the rice was done I opened the pot and steam flew in my face. It smelled delicious and looked right. And then, I tasted it AND IT WAS RIGHT! I literally danced in the kitchen that it tasted just like it always had throughout my childhood. Since then I’ve made this dish for my own parents (who were thoroughly impressed) and for friends. It seems sort of complex, and making rice in a pot can be daunting, but it’s actually pretty straightforward and not-very messy. It’s a great side to have for dinner after work or to wow dinner guests.
Now, like all family recipes, many of the directions I got from my mom and my aunt were a bit vague. Things like “a lot” and “until it looks right” can be really confusing and frustrating until you make it and it comes out yummy and “a lot” and “until it looks right” makes a lot of sense. I’ll do my best to be specific, but this recipe allows for wiggle room when it comes to seasoning so don’t worry!
Before getting started, let’s talk ingredients. I use mostly Goya products. You can use whatever you want, but Goya is easy to find in grocery stores and always hits the spot. First, let’s talk pigeon beans, or gandules. I have only had pigeon beans in this dish so I have no idea how else to use them, and I really have no idea what they taste like solo, but they are great in this dish.
Second, is sofrito. I like the Goya frozen version. You can make your own fresh version. The recipe I like is from Wilo Benet’s book True Flavors. You can also buy the sauce-like Goya version, but the frozen container is the largest and is less tomato-y. To use it, I just microwave the container for 20 seconds and then scrape off the portion I need.
Finally, let’s talk tomato paste. You can use regular tomato paste, but I’ve used whatever tomato based sauce I’ve had in the fridge. Some sometimes I’ve used paste, sometimes plain pasta sauce, and once the tomato juice from a can of whole tomatoes.
I think that’s the basics, so we should be good to get started!
1 cup medium grain rice
1 can pigeon beans (drain the beans but hold on to the liquid)
2 cups of liquid (You can use all water, but it will be most flavorful if you measure the bean liquid and then use chicken broth or water to make the difference up to 2 cups) You might also need more than 2 cups of liquid, and I’ll explain why in the directions.
1 small onion diced
2 tbsp garlic minced (can use more or less depending on taste)
3-4 tbsp sofrito
3 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp cilantro
*People also add green olives, cubanelle peppers, and diced ham. I don’t because Ryan doesn’t like olives and I don’t like ham, but if you choose to use these ingredients add them the step before you put in the pigeon beans.
1. In a large pot, heat 1-2 tbsp of oil. I like to have the setting at medium-high.
2. Cook the onion and garlic for about 3 minutes, or until the onion in translucent.
3. Stir in the sofrito, cilantro, and tomato paste. Now here is where my mom said you can use “a lot” of sofrito. She said there was no way you could use too much, so don’t feel like you have to stick to just 3-4 tbsps of sofrito. I know I’ve used enough sofrito when everything that turned the color of sofrito and the onions and garlic now look they are cooking in a thin layer of liquid.
4. Stir in the drained pigeon beans.
5. Pour in the liquid. If you can see the pigeon beans clearly through the liquid, add a little more until you can’t see the ingredients at the bottom of the pot. Usually I add about another 1/4 -1/2 cup. Bring it to a boil. Season with salt if you’d like.
6. Once the liquid has boiled add the rice.
7. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the surface of the rice is visible with some bubbling between the grains of rice. This usually takes 9-10 minutes.
8. Lower the heat, cover the pot with a lid, and cook for about 20 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is fully cooked. Some people like to overcook it a little at the bottom so those grains are crunchy – I usually have people fighting for those portions.
Messy Level – Low. It’s really a one pot dish so there’s not much to clean afterward. Also, everything cooks at a nice boil or simmer so there isn’t an occasion for thing to pop out of the pot. Any mess I make comes in through spilling sofrito, chicken broth, and tomato sauce as I balance out how much I want to put in. But who doesn’t spill while cooking?