Friday, February 19, 2016

Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules

Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules is a traditional Puerto Rican dish of rice (arroz) and pigeon peas (gandules). I have a long and storied history with rice. On my first day at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, I discovered the cafeteria always had a rice cooker full of rice for lunch and dinner. Back then, I ate it with butter, or soy sauce, or both. When I did this, the Hawaiian and Islander kids laughed. They said I was like them. My Aunt Gloria taught my mom how to cook rice and how inexpensive it was. It became a regular staple in our diet. My mom would buy fifty pound bags of rice at least every six months. When we moved to Oregon full time, she would get looks every time she went to an Asian market. They had never seen a Caucasian lady buy so much rice. 
A friend of Puerto Rican descent gave me a Puerto Rican cookbook, A Taste of Puerto Rico by Yvonne Ortiz, for my birthday in 2015. They had given me suggestions on what to order when another friend and I went to a local Puerto Rican restaurant. This was at the top of the list. This is the friend who gifted me the cookbook’s favorite dish. This dish was an adventure. The recipe called for recaíto, it is a green base sauce for many Puerto Rican dishes. I found it pre-made in a jar by Goya. It had some preservatives I wanted to avoid and my cookbook included a recaíto recipe. The recaíto calls for cubanelle peppers (also called Italian frying peppers or aji cubanela) and a sweet peeper. I decided banana peppers would b my sweet pepper of choice.

                         
                                                   Second Attempt
Finding cubanelles and banana peppers in Oregon, specifically the Greater Portland metropolitan era, is difficult as can be. Finding Mexican chile or peppers is fairly easy. I did find online some substitution options, Anaheim chiles for cubanelles and pepperoncinis for banana peppers. Due to my mom’s issues with cilantro, I substituted that with parsley. I decided to buy the pre-made recaíto. The idea was to make the homemade recaíto with substitutions, then taste the pre-made and homemade to see which I liked better. The other unusual ingredients I found fairly easily. One of the local Asian supermarkets had the cultanro and the Mexican markets had the annatto (achiote in Mexican Spanish).

My mom preferred the fresh homemade and I preferred the pre-made recaíto. I figured I would use half of each. On January 13, 2016, I made my first batch. I burnt the bottom of the dish. I misinterpreted the directions. The flavor was good, but the burnt flavor over powered that. My friend, the one who gifted me the cookbook, asked how the pegao was. The pegao is the crunchy bottom layer of the dish. I told them it was black as night. They said, “It was Batman. You do not want your pegao to be Batman (Dark Knight).”

My second batch was made on January 18, 2016. Once again I misunderstood the directions and overcooked the rice to a porridge consistency. I now know what to do. After making this twice in the same month I needed a break. The pegao was perfect. My mom loved the pegao. The idea of the pegao comes from Spanish paella. Most Latino and Hispanic rice dishes come from paella. It is made in a huge pan and one of the goals is a crispy and crunchy bottom layer of rice.

I will make most assuredly this again. One idea is I may need to grow my own cubanelles and banana peppers. I used to help with my mom’s garden, but that was over three decades ago. I love my rice dishes and this is great. 

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