Christmas is celebrated with vigor around the world, but perhaps no one revels quite as hard as the Puerto Ricans. Beginning at the end of November and lasting until the latter part of January, the Puerto Rico Christmas season is dotted with celebrations, each its own reason for a feast. Holiday gatherings might feature lechón, roast young pig; tostones, fried plantain slices; bacalaítos fritos, salt cod fritters; or various other local specialties. Virtually no holiday meal, though, is without arroz con gandules (recipe follows), rice with pigeon peas.
More Puerto Rican dishes on The World Cup of Food:
- Pernil Asado, roast pork shoulder
Arroz con gandules has developed an impressive following both within Puerto Rico and abroad. While true that the dish is enjoyed most ravenously around the winter holidays, there is no time of year that the dish would be out of place. Puerto Rican restaurants around the world (like Seattle’s excellent La Isla) feature arroz con gandules both as a standalone dish and as a side dish to many entrees. If Puerto Rico has a signature dish, this is it.
Gandules, or pigeon peas, are a close relative of split peas and lentils. Most Latino groceries carry the dried variety in the United States, and most supermarkets have them canned and fully cooked. We used the canned variety to simplify the preparation method, but the recipe can be adapted to use the dried variety as well.
Arroz con Gandules
SERVES 6 TO 8 AS A SIDE DISH
- 3 Tbs vegetable oil
- 2 strips bacon, cut into 1/4″ dice
- 1/2 cup sofrito (recipe at the end of the post)
- 1/2 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 cups white rice
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 of a 5-ounce jar of sliced green olives with pimientos
- 2 Tbs capers
- 1 15-ounce can pigeon peas, drained
- salt and pepper
First we heated the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Once hot we added the bacon pieces:
…and sauteed until the bacon started to crisp, about five minutes. Next we added the sofrito and the onion:
…and cooked, stirring frequently, until the onion was softenend, about eight minutes or so. Next went in the rice and tomato paste:
…which were stirred over the heat until the mixture was fully combined and the rice was evenly coated with oil, about two minutes.
The next addition was the stock, oregano, olive mixture, and capers:
The pot was brought to a boil, then covered and cooked over low heat for about thirty minutes. At this point the rice was fully cooked and tender, so we stirred in the final ingredient, the pigeon peas, and heated our arroz con gandules for another ten minutes.
To serve, each generous scoop of arroz con gandules was accompanied by a couple of slices of our pernil asado:
Many different varieties of beans and rice exist in the world, and our arroz con gandules shares a lot in common with them. It is a starchy, rich, pork-infused mound of pure sustenance, much like Cajun red beans and rice or Cuban Moros y Cristianos. The pigeon peas set it apart, though, giving the dish a strong green vegetable flavor absent in some of its cousins from other lands. The dozen or so ingredients each leave their marks, giving the dish a complex flavor well worth the effort.
As promised, the recipe for Puerto Rican sofrito follows. Sofrito is a combination of vegetables and pork finely minced and used as a flavor base for savory dishes. It is analogous to the French mirepoix or the Italian pestata.
MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS
- 4 ounces ham
- 1 Tbs fresh oregano
- 7 cilantro sprigs
- 5 cloves garlic
- 2 Anaheim peppers
- 2 yellow onions
- 1/2 red bell pepper
- 1/3 cup canola oil
First, we put everything but the oil into the food processor and ran it until everything was finely minced:
Next, the oil was put in a large fry pan over medium-low heat, and once hot the sofrito mixture was sauteed gently until softened completely, about twenty minutes:
A Puerto Rican cook will typically make a large batch of sofrito all at once, using what is needed for each dish and storing the rest in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container.