Walk around a Latin neighborhood on Sunday afternoon and every other breeze carries the familiar aroma of Arroz Con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas). The secret ingredient in this savory carb is raising eyebrows among a new generation of Latinos who want to cut the fat.”Why do you have to start with the pork?” Maria Perez-Brown asks her mother Juana, who is standing near the stove heating a pot with a small amount of oil inside. “Why do we have to add the pork in everything?”
Her mother takes a breath, raises an eyebrow and picks up a bowl of diced ham before answering. “I love it.”
Maria knows it could be worse—at least the ham is mostly meat. “Some people like to add a little bit of tocino. You know what that is? That is fat back! I mean it is fat back, you fry it in oil!”
With or without the pork, the dish is easy to make. Just take rice, tomato sauce, sofrito olives, pigeon peas, salt, pepper, toss them in a pot, add water, top and let simmer.
“I’d rather not add the ham because you are just adding the extra calories. And I know it has a little bit of that flavor but when you add the sofrito and some of the other ingredients it tastes just as good,” Maria says.
Maria’s mother disagrees, insisting on the pork and stirs the contents of the pot, making sure each chunk of ham evenly browns. “I love it! It gives it real good flavor. Real good flavor.”
Maria has experimented with ways to give her Arroz Con Gandules a strong, pork-free flavor by including bicultural twists. She’s added imitation meats and exotic vegetables, but always sticks with the foundations of Latin food. “You live with a foot in two cultures. You have your very basic Latino upbringing and then you have this modern American world that we live in.”
Watch the video to see Maria and her Mom make that special Sunday meal.
- 1 cup of diced ham (optional)
- 4 teaspoons sofrito
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 cup green olives
- 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
- 3 cups uncooked rice
- 2 (15 ounce) cans pigeon peas (gandules), drained
- 2 2/3 cups boiling water
- Put 3-4 tablespoons olive oil and 6 tablespoons sofrito in an 8 quart pot.
- Cook for 3 or 4 minutes to wake up the sofrito (especially if it has been frozen).
- Pour one can of tomato sauce, add salt and pepper to taste. (Note: Some people also add a packet of Spanish seasoning, but be advised many such seasonings are loaded with MSG)
- Stir in the pigeon peas.
- Add 3 cups rice to the mixture and stir until the rice is coated.
- Add 2 2/3 cup water (the rule is 1 1/3 cup water to every 1 1/2 cups rice)
- Bring to a boil.
- Cover the pot.
- Reduce heat by about half.
- Let simmer and cook for 45 minutes or until rice is tender.
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