Puerto Rican "Arroz con Gandulez"
(Serves 4 to 6 as main dish)
You can't visit a Puerto Rican home at Christmastime without being served arroz con gandulez (rice with pigeon peas), cooked in a large cast-iron or caldero, or kettle, and accompanied by pasteles, little bundles of pork and seasoning tied up in edible wrappings. You can go to a different home every week and the menu is the same; only the details vary from house to house. Whereas traditional cooks would add some chopped ham or cook their rice or lard, you may use only cooking oil; but one must use more of it than is our health conscious custom - because, it is said : In true Arroz con Gandulez, or in any Puerto Rican rice dish, every grain of rice must coated be fat. There's another reason for not skimping on the oil: Puerto Rican rice cooks are among the many in the world who cultivate a bottom crust by cooking the rice for an extended period over very low heat. The fat on the bottom helps form the desired golden brown pegao (from pegado, literally "stuck to"). The recaito and the adobo in this recipe are typical homemade pastes that almost define Puerto Rican cooking.
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 small or 1/2 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
6 aji dulce chiles, seeded and cored, if available
6 to 8 sprigs citantro (fresh coriander)
(1 tablespoon leaves), chopped
6 tablespoons annato oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups cooked pigeon peas (from 2/3 cup dried) or 1 16-ounce can, drained
2 cups medium-grain white rice
4 ounces canned tomato sauce
12 pitted green olives, cut in half
2 teaspoons capers
salt to taste
To prepare the recaito, coarsely chop the onion and pepper. Reserving
a bit o each to chop with a knife, put remaining pieces into a food processor
with the aji and cilantro. Process to a paste. (This paste is the recaito.)
Fine-chop reserved onion and pepper and mix into the recaito. Heat the
oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the recaito and cook,
stirring, 5 minutes. Add the adobo ingredients and stir to mix. Stir in
pigeon peas, then the rice. Cook, stirring, to coat the rice with oil.
Add the tomato sauce, olives, capers, and salt, then 3 cups hot water.
Bring to a boil, adjust heat to boil moderately, and cook uncovered, frequently
turning the rice up from the bottom, until the surface liquid has disappeared.
(cook it uncovered until you can stand a spoon up in it.) Then shape the
mixture into a mound. Cover the pot, reduce heat to as low as possible,
and cook 1 hour. Remove from heat and let sit, still covered, 10 minutes
or longer. (Puerto Rican cooks might make the dish an hour or a few hours
ahead of time, then reheat gently before serving.) To serve, spoon onto
a serving dish or platter. Then scrape up the pegao, in pieces, and serve
in a separate dish