When I lived in New York City, my best friend was Puerto Rican. Sadly, our 15-year friendship ended after I moved away, and we drifted apart. But I often think of Shirley, and I like to imagine her having a beautiful life.
One of the perks that comes with having a Puerto Rican best friend is getting introduced to all the best Puerto Rican delicacies. From the spicy cuchifritos we'd buy at Spanish Harlem and Brooklyn Heights storefronts to her mother's delectable Christmas and Easter pasteles, every meal brought wonderfully unfamiliar surprises to my unseasoned gringita palate. One dish I remember quite fondly is Arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeon peas). So when I stumbled upon a vegan version of this dish (it's usually made with ham or sausage), I just had to try it. McDougallizing the recipe was also easy. I just omitted the 2-3 tablespoons of oil that would typically be used. Not only was the end result delicious, but it gave me a brand new appreciation for cilantro, which I had started to take a disliking to. And more important, it brought back sweet memories of a long-lost friendship. I miss you Shirley, wherever you are.
This dish is prepared in three parts. First the sofrito, a chunky sauce made with a variety of vegetables, herbs, and spices. Sofrito recipes vary, but the essential elements include onions, garlic, red or green bell peppers, and culantro.
Next, comes the sazon, a flavorful seasoning used in Latin American cooking. I won't buy a prepared bottled brand of sazon, as many contain MSG, and all it takes are a few simple ingredients and the shake of a hand to prepare your own.
The last step is cooking the rice and peas and mixing it all together.
For the sofrito: (This will make lots more than you need, and you can freeze the extra for the next time you make this dish.)
1 large green pepper
1/2 red pepper
1/2-1 head garlic
1 bunch culantro or cilantro*
1/2 bunch flat leaf parlsey
Coarsely chop all the ingredients and then puree in the food processor.
For the sazon, mix together in a small glass jar:
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp hot paprika
pinch sweet paprika
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
salt to taste
For the arroz con gandules:
1 15-oz can pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 cup long grain white rice
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup tomato sauce
7-8 tbsp sofrito
1-2 tsp sazon or to taste
dash of liquid smoke
dash of balsamic vinegar
handful of fresh culantro or cilantro*, chopped
In a stockpot, saute the onion and green pepper in a couple of tablespoons of broth along with a pinch of sazon. Add the sofrito, more sazon, and stir for another few minutes. Add the rice, beans, water, vegetable broth, and tomato sauce, if using. Bring to a gentle boil then reduce to a simmer and cover. You want the beans and rice to absorb the liquid completely so that you don't end up making soup. Stir gently until rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes.
Once the rice is done, lower the heat some more and season with more sazon, salt, pepper, the liquid smoke, Worcestershire sauce if using, vinegar, and fresh cilantro. Stir, taste, and season until it's just right!
*The authentic recipe is made with culantro (aka long coriander), a popular kitchen herb that is native to the Carribean and tropical regions of the Americas, and is also popular in Asian cuisine. My local Latin grocery was out of culantro the day I planned to prepare this dish. But as evidenced by its pungent aroma, culantro is closely related to cilantro, which made a fine substitute.
I allowed myself a sweet indulgence today: A So Delicious Coconut Milk Fudge Bar! At only 70 calories, I felt I wasn't really straying too far off the McDougall path. I also wasn't expecting anything amazing, but I should have known better. After all, this treat was made by Turtle Mountain. As you can see from my friend Meryl Ann's expression, these new fudge bars are decadently delicious! They are so creamy, rich, and chocolatey, I thought they tasted just like chocolate mousse on a stick.
Run, don't walk, to your nearest natural food store and pick yourself up a box of these babies. You'll be hooked!
Steve Nakon is the lucky winner of a free copy of The McDougall Quick & Easy Cookbook! Congratulations Steve, and thanks to everyone for taking the time to check out Dr. McDougall's website. Stay tuned to this blog for the next contest...