Sunday, December 16, 2012

As a friend of mine likes to say, "Medications don't have side effects, they have effects," the point being that any given medication does lots of things and whether those things are classified as positive or negative is just a matter of perspective.  I'm mixing metaphors here, but what I want to talk about is travel delays, in particular a delay of nearly a week that Felipe and I had in Lima last year. One of the effects of the delay was that we ate incredible lunches at the local market every day. Peruvians know how to cook like you can't imagine, and I might relive bureaucratic hell in Peruvian winter if it meant being able to eat for another week in Lima.
Many Latin American countries have their own version of arroz con pollo, and the Peruvian version is crazy good, unsurprisingly given their track record. The chicken is served separately from the rice (unlike many versions that shred the chicken and mix it in), and frankly in my estimation it's really the rice that stands out, green from the copious cilantro that is blended and then used as the cooking liquid, savory from the spicing and vegetables, and addictively greasy with chicken fat. I've taken to making just the rice, a vegetarian, completely bastardized version (I even use brown rice sometimes, the horror!), and it makes an excellent lunch. It's also perfect when you have some stray vegetables and a bunch of cilantro about to wilt in the fridge. We like to eat it with fried plantains on the side, but that's just because we eat everything with fried plantains on the side; as far as I know Peruvians don't typically eat fried plantains at all. I don't think Peru has much of a plantain-growing climate.

So this is clearly not Peruvian arroz con pollo, largely because it lacks both aji amarillo, a type of Peruvian chile, and the pollo which is normally fried before the rice, leaving its schmaltz-y deliciousness behind in the pot that is then used to fry the rice and vegetables. This is just lovely, savory green rice. To replace the chicken fat I use a generous amount of oil and cumin, and the result is delicious and smells amazing cooking-- just don't try to pass it off as arroz con pollo to any Peruvians. As always, it's all a matter of perspective. 

Green Rice

big bunch of cilantro, use just the leaves and thinner stalks
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil (don't skimp on this, really)
1 tsp. cumin (seeds or ground)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1.5 c. white or brown medium-grain rice
1 Tbsp. hot sauce (Tabasco or something of the like)
1 medium red pepper (or half a large one), cut into quarter and julliened
1/2 c. green peas (fresh or frozen) (optional)
8 oz. beer (optional-- both dark and light beer will work, though I wouldn't use anything "flavored" or, you know, Guiness)
1 Tbsp. salt

In a blender, combine the cilantro and 2 cups water. Blend thoroughly, a minute or two, you shouldn't have any big pieces of cilantro remaining.
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, add the oil, cumin, black pepper, onion and carrot. Saute for a couple of minutes until the onion is translucent, then stir in the garlic and the rice so it that the oil coats the rice. Fry the rice for just a minute in the oil, then add in the cilantro water, hot sauce, red pepper and peas (if using them). Add in either the beer or another cup of water and the salt, and give everything a quick stir. Let the rice cook until the water level is right below the top of the rice (about 10 minutes), then put a top on the rice and turn the heat down as low as it will go. Let the rice cook for another 10-15 minutes (or more like 20 if you're using brown rice), check to see that all the water has been absorbed and the rice is almost completely tender but not mushy. I like to brown the bottom of the rice a bit as it gets nice and crunchy and caramelized, so I will leave the rice over the heat a big longer, another couple of minutes after all the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave the rice another 10 minutes with the top still on.
Serve rice hot, with a fried egg, baked/fried chicken, or whatever you like. (We like plantains and quick-pickled cucumber; this is what happens when a Jew and a Colombian live together.) Sauteed cabbage is nice too. Don't forget the mango juice!

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