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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Arroz a la Valenciana

This is the twenty-ninth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!

Loud party music plays as a plethora of voices pass through the open air. My family and I are all sitting outside at the patio table in my backyard, enjoying the fresh summer breeze and sipping on homemade lemonade. Everyone cheers as my grandma brings out the large skillet of rice filled with vibrant colors, reminiscent of the famous Spanish paella. For a moment, everything is quiet—save for the occasional clang of dishes and utensils—as we eagerly dig in. The first bite is silent bliss. Then, the sounds of the festivities boom once again, and the graduation celebration resumes. This is Arroz a la Valenciana, a dish that brings people together around a table to pause, sit back, and enjoy delicious food among good company. 

Rice is a staple food in many cultures, and the Latin American culture is no exception. In my experience with the Guatemalan culture, rice is not just a simple, traditional dish. It can be complex and requires hard work, love, and dedication; it has heart. It is a delicious, hot, satiating meal that carries with it fond memories of good people and family history in every bite. So, while chicken noodle soup is the satisfying, feel-better food for many, this rice is my go-to comfort food—a cozy, warm, filling dish that reminds me of home and loved ones. Today, I am sharing with you my grandmother’s legacy and most sought-after recipe, her beloved Spanish rice, which she first learned to cook from her own mother back in their home in Guatemala. Salty and savory, with hints of sweet caramelization, this Spanish-derived dish is packed with fresh vegetables and fiercely-flavored seasonings that harmonize to form a bold, but balanced meal. Smokey, savory meat and sautéed onions, tomatoes, and peppers compliment the star of the dish, saffron spice, creating this rich, golden-colored cultural classic. I guarantee that this traditional dish will be a hit at your next party, family dinner, or even your relaxing night in. 

Time: 1 ½ – 2 hours total

Ingredient & Supply List:

You will need… 

1 medium pot

1 large pan

4 cups of water

2 green onions, chopped into medium-sized pieces

1 ½ tomatoes total, chopped

1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and whole

1-2 dashes of salt, to taste

1 handful of cilantro, chopped

1 heaping tablespoon of Caldo de Pollo chicken broth flavoring

½  pound of chicken, chopped, preferably with the bones for enhanced flavor (other proteins such as sausage, tuna, or chickpeas can also be substituted)

½ stick of butter

1 ½ Spanish onions, sliced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

2 large eggs, hard-boiled

2 cups of rice, preferably white rice for the traditional recipe

2 heaping tablespoons of capers 

2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely into slaw-like pieces

1- 1 1/2 heaping tablespoons of saffron (Sazón seasoning with added saffron can also be used)

½ cup of peas

1 handful of parsley, finely chopped

1 handful of olives, chopped in halves (optional)

Recipe:

This dish has two major parts: First, the broth, which is the base for the rice, and second, the cooking of the rice itself.

To make the broth, start with a pot filled with water over medium heat. Next, add the green onions to the water, followed by half a chopped tomato. Then, add the garlic and the cilantro to the broth stock with a bit of salt. These aromatic vegetables will boil in the water together and in turn, give off their delicious, hearty flavors, which will eventually be absorbed by the rice. Next, enhance the flavor profile of the broth with the Caldo de Pollo chicken broth flavoring and the chicken. Once all of these ingredients are in the pot, stir the mixture, cover with a lid, and let it simmer. It should stew for about 20-30 minutes.

While the chicken and vegetable broth are cooking, begin preparing the rice. Melt the butter over medium heat until it coats the bottom of the pan. Once the melted butter is bubbling, add and fry the Spanish onions until they begin to brown. This caramelization process creates a rich, savory-sweet base that will add great flavor to the rice. Then, add 1 chopped tomato to the mix. Stir it in so that it blends with the rest of the flavors. Add the red pepper, but be sure to save some for the final product. Together, the ingredients in the pan will form a bubbly sauce that is a deep and vibrant orange-red color. 

While the onions, tomatoes, and peppers are cooking, hard-boil the eggs. These will be used at the end of the recipe. 

Return your attention to the pan. Slowly incorporate the rice into the sauce and lower the heat. The rice should be evenly coated and take on some color. 

Now, it’s time to marry the tasty chicken broth with the rice! Remove the chicken from the broth pot and cut it into small, shredded pieces. After stirring the chicken in, add the homemade broth to the rice pan, using a strainer. You just want the broth at this point, and everything should be cooked down into it for the most part.

Next, add a heaping tablespoon of capers into the rice pan, followed by the carrots. The next step is crucial to this recipe: the addition of the magical secret spice, saffron. This is the iconic, staple seasoning that gives the dish its flavor, aroma, and signature yellow color. Then add in some peas. The pan should be colorful and well-mixed at this point. If needed, more water can be added. At this point, cover the pan and let the rice mixture simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat. Stir occasionally to promote even cooking and to prevent the bottom of the rice from burning. The rice should be fluffy and dry, but not mushy or sticky. 

While waiting for the dish to finish cooking, prepare the final toppings for the rice. Chop parsley for garnish and peel and slice the hard-boiled eggs. 

When the rice is cooked to your satisfaction, top with the parsley, red pepper slices, egg slices, and another heaping tablespoon of capers for the perfect finishing touch. Traditionally, green olives are used in this recipe as a topping as well, but they are not essential. However, I highly recommend adding them, as they really bring out the powerful flavor of the capers and work well with the other ingredients in the dish. For a less traditional approach, you can also top the rice with slices of avocado.

This recipe makes about 8 servings. Share and enjoy it with your loved ones!

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