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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Platanos (Fried Sweet Plantains)

This is the forty-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!

Since moving back to school, I’ve missed my family’s home-cooked meals—nothing beats my mom’s and grandma’s delicious dinners. In particular, I miss our traditional Guatemalan staples: tortillas, beans, rice, and some form of cooked plantains. A perfect mix of salty, sweet, and savory, these ingredients pair well together, creating a hearty, satisfying food experience. When I was home, I would sometimes get bored of eating the same traditional side dishes with the same meals, but what can I say—distance really does make the heart grow fonder. In fact, I recently started craving the foods I would’ve sighed at a month ago. I miss my grandmother’s platanos, or lightly fried plantains, the most. Sticky, buttery, indulgent, these golden-brown delights are a comfort food my entire family reaches for at the dinner table. With their light, natural sweetness, platanos complement a rich meal and always make dinner a bit more interesting. 

Plantains may just look like strange, gigantic, starchy green bananas (I will admit, I thought this as a kid), but they are actually quite versatile, easy to cook with, and tasty. They are beloved in many cultures, especially in the Latin American community. In fact, plantains are so common that they are always a part of an authentic Latin American dinner in some way, ranging from Puerto Rican and Dominican deep-fried tostones to the deliciously sweet, caramelized plantains in my family’s dessert recipes. 

As I have learned from my grandma, there are countless recipes for cooking them depending on their ripeness: you can crisp them up or cook them until soft and chewy, have sweet ones with a sprinkling of sugar, or add a dash of sea-salt for homemade snackable plantain chips. The possibilities are endless, fun, and absolutely scrumptious! I am sharing this particular recipe for fried sweet plantains because it is the recipe we enjoy most frequently at home. Plus, it is a warm, comforting, homey dish perfect for the colder months we are now entering. Ultimately, platanos are a great recipe to make when you are pressed for time and need to whip up something fairly quickly. Their unique, customizable, salty-sweet flavor will be pleasing to all!

Ingredients:

  • 2 plantains, yellowish and ripe, sliced
  • ¼ cup of vegetable or canola oil (approximately enough to cover half of the plantain slices)
  • A dash of salt, and/or sugar

Instructions: 

Start by placing a medium-sized pan on the stove at medium heat. Add your oil of choice, and heat the oil until it is just about to bubble. Because you are lightly frying as opposed to deep-frying the plantains, you don’t need a ton of oil—just enough to generously coat the bottom of the pan. 

As the oil heats up, slice the plantains sideways, across their width. This is similar to cutting a banana into circular pieces to make banana chips/coins. For softer, mushier platanos, slice the plantains into thick pieces. For crispy, crunchy platanos, make the pieces a bit thinner. 

Next, add a few of the sliced plantains to the hot oil. Don’t add too many to the pan at once, or else you may accidentally burn them. After a couple of minutes, the plantains should turn a golden-brown or caramel color. When this happens, flip the plantains over and cook the other side. Do this until there are no more sliced plantain pieces left.  

Once both sides are amber colored, they have been fried to perfection and are ready to be taken out. Use a spatula or slotted spoon to remove the platanos from the pan and place them on a plate covered with paper towels. This step is important because the paper towels will soak up any excess oil. Make sure to spread the platanos out when placing them on the plate. In my experience, this will prevent the platanos from sticking together or forming a clump. Pat the platanos dry, add a dash of salt or sugar, and serve while hot! 

For an extra finishing touch, serve the platanos with sour cream mixed with sugar, an extra sprinkling of salt, or even a drizzle of honey! Each combination adds an exciting new element of flavor to the platanos. However, they are also just as delicious on their own! This recipe feeds about 4 people, so grab a handful before they are gone!

Photo Credits: https://assets.epicurious.com/photos/57d70a58de27564257b657c3/2:1/w_400%2Ch_200/platanos-maduros.jpg

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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Cacio e Pepe Pasta

This is the forty-sixth 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!

Loved by kids and adults alike, buttered noodles are a timeless, homey classic. From the gooey, melty cheese to the perfectly cooked pasta, this simple dish is the perfect comfort food for all. I mean, who doesn’t love cheesy, buttery pasta?

It is no wonder why there are many versions of this iconic dish in different cultures. Coming from an Italian family, cacio e pepe is what my family likes to call our preferred version of buttered noodles. Whether we are in a rush or sitting down for a Sunday night pasta dinner party with the whole family, cacio e pepe is a tasty, satiating dish that we always welcome. I remember my excitement when my Nonna would whip up this decadent meal for me after a busy day of playing outside and helping my Nonno in his vegetable garden in the backyard. This dish also brings up fond childhood memories for my dad—he recalls coming home from school and seeing his favorite warm meal prepared with love by his mom, waiting on the kitchen table, ready to be enjoyed. This dish is a nostalgic staple for generations in our family, like in most Italian households. It is simple enough for a kid’s pallet but is still rich, savory, and satisfying every time—perhaps some would even say, the culinary equivalent of a warm hug from a loved one. 

Cacio e Pepe is similar to pasta in Bianco or buttered noodles. It is an ancient Italian dish dating all the way back to the Roman Empire. Legend has it that this recipe started as an easy, practical food for the shepherds because it was durable,  easy to carry, did not take long to prepare, and did not spoil quickly. As the name, which translates to “cheese and pepper,” implies, cacio e pepe is a simple dish. With just two main ingredients prepared carefully with the right cooking technique make this dish so delicious. While the recipe can vary from region to region, I’m sharing my dad’s recipe, which he learned from his northern Italian parents. No matter which recipe you follow, high-quality Italian ingredients are a must. Authentic to the style of the Romans, an abundance of freshly ground black pepper and imported grated cheese are critical to achieving the great flavor. Together, with the pepper, cheese, and pasta, the high-quality elements with bold flavors combine to form a harmonious, hearty meal. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb of pasta, any of your choosing
  • ½ – ¾ stick of butter
  • 2 cups of pasta water
  • Approximately ½ cup 2% milk
  • Approximately ½ cup cheese, freshly grated, as desired
  • Salt and pepper, to taste, but heavy on the pepper

**It is also important to have a large, heavy saucepan for the best results; it will distribute heat gradually and evenly without burning the ingredients. 

Directions: 

Start by boiling a pot of water over medium heat. The water should be well salted, with at least one teaspoon. Once the water is boiling, add your pasta of choice. A rough-surfaced pasta is more desirable, as it can hold more of the sauce, but any type works for this versatile dish. Traditionally, tonnarelli is used, but long spaghetti works well too. Bow ties and shells can also be good for adhering to the smooth, creamy sauce. Cook the pasta over medium heat for approximately 6 minutes. Be sure to not overcook the pasta—you want it to be al dente, so it is okay to turn the heat off a bit prematurely while it still feels a bit hard. It should have a tender “bite” or snap when you are trying it. Once the pasta is cooked to perfection, set the pasta aside and save at least two cups of the pasta water. 

In your heavy saucepan, prepare the sauce—the star of the dish. Start by cutting the butter into chunks and placing the pieces in the saucepan under low heat. You do not want the butter to burn or brown the butter—just lightly melt it.  Add the pepper to the butter as it melts. Next, add the milk. Finally, add the cheese. Emulsify it slowly with a couple of ladles of pasta water, and mix it all together. Be careful when adding the milk to the sauce as it can easily overheat and curdle, causing the fats to separate from the water. Use this technique when making the sauce so that it becomes silky and smooth and has the proper consistency: Have the heat on a light simmer and gently stir the components together. Then, slowly add some high-quality grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese. 

Once the sauce is light yet rich, it is ready. Turn off the heat, add the pasta to the sauce, and toss.  Make sure to evenly coat the pasta. You can vary the ratios of cheese and pepper to your liking, but be sure to finish off the dish with lots of black pepper for serving; it should be visibly seen in the pasta. Ѐ finito! Buon appetito! 

This recipe feeds about 4-6 people. 

Photo courtesy of people.com

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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Enchiladas

This is the forty-second 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!

That first, irresistible, crunchy bite will make or break it—no, literally, the delicious tostada vessel sometimes cracks, leaving your fingers stained beet-red and your plate a mess of enchilada toppings (which, when nobody is looking, you will probably lick clean.) At its simplest, it is a messy finger-food, but this unique enchilada dish is also exciting, vibrant, and celebratory. It includes the polarizing ingredients of pickled beets, capers, and hard-boiled eggs, yet it remains surprisingly delightful. With a complimentary combination of a crispy fried tortilla, tender meat, a tangy homemade tomato sauce, and piled high with fresh, crunchy vegetables, it is truly a satisfying, well-balanced meal in both taste and texture. Each layer of the dish is crafted and stacked with care, creating what I believe is a culinary masterpiece. These enchiladas are easily my favorite Guatemalan dish yet. 

Enchiladas have an expansive, rich history that dates back to the 18th century, making them a unique staple in many Latin-American households today and a cultural and gastronomical patrimony. Most families are loyal to their own recipes, so there are many different versions. Enchiladas vary from culture to culture as well. However, for traditional Guatemalan enchiladas, a couple key ingredients maintain the integrity of the dish, regardless of the variation. For example, the corn tortilla is essential to the authenticity of the enchilada. It is fried to perfection in order to create a crispy tostada, which is essentially a toasted tortilla. Guatemalan Rudy Giron explains it best: “If tostadas had a kingdom, La Enchilada would be the queen of the tostadas.” In addition, Guatemalan enchiladas are packed with refreshing vegetables, which is why they are sometimes referred to as “jardineras,” or garden planters. Besides a beautiful final product, the colorful vegetables are truly a fun way to eat your veggies! So, these Guatemalan enchiladas are the ultimate use of two native, historic gastronomic staples: corn tortillas and vegetables.

Besides its rich cultural history, this meal has a rich significance in my own life. Enchiladas are a special treat in my family, as both the labor put into them and the flavors that result are grand. I often ask my grandma, Mama Silvia, to make them for me, as not only are they tasty, but it is always such a wonderful experience to sit down at the table and enjoy them with my family. The memories behind the dish are fond—enchiladas were the last dinner I indulged in with my family before leaving for college for the first time. The whole family enjoys them on Christmas in Guatemala, accompanied by traditional celebratory fireworks and a warm, welcoming house booming with hearty laughs and singing. We ate them in quarantine to cheer us all up and to bid me farewell before heading back to college once again. When we make these enchiladas, everyone near and dear is always there, and together we are unified, thankful, happy, and full. No matter how big or small the gathering, this dish makes it a loving celebration. 

Sharing these Guatemalan enchiladas is truly a symbol of love in my family. They are made with heart, and it is a privilege to enjoy them. This recipe is passed down from generation to generation—my grandma learned from her mother in their country home in Guatemala years ago. Today, I feel honored and ecstatic to learn from my mom and grandma, and share my family’s recipe myself!

Ingredients:

Enchilada Toppings

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 10-12 corn tortillas
  • 10-12 leaves of iceberg lettuce (1 per tortilla)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil per 3 tortillas
  • 1 tbsp cheese per tortilla (queso seco, panela, or parmesan), crumbled
  • ½ bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 3-4 eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
  • Sliver of onion, sliced, for garnish (optional)

Curtido (Vegetable Salad Mixture) 

  • 3 large beets, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup lima beans
  • 2 cups cauliflower, chopped
  • ½ lb green beans, chopped
  • ½ lb carrots, chopped finely
  • 1 cup Spanish onion, chopped finely
  • ½ head of cabbage
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 small jar capers
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Tomato Salsa

  • 3 tomatoes
  • ¼ of an onion
  • 1 pepper Chile Guajillo
  • ¼ cup green bell pepper
  • ¼ cup red bell pepper
  • ¼ cup water or less
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions: 

Start by making the pickled beet-salad-vegetable-mixture. In my family, we call this classic mixture “curtido,” but it is also referred to as “escabeche.” It is the key of the dish, as it is the star that gives the dish a unique and tangy flavor. To make the curtido, steam the prepped vegetables (minus the onion) in a pot with boiling water. Be sure to start with the beets, as they will take the most time to soften. Then, add the rest of the vegetables. While the ingredients are steaming, cut the raw onion into slices and let it soak in a bowl with the vinegar and water. The vegetables will take 20-30 minutes to fully steam. Let the vegetables cool down, then dice them.  Combine these with the sliced raw onions resting in the vinegar water and add capers, salt, and pepper to the mix. Mix it up evenly as you would toss a salad. You can modify the ratio of vinegar to water as needed, but it should be about even—a bit tangy and tart but not overpoweringly acidic. This cold, pickled vegetable salad is best set aside and chilled in the fridge until ready for use. It can also be stored for up to a week to enjoy as a side-salad or even as a sauerkraut-like topping for your food. 

For the tomato salsa, simmer all the vegetables in a small amount of water, about a ¼ cup. Once they are cooked to a soft consistency, liquify the stew-like mixture in a blender until it is smooth and thick. Then, add salt and pepper as you wish.

In a separate pan, cook the ground beef over medium heat with salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, hard-boil the eggs as you normally would. Once they are cooked, chill the eggs while you prepare the other elements of the dish and slice them right before use.

In another medium pan with a bit of vegetable oil, fry 3 tortillas at a time. After 3 minutes of frying on one side, flip the tortilla to the other side for 3 minutes, until it is golden-brown on both sides. Then, place the fried tortillas/tostadas onto a plate with paper towels to soak up any excess oil.

The final and crucial step is the assembly of the enchiladas. Your set-up should include: a bowl of the cold pickled salad, a plate of iceberg lettuce leaves, a plate of the sliced, chilled hard-boiled eggs, a bowl of cheese, a bowl of parsley, a bowl of room-temperature ground-beef, a bowl of room-temperature salsa, and the platter of tostadas. To assemble, start with a tortilla spread with a thick, even layer of the tomato salsa. Then, add the leaf of lettuce and top with the ground beef. Pile on a mountain of the pickled curtido salad for maximum flavor. Garnish with slices of hard-boiled egg, chopped parsley, and a sliver of onion. The final touch is a generous sprinkling of fresh Guatemalan cheese (queso seco). You can also use Panela cheese or Parmesan, if you prefer. 

This recipe makes 10-12 enchiladas. Enjoy! 

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Mucho Gusto

Emily’s Buffalo Chicken Dip

This is the thirty-eighth 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!

This recipe is tradition for my good friend Emily, a Massachusetts native and foodie at heart. Whether on campus or miles apart, Emily and I always bond over food; we are constantly sharing different recipes and restaurant recommendations, and this recipe is no exception. This time, we thought we’d include Gusto in our exchange over a Finn family classic.

Emily has decided to share with us a traditional family recipe for buffalo chicken dip, a quintessential American comfort food. It is, of course, as perfect for game day gatherings as it is warm, homey, and comforting. This classic dish will also fit right in at your last few summer barbecues. It is no wonder why it is a fan-favorite, Sunday staple! 

It is easy and so tasty! From the gooey, bubbly cheese to the saucy, spicy, savory chicken with crunchy bites of chips and veggies, this quick, rich dip is delicious. As Emily perfectly explains, it creates that sense of American comfort and game day spirit wherever you are…

“We do not press play on the football game until I have my bowl of buffalo chicken dip on my lap.” 

She describes the setting: It is our favorite day of the week. The house is full of people, yet silent. Only the sounds from the TV fill the air, along with the aromas from the kitchen, where mom is preparing the family favorite. Everyone is cozied up on the couch, sporting navy, red, and white. As soon as the pan comes out, happy hands reach in from all directions, without ever taking an eye off the TV.  It is a dish that has been enjoyed many times, but it never loses its charm. 

Emily explains, “Born and raised a New England fan, I can affirm that football, food, friends, and family make the world go round. If there is a football game to be watched, there is buffalo chicken dip to be eaten. For as long as I can remember, my family, friends, and I all sat on the couch and ate this addicting dip together during every Sunday Patriots game. That is what makes it so special—there is no better mix than food and sports to bring us all together for some quality time.” 

Reminiscing on the dish, Emily tells me, “My family’s ultimate game-day snack is a warm, super cheesy pan full of thick buffalo chicken, ready to be dipped into with whatever crunchy, snack-vessel you like! Did I mention that it was cheesy?

This is not your typical chips and dip. This legendary combination of tangy, tempting flavors will have you hooked; and it has no better pair than a football game to watch, in between mouthfuls of course!”

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded, boneless chicken breast
  • ½ cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce (or the hot sauce of your choice)
  • ½ cup ranch dressing
  • ½ cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 8 oz cream cheese, softened 
  • 1 cup of blended cheese mix 

Emily’s Instructions

Total cook time: approximately 30 minutes 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. While the oven is heating, prepare the chicken in whatever way you prefer. This part is entirely personal preference, and it’s what makes every batch of buffalo chicken dip taste a little different. In my family’s recipe, we season the chicken breast with salt, pepper, and garlic powder, then sauté it in olive oil for 7 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Once cooled, shred the chicken to measure approximately 2 cups. 

Spray a 1-quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. The pan will be used as a mixing bowl to simplify the process and save time on the dishes, which means more time for eating! Spread softened cream cheese across the bottom of the pan. Next, add hot sauce and ranch dressing to pan and stir the mixture around, lifting the cream cheese to combine all ingredients. Add in the shredded chicken and the cheese mix. Once the chicken is coated with the cream cheese mixture, spread it across the dish using a spatula to form an even layer. 

The dip requires a couple rounds of oven time to get the right consistency. Start by placing the dip in the oven for ten minutes. After taking it out of the oven, add blue cheese crumbles on top. Then, put the dish back in the oven. If you, like me, believe “the cheesier, the better,” then I suggest taking the dish out of the oven five minutes after the blue cheese has been added. Then, sprinkle a bit more blended cheese mix on top. Turn the oven to broil, and let it cook through for five more minutes. The mixture should be melty and creamy at this point. 

The dip should have a total cooking time of about 20 minutes. However, this is flexible and up to personal preference. 

Once all the elements are baked to your liking, your delectable game-day dip is done! Fresh out of the oven, garnish with yet another sprinkle of cheese (I will confess I always do), and you are ready to experience a flavorful victory! You can serve a scoop of the dip with your favorite crunchy tortilla chips, refreshing veggies, or whatever your buffalo chicken dip is calling you to do! I love dipping carrots, celery, and cucumber. 

Nothing feels homier than sitting in my spot on the couch with a warm bowl of buffalo chicken dip watching football, but regardless, enjoy! It still tastes good without the football!

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Mucho Gusto

Maya’s Guatemalan Tacos

This is the thirty-fourth 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!

Odds are you’ve probably indulged in a classic taco from a Mexican restaurant. With a perfect balance of crunch, spice, salt, and a hint of gooey, melted cheese, tacos are an incredibly popular dish that many enjoy—how could you not? Tacos are iconic pockets of bold, authentic flavor that are undeniably loved by all. 

But, what about a rolled taco? One that is even crispier and crunchier, fried to golden perfection? I’m not talking about the taquitos in your freezer (although those are a guilty pleasure!), but rather my family’s favorite recipe—Guatemalan tacos. Yes, Guatemala has its own version of tacos, and they are actually quite different from the Mexican ones that you know and love. Simple but always satisfying, these tacos require just a few staple ingredients from Guatemalan culture. Tasty corn tortillas are filled with savory meat and rolled into a flavorful food vessel. The experience is comforting and familiar, yet captivating; each crunchy bite becomes more and more irresistible. It is no wonder that this favorite is both a great appetizer and a rich, satiating meal. 

Traditional Guatemalan cuisine is derived from the Mayans, with influence from the Spanish. The diverse gastronomy usually involves some of Guatemala’s most famous native crops: corn, chiles, beans, and avocados. In name, the dishes are similar to those of Mexico, but the resemblance stops there; the recipes are unique to each region and vary from town to town. 

Guatemalan tacos are typically eaten at the refacción time, which is a short break in the day for workers to enjoy a snack, or refaccionar. This meal in particular was practically my introduction to my Guatemalan heritage, as it is one of the first traditional plates I had and loved as a child. It was a way to connect me with my family’s home country from miles away in our own kitchen. So, though this dish may sound a little unfamiliar, I promise you it will still be a crowd-pleaser. 

Moreover, this recipe is dynamic and easy to adapt. I followed the traditional route, a recipe that is tried-and-true in my family, using beef and a spicy tomato salsa. Other variations can be made using different dipping sauces, such as guacamole and tomato or chile sauce, and different fillings can be used as well, such as chicken or potato. The possibilities are endless and delicious!

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 20-25 corn tortillas
  • 2 large Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • ½ cup Spanish onions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • About 1 cup Canola oil (approximately ½ cup per 10 tortillas)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Optional Salsa Picante:

  • 3 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup Spanish onions, chopped finely
  • 2 green onions, chopped finely
  • ½ green bell pepper, chopped
  • ½ Chile Guajillo
  • ½ Chile de Árbol
  • ¼ cup of water

Instructions: 

Start by cooking the ground beef in a pan. In a separate pan, sauté the garlic, onions, green bell pepper, and tomatoes in butter until all the water is absorbed, forming a paste. Then, add this paste to the beef. Mix the ingredients all together and cook over medium heat until the meat is fully cooked. This step should take approximately 15 minutes. 

In another pan, begin heating the oil over medium heat. Meanwhile, warm up your tortillas over low heat, 2 at a time, with one on top of the other. Traditionally in Guatemalan culture, a comal is used, but a pan works as well. Flip the tortillas so that both sides are evenly cooked. Add 1-1 ½ heaping spoonfuls of the meat mixture to the edge of the tortilla. This is the key to the rolling process. Once you put the meat at this one edge, tightly roll the tortilla around the meat, going to the other end, like a wrap. It usually helps to use toothpicks to keep it tight. The folded side of the tortilla then goes into the hot oil to prevent unraveling and keep the roll intact. Fry each taco for about 4-5 minutes in medium heat. Be sure to evenly coat and fry every side of the tortilla by carefully rotating it during the frying process, making sure the roll is held together. It will become easier as the tortilla crisps up.

Traditionally, the tacos are served with steamed cabbage, tomato salsa, chile sauce, guacamole, onions, Guatemalan cheese, and chopped parsley. However, in my family, we garnish them with cilantro, fresh cheese, and most importantly, the salsa picante. Salsa picante is made with tomatoes, garlic, onions, green pepper, and two kinds of chile peppers: Chile Guajillo and Chile de Árbol. Simmer the ingredients over medium heat for 30 minutes until very little water remains. After cooling, blend everything to a smooth, liquid consistency, thus forming the classic red sauce. 

This recipe makes about 20-25 rolled Guatemalan tacos. Enjoy!

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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!