Sunday, March 29, 2009

Making Chicago feel a little like Puerto Rico…

I’m a student at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. One of the perks of being a culinary student in Chicago is being able to enjoy the rich, ethnically-diverse cuisine that’s generously sprinkled throughout the city’s downtown and 77 neighborhoods.

According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census, more than one in 5 (22%) Chicagoans was born outside the United States. And 35% of the city’s residents can hear a language other than English at home.

One of my classmates is Jesus Martinez, whose family comes from the island of Puerto Rico. Jesus was kind enough to share his family’s recipe for Arroz con Guandules, literally Rice with Pigeon Peas. Pigeon peas are nutritional dynamos, containing high levels of protein and packed with important amino acids. Arroz con Guandules has frequently been described as Puerto Rico’s national dish.

I needed to make a few adjustments to Jesus’s family recipe, as the original ingredients called for soy and MSG. Nevertheless, the results were wonderful. ¡Buen provecho!

Arroz con Guandules (Rice with Pigeon Peas)
Serves 4

1½ cups of medium grain rice
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon Sofrito mix*
1½ tablespoons tomato sauce
2 tablespoons Sazon**
½ can pigeon peas (guandules)
7-8 green olives (optional)
1¼ cups water
1 cup chicken stock (use vegetable stock or water if you want vegetarian)

Rinse rice in hot water and drain fully; set aside.
In a large pot heated over a medium high flame, add the olive oil and let it heat for one minute in order to season the pan.
Add the Sofrito, tomato sauce, Sazon and pigeon peas.
Mix ingredients together and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the rice and slowly stir the mixture.
Add water and chicken stock.
Reduce oven to a medium flame.
Let the liquid reduce by half and stir once and cover and cook for 10 minutes.
Take off the lid, stir and recover, cooking for another 10 minutes.

*Sofrito mix is made by Goya, but contains soy and MSG. To make your own Sofrito, puree equal parts tomato, onion, green pepper, cilantro and garlic. I whipped up a big batch of this mix and included it in several other dishes. You can also get freshly-made Sofrito in local Hispanic grocery stores. But make sure you ask about the ingredients as they aren’t always listed.

**Sazon is another mix made by Goya that contains soy and MSG. I made my own Sazon after consulting a number of web recipes and the list of ingredients on the Goya product.

1 tablespoon Kosher salt
½ tablespoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon paprika

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