When New York-based writer and recipe developer Marisel Salazar had to unexpectedly move into a different apartment this year, the first thing she did, even before unpacking, was christen the kitchen by making arroz con gandules. The one-pot Puerto Rican rice and beans dish is a mainstay on the island and throughout the diaspora for holidays, celebrations – and weeknight meals.

“We ate arroz con gandules twice a week when I was growing up,” Salazar, who is Panamanian-Cuban, told me. “I always have a bag of rice and a can of gandules on hand. That first night in the new place, I didn’t even have a can opener!” (Luckily, she was able to borrow one from a neighbor.)

For chef Andrés-Julian Zuluaga, co-owner and executive chef of Blend 111 in the D.C. area, arroz con gandules was “always” on the table next to the turkey at Thanksgiving and lechón at Christmas. “Usually, during this time of year in the Caribbean, the gandules are super-abundant. It’s gandules season.”

“They’re very easy to grow,” Zuluaga notes. “When I was a kid, we had a tree in our backyard in Florida that would sprout an insane amount of beans!” The tropical plant is native to the Indian subcontinent and produces green pods filled with round legumes that are also called (and sold as) pigeon peas, gungo peas, arhar dal and toor dal. They are most commonly sold dried or canned but can also be found frozen.

Though you can use other beans in this recipe, when I reach Marta Rivera of Sense and Edibility by phone, she’s definitive: “If you don’t use gandules, it’s not arroz con gandules. They add a really specific flavor to the dish, a musky, muted, savory earthiness that’s impossible to replicate. It’s really special.”

Rivera points out that though it’s a dish that can be simplified for a weeknight dinner – as I’ve done in the recipe below – it’s slyly complex in two ways: “First, you’re building layers. It’s not like making a pot of white rice, it’s more involved. There’s sofrito, there’s pork, there’s the gandules. Second, it’s full of so much flavor. It’s fancy.”

For dinner tonight, we’re going to go simple and rely mostly on pantry staples: white rice, canned gandules (or other beans in a pinch!), canned tomatoes, jarred olives, sofrito (or some chopped onions, bell peppers, garlic and cilantro) and all-purpose sazón. If you keep prepared sofrito and sazón in your fridge and pantry, this recipe will be especially fast to put together. If you don’t, I have suggestions for what to do instead.

Still, it’s a recipe you might want to keep handy as Thanksgiving and December holidays approach. It goes really well with braised or roasted meats and poultry but can stand on its own as a main course thanks to the peas, which add a good dose of protein. I like it best with a side of sweet, pan-fried plantains. “Here’s what I can tell you for sure,” Rivera says. “If there’s not a big caldero of arroz con gandules on the stove or table, it’s not a party.”

Arroz con Gandules with Maduros goes very nicely with a side of fried sweet plantains. Photo by Rey Lopez for The Washington Post

Arroz con Gandules With Maduros

Active time: 30 minutes; Total time: 1 hour

4 servings

Rice with pigeon peas, tinted golden with achiote and often enriched with pork fat, is a holiday staple on Puerto Rican tables. This version, which makes the pork optional, is easy enough for any night. Serve it with fried sweet plantains, called maduros. Look for plantains that are mostly black, with a few yellow splotches – that’s how you know they’ll be sweet.

I’ve listed a few substitutions within the recipe, and in the recipe’s notes, below, but here are a few more:

To make this dish vegan >> omit the pork.

Instead of canned tomatoes >> you can use a pound of very ripe chopped plum tomatoes.

If you don’t have manzanilla olives >> use another pitted, green olive. You can also substitute capers, or omit the olives if you don’t care for them.

If you can’t find plantains >> I also like this dish with a fried egg on top.

Storage Notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated in covered containers for up to 4 days.

Where to Buy: Sweet plantains can be found near the bananas in the produce section of supermarkets or at Asian or Hispanic markets. Canned gandules, or pigeon peas, can be found in the canned section, and achiote (also called annatto) and sazón in the spice section of well-stocked supermarkets or online.

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE RICE AND BEANS

2 1/2 tablespoons achiote oil (see NOTES) or coconut oil

2 slices salt-cured pork or bacon, chopped (optional)

1/3 cup sofrito (see NOTES)

1 1/2 cups (10 ounces) medium-grain white rice

One (15-ounce) can gandules (pigeon peas), kidney beans or pinto beans, rinsed and drained

One (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes

3/4 cup water

2 teaspoons sazon seasoning blend (see NOTES)

8 to 10 manzanilla olives

FOR THE SWEET PLANTAINS

2 or 3 very ripe plantains, peeled

1/3 cup vegetable oil, plus more as needed

DIRECTIONS

Make the rice: To a large, lidded pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the achiote or coconut oil and pork or bacon, if using. If using pork or bacon, saute until the meat renders its fat, about 5 minutes. Add the sofrito and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the rice, gandules, tomatoes, water, sazón and olives. Stir, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook until the rice is tender, 30 to 35 minutes. (Cook 10 to 15 minutes longer, without stirring, to develop pegao, or a crust of crispy rice, at the bottom of the pot.)

Make the plantains: Line a plate with a tea towel or clean paper bag. Slice the plantains about 1/4-inch thick on a bias, or lengthwise into long strips.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Carefully add the plantain slices and fry until golden and caramelized, about 3 minutes. Using tongs or a fork, carefully flip the plantains and cook until caramelized on the other side, adding more oil, as needed. You may need to do this in batches. Transfer the cooked plantains to the lined plate to cool and drain.

Divide the rice and plantains among four plates and serve.

NOTES: To make achiote oil, in a small saucepan over low heat, warm 1 tablespoon achiote seeds in 1/4 cup vegetable oil until the oil turns reddish, about 3 minutes. Cool completely before using or storing. Strain out seeds as you use it; whole seeds can make a dish taste bitter. Achiote oil can be stored in a tightly lidded jar in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

If you don’t have store-bought or homemade sofrito, use 1/2 (any color) bell pepper, 1/2 small (any type) onion, 3 cloves garlic and 10 sprigs of cilantro, finely chopped by hand or in a food processor.

If you don’t have store-bought or homemade sazón, use 1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon oregano and 1/4 teaspoon hot paprika or ground black pepper.

Nutrition Information per serving (1 1/2 cups of rice and beans and 4 slices of plantain), based on 4 | Calories: 684; Total Fat: 55 g; Saturated Fat: 48 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 39 mg; Carbohydrates: 55 g; Dietary Fiber: 7 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 8 g.

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.

From Washington Post staff writer G. Daniela Galarza.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.