How many times can we say it? A year like none other… so a Christmas unlike any other we’ve had. As of a few weeks ago, we’d come up with a plan for the weeks prior to Christmas, so we all felt comfortable visiting with my parents and siblings on Christmas Eve. Of course, we still had to go to work in that time period, though the agreement was that none of us would do essentially anything else in those weeks. Naturally, we got 2020ed, so even that didn’t work. The amount of COVID19 patients we’re seeing at the hospital, in combination with the increasing infections among staff and the numbers in our area in general just made it not safe to have any in-person celebrations.
So just like for Thanksgiving and Easter, we doubled down on our plan for an epic Christmas feast at home. We decided to try to recreate a classic Puerto Rican Christmas dinner. My favorite Puerto Rican, my college roommate/friend Niki, helped a lot, as did the Internet. As with pretty much every classic, traditional recipe I try to recreate, I learned that everyone’s grandmother (or abuela in this case) makes it the correct way, and the approximately 3 million abuelas do it just a smidge differently. So I guided myself with our taste preferences, tips from Niki, and, of course, Google.
Our Christmas was different this year for sure, but it was wonderful in its own right. We didn’t rush around and made our feast and hopped on Zoom with all the cousins.
*Sofrito is the base of many Puerto Rican recipes, as in much of the rest of Latin America and the Mediterranean. Puerto Rican sofrito differs from others with a few key distinctions. Puerto Rican sofrito notably does not contain tomatoes, as many others do. And its special ingredients include culantro and ají dulce. Ajíces dulces can be very difficult to find in the mainland US, so many recipes substitute cubanelle peppers or sweet red bell peppers. You can do two things for the sofrito in this recipe – make your own, based on the ingredients you can access (google Puerto Rican sofrito recipe) or buy green or Puerto Rican sofrito jarred from the store. I’d share the link to the recipe I used, but I honestly don’t remember which it was.
**Sazon is a spice blend common in Latin American cooking. Similar to above, you can buy it pre-made from a store or make your own blend if desired.
Arroz con Gandules
(Source: my friend Niki and the internet – mostly from The Noshery and Delish D’Lites)
- 2 cups long grain rice
- 4 strips of bacon, chopped
- 1/2 cup sofrito*
- 2 tsp sazon**
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 (15oz) can pigeon peas
- Salt, to taste
- Rinse the rice a few times with cold water and set aside.
- In a large pan with tall edges, cook the bacon over medium heat until slightly crispy. Remove to the side, retaining the fat in the pan.
- Lower heat to medium-low, add the sofrito, and stir to combine with the fat. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the rice. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently so the rice doesn’t burn.
- Now add the sazon and tomato paste. Stir together and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Now add the stock, oregano, bay leaves, and pigeon peas. Increase heat until the liquid boils. Then lower heat to low and cover.
- Cook undisturbed for 10-15 minutes, until the visible liquid has been absorbed. At that point, uncover and stir once to ensure the rice isn’t sticking to the bottom.
- Recover and cook for another 3-5 minutes, until there is no liquid left and rice is fluffy.
- Return the bacon to the pan. Taste and add salt as needed.