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My Attempts at the Dish

When I decided that I would be cooking arroz con gandules, I knew that there were certain ingredients that would be more difficult to acquire than others.  Of course it was easy to obtain the rice, olive oil, and ham, but it was not so easy acquiring the other ingredients.  The Gandules, or pigeon peas, aren’t always found at a standard supermarket, so I needed to get them at a produce store near my house.  But the sazon and sofrito proved to be the most difficult to obtain.  Although it is possible to make the sazon and sofrito from scratch, I decided not to do this because of my less than optimal experience with cooking, and instead I decided to buy them elsewhere.  After asking relatives who were familiar with the ingredients, I found that I needed to travel to a local produce store in the Mission District of San Francisco in order to get the ingredients.  Soon, I got hands on the rest of the ingredients and it was time to start cooking.

 

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Everything started out going well, even with my inexperience with cooking anything.  The steps were very clear and the entire recipe relatively simple.  After adding the sazon and gandules to the pot of ham and sofrito, it was time to add the rice and the water.  The instructions stated that I was to add 2 cups of rice and then 4 cups of water.  So I measured and added the rice and got ready to the same with the water.  When pouring the water into the bowl, it seemed odd that I was adding such a great amount of water relative to the rice.  Even with my inexperience, I felt that something was off.  Nevertheless, the mixture was producing a very pleasant aroma consistent with the smell of arroz con gandules, and a brownish orange color that was also consistent with the intended color of the rice.  So even with the seemingly high amount of water, I was content and I left the mixture to boil.

 

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After letting 40 minutes pass, I returned to the rice so I could complete the meal.  I opened the pot and gazed upon the nearly completed arroz con gandules.  Everything looked and smelled great with the rice sporting the brown/orange color and producing a very pleasant and familiar smell.  But when I began to stir the rice in order to complete the final step, I noticed that the rice was sticking together a lot which was making it hard to stir, which led me to the conclusion that the over abundance of water had caused my rice to become very mushy.  Regardless of this, I completed stirring the rice and put it on a plate along with my mother’s chicken and began eating.  Even the the rice was mushy, it tasted reminiscent of the arroz con gandules I had eaten in the past.  I was pleased with this outcome and continued to eat my mushy rice.  I was content with the fact that the next time I cook this meal, I will be able to avoid the undesired consistency by having more careful measurements.

 

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The next time I cooked the meal, I did everything pretty much the same except for adding 3 cups of water instead of 4.  This seemed to do the trick and my rice came out significantly less mushy this time around.  While eating the rice I was flooded with the memories of my family and spending the holidays with them, and I know that given the opportunity, I will be happy to cook arroz con gandules in the future and enjoy those memories again.

 

About Arroz Con Gandules

It is safe to say that without arroz con gandules, Puerto Rican cuisine would be drastically different from what it is today. The tasty, latin rice has become a commonplace in all Puerto Rican households and restaurants, and is now considered the national dish of Puerto Rico along with Lechon or pig roast. For many Puerto Rican families, including my own, the holidays and family gatherings just wouldn’t the same without servings of arroz con gandules, but the dish doesn’t have to be saved for special occasions. Amy Seponara of We Are Never Full describes the arroz con gandules as,”the dish that will most often be made for the Christmas dinner table and after one taste, you will see why” . Many families cook the rice very often because it can be served with a wide variety of other foods. And some families will even cook arroz con gandules on a daily basis.

 

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The Puerto Rican rice can also be praised for its versatility. You can cook it with chicken to make arroz con pollo, or with sausage to make arroz con salchichas. Gale Davis of Hungry Vegan praised a vegan style of the dish calling it a “Puerto Rican Feast”. The sazon and sofrito, two of the most popular bases in many Latin American cuisines, are what give the rice its distinct flavor allow it to be mixed with other ingredients to create a wide variety of combinations. And as stated before, it can be served along with a wide variety of different entrees in order to add that unique, Puerto Rican flavor to any meal.

If you go to a Puerto Rican home, it is almost guaranteed that arroz con gandules will be served alongside with whatever meal has been made. And if you travel to a variety of Puerto Rican homes and restaurants, you will undoubtedly encounter many new unique variations of the rice. Many people have taken the recipe for arroz con gandules and tweaked the ingredients in order to find the perfect combination that suits their tastes. Many will decide to add an additional packet of sazon or additional sofrito. They also may decide whether or not to make some of the ingredients completely from scratch in order to fully customize the taste, as is done in my family’s household. But wherever you go, you will always find the rice will contain that certain taste leaves people begging for more, and that gave arroz con gandules the position of Puerto Rico’s national dish.

Now that I know more about the dish, I will finally attempt to cook Arroz Con Gandules using this recipe.

Arroz Con Gandules and Me

For as long as I can remember, I have celebrated nearly every holiday by going over to my Aunt and Uncle’s house, spending time with them and many other relatives, and enjoying wonderful food.  My Aunt and Uncle, who came from Puerto Rico, always spends most of the day in the kitchen preparing the feast which is anxiously anticipated by everyone, the moment they arrive at the house.  The house isn’t very large, so the smell of the kitchen constantly circulates throughout the rooms, drawing most of the family to the dining room long before any meal was served.  They would cook countless different meals for every occasion, but the one dish that was always present was the arroz con gandules, as no meal in Puerto Rican culture is considered complete without it.

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When I was young I would have been considered a very picky eater, because my palate mostly consisted of hamburgers, pizza, hotdogs and all other sorts of other plain, boring meals.  Needless to say, I wasn’t a big fan of a lot of the traditional food that my Aunt and Uncle would cook, but from the first time I was introduced to arroz con gandules, I was hooked.  It isn’t a very complicated meal, which is probably the reason I was drawn to it in the first place, but even in its simplicity, the many distinct flavors from the sofrito and the sazón present in the rice made me want more after every bite.

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One of the great things about arroz con gandules is the fact that it can go with nearly every other food.  This is one of the reasons it is cooked so often in Puerto Rican households, and why it is never absent from any meal.  So as I, with my very underdeveloped palate, would attempt to eat the random, sometimes exotic food they would offer me, I always went back to the rice as a way to soothe my taste buds from all the strange flavors that I couldn’t handle at the time.

But as I matured, my palate finally began to expand and I became more accepting of new kinds of food, and learned to appreciate and finally enjoy the many different foods offered to me by my Puerto Rican relatives.  And with this newfound appreciation, came an even greater love for the arroz con gandules, and as I grew older, I found myself enjoying the dish even more than i did when I was a child.  The many flavors resonated with me even more than they ever had before, as every time I had the dish, I was flooded with the many great memories of being with my family and enjoying the holidays with them year after year.  To this day, it still remains one of my favorite meals and one that I look forward to with every coming visit to their house.