Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Category: rice (page 1 of 3)



I got this recipe years ago from a former co-worker when I was a wage slave. For full  disclosure: I included the recipe in my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Running Press) since I needed additional rice recipes at the time. I titled the recipe Arroz de Persa (Persian Rice), and it is the same recipe we are doing today. In that dish I noted that, following my Nuyorican influence, I like to add peas to the rice, and sometimes olives and pimentos. This time around I experimented with it and added canned pigeon peas. Arroz con Gandules, rice and pigeon peas, is one of the staples in Puerto Rican cooking. So I thought I’d do the same with Persian Rice. I guess you could call this a fusion dish. Whatever, it’s delicious. Note that, if you can’t find pigeon peas, you can substitute a package of frozen green peas,

This entrée would make a great side dish to any meal, be it beef, chicken or pork. In this instance, we serve it with salmon.



1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup vermicelli or thin spaghetti, broken up into 1-2 inch pieces
Water or chicken broth
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup rice
1 15-ounce can pigeon peas, drained


  1. Heat oil in a skillet or saucepan. Add vermicelli and stir-fry until golden brown.
  2. Add water or broth to cover by ¼ inch, and salt. Add rice and mix well.
  3. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat until water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
  4. Add pigeon peas and stir to combine. Cover again and simmer another 10 minutes.
    Yield: 4 servings.

ARROZ CON POLLO (Rice with Chicken)

Some would argue that Arros con Pollo is the most well known dish in the Puerto Rican/Nuyorican pantheon . To us, it’s more popular than paella. To some, it’s just paella without the seafood and chorizos. Its saving grace is that, though it may take some time to prepare, you can fancy it up by adding sweet peas, pimento strips. assorted olive or whatever else you desire. Some rice with chicken recipes call for saffron, ground cumin or paprika to give the rice its color. We use tomato sauce and achiote.

As noted, our rendition calls for achiote and aji dulce, or sweet chili peppers. Note that the latter are not the common hot peppers associated with Mexican cuisine. Sweet peppers are just that, mild and sweet. They can be found in any Latino or Asian market. If you live in a major metropolitan area you can usually find it in your local supermarket.

Achiote is what we use for giving color to such dishes as yellow rice, pilaf rice, or any dish you want to enliven with a nice yellow-reddish hue. A simple method to prepare achiote is to cook 1 tablespoon annatto seeds, what we call the achiote (also found in Latino/Asian markets), in ½ cup olive oil or vegetable oil. You cook the seeds, stirring frequently, on low heat for 5 minutes. Be aware that if the flame is kept on high the seeds may crack and splatter. During cooking, the oil will turn a bright orange-red, The longer the seeds steep in oil, the darker the hue. Remove from heat, let cool and, using a small strainer, pour into a jar or container. Cover and refrigerate. That’s it.  If you want more achiote, use more seeds.

Back in Spanish Harlem, arroz con pollo was normally served for a special occasion. But, in our family, we ate it frequently. It was one of the foodstuffs that kept the family vibrant and together.

(Rice with Chicken)


3 cups rice
1 3-pound chicken, cut into serving pieces
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 ounces salted pork (also called fatback), rinsed and diced
(Note: you can substitute 3-4 strips of bacon, cooked and diced)
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 aji dulce (sweet chili peppers), seeded and chopped
½ cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth or bouillon
2 cups water
2 tablespoons achiote (see above)
1 8½-ounce can green peas (drained) or 1 10-ounce package frozen green peas


  1. Wash rice at least three times (until water is clear).
  2.  Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
  3.  Place peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt in a mortar and pound until crushed. Blend in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and vinegar.
  4.  Rub chicken pieces thoroughly with the seasoning. In our clan, if we’re in a rush, we let chicken stand for 15 minutes just before cooking. Otherwise, we marinate it for several hours or overnight in the fridge.
  5. Heat remaining olive oil in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven and brown salted pork over moderate heat. Add onion, bell pepper and aji dulce. Sauté until onion is translucent.
  6.  Add tomato sauce, chicken broth and olives. Stir to combine.
  7.  Add chicken pieces plus 2 cups water. Mix, lower heat to moderate-low and cook, covered, for 15 minutes.
  8.  Add the rice and achiote. Add more water to cover contents in pot, if necessary. Mix well and simmer, covered, on low heat until rice is tender (about 30) .
  9. Stir in peas. Cover and cook 10 minutes more.
    Yield: 8 servings.



One of my favorite ways of preparing  meatballs is how our Greek brethren do it. I have long been a fan of Greek cuisine. They have 3,000 years of history in terms of cooking. We can learn a thing or two from them. So, you can consider this posting as a Greek meal. Simply, it’s meatballs  (keftaides) over rice with fideo (pilafi me fides). The latter dish  is just rice combined with cut thin spaghetti (fideo). Back in Spanish Harlem almost every household would add fideo to their soups. We never thought of combining it with rice (another innovation by our Greek brothers and sisters).

With this Greek dinner I took the liberty of adding saltsa bechamel to the meatballs. Saltsa bechamel is the Greek method of preparing béchamel sauce, that fame sauce attributed to French cuisine (although some historians state its origin is actually Tuscany—but that’s another story). Add some good Greek wine like a Agiorgitiko from Nemea or Xinomavro from Naoussa, and you’ll have a dinner that will transform you to a sunset evening in Athens. Don’t let the Greek wine tongue twisters deter you. An Agiorgitiko is similar to a Merlot. With a Xinomavro, think of a Barolo or Pinot Noir.

For this dinner, I would suggest making the béchamel sauce first. You can set it aside and heat it up again with the main course; then preparing the rice with fideo. While the rice is cooking, you can make the meatballs, which are served drizzled with the sauce.



4 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Dash of nutmeg
2 cups milk
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten


Melt butter over low heat. Add  flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir until blended into a consistent paste. Remove from heat. Gradually stir in milk and return to heat. Cook, stirring constantly until thick and smooth. Remove from heat and gradually add egg yolks, stirring constantly. Yield: 2 cups



1½ cups long grain rice
¾ cup fideo (or crushed vermicelli)
4 tablespoons butter
3 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried chives


Combine the rice and fideo and sauté in butter in a 2-quart pan or pot until golden brown. Add chicken broth and chives. Cover and cook over very low heat until the liquid is absorbed, about 30-40 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve. Yield: 4 or more servings.



2 pounds ground beef or a mixture of beef and pork or lamb
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon salt
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or 1 teaspoon dried
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh chopped mint or 1 teaspoon dried
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup ouzo or anisette
1 cup flour
½ cup olive oil (or more if needed).


  1. Combine meat, bread crumbs, salt, onion, parsley, garlic, mint, egg and ouzo. Mix well.
  2. Form into meatballs and roll them in the floor. Note that we like our meatballs medium-sized, not small. Place on a cookie sheet and chill for 1 hour.
  3.  Heat oil in a large skillet or frying pan  and fry meatballs over medium-high heat until done, about 15-20 minutes. Serve them hot.
    Yield: Makes about 32 meatballs (4 to 6 servings).






ARROZ CON CHORIZO (Rice and Sausage)

One of our favorite dishes is Arroz con Chorizo, or Rice and Sausage. The sausage usually entails chorizo, the Spanish pork sausage most common to Puerto Rican cuisine. But for this dish you can use any preferred sausage be it beef, pork, chicken or turkey. The recipe also calls for sofrito, a common base flavoring in Nuyorican cooking. You can find a recipe for sofrito in our post of 10/16/20. If you don’t have the time or ingredients for sofrito, you can use achiote, as we did in this version. Achiote is easy to make. Just heat ½ cup olive oil in a small skillet or pan. Add 1 tablespoon annatto seeds (found in most supermarkets or Hispanic markets). Cook, stirring frequently on low flame until the oil turns a bright orange-red color. Use as needed, cover and refrigerate. The achiote will give not only flavoring,  but also that bright color that defines the rice.

The most common accompaniment to this recipe is beans. It can be red kidney beans, black beans, white beans, ext. This time around we used pinto beans. This is the type of hearty meal that comforts the soul.


2 cups rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 chorizos or 4 preferred sausage (about 12-ounce pack), sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 tablespoon achiote
Water or chicken broth to cover
Salt and ground black pepper to taste


  1. Wash rice until liquid runs clear. This is what they call  in Pennsylvania Dutch country as “washing in several waters” to remove starch from the rice.
  2.  Heat oil over medium heat in a heavy skillet or pot (we prefer cast-iron).  Add onion and stir-fry  until onion is wilted and translucent. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes more.
  3.  Add rice. Stir in achiote, and add water to cover contents in pot ¼ to ½ inch. Add salt and pepper.
  4.  Bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer on low heat until water is absorbed and rice is tender (about 20-25 minutes). Serve with beans.
    Yield: 6 servings.




Back in my wild and misspent youth, one of the most memorable characters I use to hang out with was a beautiful person named Eddie. He was Chinese, and  was the center of a group whom we termed, The Gang of Four. It was Eddie, myself, Larry (another Chinese guy), and Henry, who is Irish.

After work we would all meet at Lucy Jung’s restaurant on Canal Street. Larry was the manager at Lucy Jung’s, and we would keep him company, drinking and carrying on until the restaurant closed. Then we would go bar hopping in Chinatown. This was the era  when Chinatown had numerous watering holes such as the Golden Valley, The Hon Gong, and Winnies. They’re all closed now. The new generation sits behind laptops and tablets, staring at screens in the local Starbuck’s. The camaraderie that we all knew, is now gone.

Anyway, after a night of drinking, at around 3 or 4 a.m. we would end up in a little hole in the wall restaurant on Doyer’s Street, where we would all have a heaping bowl of congee. This would, hopefully, sober us up so that we could all shuffle to work that same morning—and then start up the same ritual the following evening. As the song says, we were young and surely had our way.

Eddie is no longer with us, but the other guys still are; although we all much older now, and somewhat wiser, all happily married,  and with families. But the memories still linger. Especially of congee, and it’s sobering affects.  Congee, also known as jook, is a hearty stew, more like a rice porridge. It’s popular throughout China, Laos, and Thailand. It can be served as a breakfast, lunch, or dinner dish. It’s simple and delicious. All you need is hot broth (or plain water will do), rice and some meat thrown in. The congee we had in Chinatown was made with pork meatballs. But you can prepare it with chicken, beef, or even fish.

The following is Eddie’s recipe for congee (or jook, as he preferred to call it).



1 pound ground pork
1 tablespoon Bell’s All Natural Seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch of ground white pepper
1/4 cup finely sliced scallions
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 quart chicken broth, or water
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 cup jasmine rice
1 tablespoon fish sauce (can be found in any Asian market)
3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Fried garlic oil (recipe follows below)


  1. Place ground pork in a mixing bowl. Mix in Bell’s seasoning, oregano, white pepper, scallions, and salt, if using. Set aside.
  2.  In a wok or soup pot, combine the broth (or water) and ginger. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add jasmine rice, cover and lower heat to  a gentle simmer. Cook for 20 minutes. Add the pork in tablespoon-sized meatballs.
  3.  Let the mixture simmer for another 15 minutes. Add the fish sauce, transfer to a large serving bowl. Garnish with cilantro and fried garlic oil, and serve. If you prefer,  can also  serve the congee in small individual bowls, and each person can add garnish as desired. Your choice.
    Yield: 4 servings.

Fried Garlic OiI: In a small fry pan, cook 2 cloves garlic (finely minced), in 2 tablespoons olive oil. When garlic is slightly
browned, remove from heat and add to congee.







Pegao–Crusty Rice

We Puerto Ricans have a love affair with rice. It is the main standby dish in our culture. There’s a reason why rice became so ubiquitous in our cooking. Rice was introduced to Puerto Rico by the Spaniards. It became the main meal during the Spanish occupation simply because it was relatively cheap to buy. That, plus ease of cooking, endeared it to our cuisine.  From the lowly side dish to the main course as featured in a seafood and meat laden paella, the love affair has evolved and deepened.

Nuyoricans as well as islanders cannot do without this grain, be it plain boiled rice, saffron rice, yellow rice, whatever. To some of us, a meal without rice would be incomplete. Almost like that old tune about love and marriage. What’s interesting about all this is that, in our family, the best part of the meal is what we call the pegoa, or that crust at the bottom of the rice pot. This is something that is traditional to our cooking, as least with the older generation. In fact, in some cases, the pegao (peh-gah-oh) is reserved for an honored guest. The rice is be cooked long and slow, so that when it’s served, that crispy crust at the bottom of the pan remains for a fortunate one to savor.

Then I discovered that our culture is not the only one that has this penchant for the rice crust. Persian cuisine also has a version of it, which they call tah dig (pronounced “tah-deeg”). This pegao thing is universal. There is something about that crunchy, even slightly burnt residue at the bottom of the pot that is irresistible to some. And almost every Latino household has a pan in which they make rice. It’s usually cast aluminum or stainless steel. To me, the best pagao is from a cast-iron pan. Again, this is a matter of opinion. One more thing, it won’t work with a non-stick pan.



  1. Wash 2 cups rice in cold water at least three times and drain to rid it of starch. What is in Pennsylvania Dutch country is known as “washing in several waters.”
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a heavy kettle or pot. Add rice and stir until grains are opaque, about 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add water to cover rice by ¼ to ½ inch. Some folks us the first knuckle of their index finger as measure for the water. Either way method is okay. Add salt to taste.
  4. Bring water to a boil. Cover and simmer on low heat for 40 minutes. By that time the liquid should all be absorbed, and the pegao formed. The longer it cooks, the more crusty the pegao. Serve the rice as you would with any meal, and then fight over who gets the pegoa.

Yield: 4-6 servings.


Note: You can add saffron threads (1/4 teaspoon) or turmeric (1 teaspoon) to the water for yellow rice. Or, for a deeper color, tomato sauce (1/4 cup). This will make the pagao even tastier.


Sofrito | Spanish Rice

Sofrito is ubiquitous in Caribbean cooking. One could safely say that Puerto Rican cuisine would be wanting without it. It is an aromatic mix of herbs and spices that is a base for cooking countless criollo dishes. This concept can be found in other cultures as well. One example is the Indian mix called garam masala which is also used as a base flavoring. Or kimchi, the fermented cabbage condiment, so popular in Korean cooking. The word sofrito is a generic term that has no correct English translation. “Frito” in Spanish means fried. Sofrito could be taken to mean stir-fried. Although this would not be entirely accurate. As the recipe shows, sofrito can be whipped up in a few moments’ time in a blender or food processor. And it can be stored in a closed tight jar the refrigerator for three to four days or, in the freezer compartment, indefinitely.
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Pilaf Rice with Golden Raisins

We Nuyoricans can’t do without rice. It goes back to our island culture where rice was the main side dish (along with beans) to almost any entrée. And it wasn’t just plain white rice. It was yellow rice; rice with squid (arroz con calamares—or what in my family we call black rice since the ink from the squid gives the rice a dark hue); rice with pigeon peas (arroz con gandules); the famed arroz con pollo (rice with chicken); a sumptuous paella; or even rice pudding (arroz con dulce).

Once I left the block and discovered other rice dishes out there from various cultures, I started experimenting. I discovered Indian rice, and Syrian rice (made with Syrian noodles), Italian rissoto, and Persian rice (Chilau or steamed). But my vantage point has always been pilaf rice, which is also popular in our cuisine. One can do wonders with pilaf rice, mixing it with almost any ingredient (except for Jello). I’ve done pilaf with peas, turmeric, cumin, you name it. Yet, among my favorites has always been pilaf rice with raisins; and this can be black raisin or golden raisins. The raisins give it that sweet tang that makes it adorable.

The recipe that follows shows what I mean. It can serve as an accompaniment to any vegetable, meat, fish, or fowl dish. Or even on its own, it’s a marvel. Go at it.


1 cup rice
2 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, sliced into thin rings
1 1-oz (28.3g) box golden raisins (can use black raisins, if desired)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/4 cups water
1 bay leaf
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1. Wash rice at least three times in cold water and drain to rid it of starch. What in Pennsylvania Dutch country is known as “washing in several waters.”
2. Melt one tablespoon butter in a medium heavy saucepan (I prefer cast iron). Add onion and cook, stirring until wilted and translucent.
3. Add rice, raisins, cumin, water, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Stir, cover pan and simmer until water is absorbed (about 20 minutes). Let sit, covered, for another 10 minutes.
4. Discard bay leaf. Add coriander and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Stir with a fork, to distribute butter in rice. Serve, or keep covered in a warm place until ready to eat.
    Yield: 4 servings. 

Cooking with Bay Leaves

Some folks I know don’t like to use bay leaves in their cooking. I could never figure that one out. I cook with bay leaves all the time. They add an aromatic flavor to dishes that is hard to replicate. Bay leaves go back a long way. They were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans not only as a flavoring but also for medicinal  purposes. They were good for soothing an upset stomach, as a diuretic, for treating muscle pain, and even as an insect repellent (that’s right: insect repellent). Today they are used worldwide and are particularly prominent in Classical French cuisine. They are used whole and are often removed from the dish before serving (to prevent choking on the things).

Bay leaves have a tea-like aroma which is great for soups, stews and sauces. Stored in the freezer, they’ll last forever. I prefer dried bay leaves to fresh. I know, this is heresy. But, to me, dried bay leaves rule. Why? Dried bay leaves are usually imported from the Middle East, namely, Turkey. Most fresh bay leaves come from California, and they have a strong eucalyptus flavor that can overcome a dish. Dried bay leaves have a milder flavor and an herbal, floral fragrance similar to oregano or thyme. To my mind, they are better for cooking. In fact, I’m told California fresh bay leaves are not the same as dried. They are two distinct products. So, stick to dried bay leaves—unless you want to end up with an inedible dish which reeks of menthol.

Given below are five dishes using bay leaves. This may give you an idea of its true versatility. If nothing else, the next time you have indigestion, just steep some bay leaves in hot water for a great, soothing tea to quiet your tummy.


Wash 1 cup Basmati rice in cold water, drain. Add rice to 1 3/4 cups boiling water. Add two bay leaves along with a cinnamon stick and 3-4 cardamom pods. Lower heat and cook 15 minutes. Cut off heat and let it sit for 5 minutes before serving (don’t forget to remove bay leaves and cinnamon stick). Note: if desired, you can use jasmine rice as well.


In a skillet or fry pan, sauté  1 medium chopped onion, and 2 cloves minced garlic in 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add 2-3 bay leaves and continue cooking until onions are soft and translucent. Add 2 cups  canned beans (either red kidney beans, black beans, white cannellini beans, or black eye peas), 2 fresh chopped tomatoes, and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Simmer on low heat, stirring frequently for 5 minutes.


Cook 8-10 bay leaves in a dry skillet until brown and toasted. Then take a whole chicken (or chicken parts) seasoned with pepper and salt, and moisten with some lager beer or white wine (for a richer flavor, you can use brandy or whisky). Wrap the chicken in aluminum foil with a carpet of toasted bay leaves on the bottom and on top. Seal and place in a preheated oven (375 F.) and cook until done (30-45 minutes depending on whether you use a whole chicken or chicken parts).


In a skillet or pan, sauté in oil: 1 medium chopped onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, 4 bay leaves, and 2 cinnamon sticks. When onion is soft and translucent, add 1 pound ground meat (beef, pork, chicken, or turkey). Cook until meat is browned. Add 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce, 1/3 cup dry red wine, and season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Cover and cook on low heat for 1/2 hour. Remove bay leaves and cinnamon sticks and serve with favorite pasta. If desired, you may add whatever vegetables you like during cooking.


Soak as many bay leaves as needed in water. Then place them on skewers along with the chicken, lamb, beef, veggies, whatever. And grill as you normally would. When done, remove from skewers and discard bay leaves.   

Black Rice and Sausage

We Puerto Ricans are inveterate rice eaters. It has been with us since anyone can remember. Mainly because rice was (and is still) relatively inexpensive; easy to cook; and we prepare it in infinite ways: rice with beans, rice with fish, rice with chicken, rice with squid, yellow rice, pilaf rice, ext. My Father, of late memory, ate rice everyday. It made no difference what the entrée was, a bowl or rice had to be there. In our culture it was, and still is, mainly white rice. In recent years some of us have become more health conscious, and some homes may serve brown rice. But, from what I’ve seen, this is more the exception  than the rule.

Since my journey from the block, I’ve discovered that there are multiple varieties of rice out there. There is Jasmine rice, and Indian Basmati, Japanese Nishiki rice, aromatic Bengali Kalizira rice, red rice, wild rice, Italian Arborio rice, and the list goes on. According to the UK Rice Association, there are over 40,000 different varieties of rice. Go figure that one out.

Glutinous black rice is the unpolished whole grain of regular sticky white rice. It’s not actually black in color, it’s more of a dark purple. And it’s very healthy for you. It contains no fat, and a 1-cup serving has only one gram of sugar. It’s rich in protein, a good source of iron (which your body needs to make blood cells);  and it contains no sugar or cholesterol. It’s a very popular and common dish in Southeast Asia, India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines.

In the recipe given below, I’ve combine glutinous black rice with sausages, specifically chorizo, the spicy Spanish sausage so unique to our cuisine. The nutty, chewy flavor of the black rice goes great with the chorizo. A criollo dish by way of Asia.


2 cups milled glutinous black rice
4 1/2 cups water or broth
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced into thin rings
3 tablespoons sofrito (or 2 cloves minced garlic mixed with 2 teaspoons turmeric and 2 tablespoons
   fresh chopped parsley)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 chorizo sausages, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

1. Wash rice and drain.
2. Heat oil in a heavy kettle or pot. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent. Add sofrito and tomato sauce. Sauté for about 3 minutes.
3. Add chorizo and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Stir in the rice. Add water or broth, salt and pepper.
5. Bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer on low heat for 45 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
    Yield: 6 servings.

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