Oswald Rivera

Author, Warrior, and Teacher

Tag: Rice

Lebanese Duck

I’ve been a fan of Middle Eastern cuisine for a long while. I grew up with typical Caribbean fare; but once my horizons expanded, food from the Middle East, inclusive of Israeli cooking, became among my favorites. This includes dishes from Lebanon. And one of the modern favorites from this land is duck cooked with orange juice. Now, you’re probably thinking of the French duck a l’orange. Some say that  this Lebanese dish owes its inspiration to its French counterpart. Or, perhaps the opposite is true. Maybe the French version owes its genesis to the Lebanese version. I honestly don’t know. But I do know that this Lebanese treat is easier to prepare than canard a l’orange, and it is just as tasty.Served with Lebanese style rice, it makes for a great Middle Eastern dinner. Think of it this way, this is your time to impress family and loved ones with a unique repast—the Oooh’s and the Aaah’s will be worth it.

(Duck with Orange Juice)

1 duck (about 5-6 pounds)
1 large onion, peeled and cut into thin rings
3-4 tablespoons butter
2 cups orange juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely fresh chopped parsley

1. Wash the duck under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Heat butter over medium heat in a pan large enough to hold the duck, and fry the onion until soft and translucent.
3. Brown the duck in the same fat used to cook the onions, turning it occasionally to brown it all over.
4. Add the orange juice along with the salt and pepper. Cover, lower heat and simmer for about 1 hour. If the liquid starts to dissipate, you may add a ladleful of water from time to time, and turning the duck occasionally.
5. Remove the duck from the pan and let it cool. Cut into serving pieces and return to the pan. Continue to simmer the duck until it is very tender and had fully absorbed the flavor of the orange juice. Serve sprinkled with the parsley.


What I discovered is that rice cooked the Lebanese way is very similar to the way we cook rice in our house. Only difference is that we add olive oil instead of butter while the rice is cooking.

2 cups long grain rice
4 cups water (if you prefer a drier type of rice with individual grains then make it 1 1/4 cup water for 
   each cup of rice).
Salt to taste
4-6 tablespoons butter

 1. Place the water, salt and butter in a pot or saucepan and bring to a boil.
2. Add the rice and boil vigorously for 2 minutes. Lower heat, cover tightly and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not disturb, let it simmer until the rice is tender. You know it’s done when little holes appear on the surface of the rice—and never stir while it’s cooking.
3. Turn off heat and allow the rice to rest for another 10 minutes before serving.
    Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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Rice Pudding

For the holidays we Puerto Ricans have our own versions of desserts. The most popular is arroz con dulce. Simply, rice pudding. The literal translation of arroz con dulce is “sweetened rice.” A more appropriate term would be sweet coconut rice. Coconut milk is the main component of the dish. In my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America, I give the recipe using a fresh ripe coconut. If you want to be traditional and use a genuine coconut, you are welcomed to get the book and try the recipe. For those who don’t have the time to crack open and prepare a coconut, I give below a quicker recipe using canned coconut milk or cream. In either case, the recipe is marvelous and delicious. Believe me, this is not your ordinary rice pudding recipe. As a dessert, it sets the bar pretty high.

ARROZ CON DULCE (Rice Pudding)

2 cups either long grain or short grain rice
2 cups canned coconut milk or cream
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup seedless black raisins
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup cracker crumbs

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. In a heavy kettle or pot, heat one cup water. When it comes to a roiling boil, add rice, coconut milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon, cloves, salt, vanilla, raisins, sugar and butter. Cook on moderate heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for 35 minutes or until rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed.
3. Spoon into a round serving platter or large pie plate.
4. Sprinkle with cracker crumbs and allow to cool at room temperature before serving.
Yield: 10 0r more servings.

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The Color of Rice

My friends marvel when I serve them rice pilaf or yellow rice dishes. Invariably they ask: what colors the rice? It’s a complex question, depending upon the dish. Fragrant colored rice has been in my culture since the beginning. It was the Spaniards who got the method from the Moors, when the Arabs introduced saffron as a flavoring and coloring agent in Southern Spain. Saffron is still the best thing around—but it’s expensive. If you can afford it, more power to you. All you do is add a few strands of the stuff to the rice while it’s boiling to get that great arroz amarillo (yellow rice) hue.

My parents came from the Greatest Generation (as it is called by some). So, during the Great Depression, they and their fellows developed equitable shortcuts to using safron (which they couldn’t get and, even if they could, they couldn’t afford it). Below are easy, ready to use alternatives that give rice whatever color you want; and also add to its flavor. I’ve used these alternatives, at one time or another, depending upon my financial condition, and it’s given me a marvelous rice dish every time.

Achiote – This is simply annatto seeds cooked in vegetable oil or olive oil. It’s our favorite product for coloring food. You can find it in most supermarkets in 8-ounce jars. Annatto is the pulp of the tropical tree Bixa orellana; and annato dye is used in coloring some cheeses. To prepare: just cook 1 tablespoon annatto seeds in 1/2 cup olive oil, on low heat, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. During cooking, the oil will turn a bright orange-red. The longer the seeds steep in oil, the deeper the hue. Remove from heat, let cool, and strain into a glass jar or container. You can keep it in the fridge indefinitely. Use as you wish, from 1 to 3 tablespoons when cooking rice, depending on the color you want to attain.

Tomato Sauce and Tomato Paste – This will do when you don’t have annatto seeds. But, depending on how much you use, it will render a more reddish color to the rice. Now, experts in my family contend that tomato sauce will give a better color, while tomato paste will give a better flavor. It’s all a matter of personal preference. To prepare: cook 1/3 or more cup tomato sauce, or 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste, in 3 tablespoons olive oil. If you want to enhance the flavor, you can add 1 small chopped onion and/or 1-2 cloves finely diced garlic. When you reached desired consistency, add a couple of cups of rice. Stir to mix, add water, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover, and cook the rice as you normally would.

Tumeric – This spice is known as Indian saffron, since it’s widely used as an alternative for the more expensive saffron. You get it in the supermarket in the form of a dry root powder. It not only adds a custard-like yellow color to rice but it also impart a distinct flavor. Tumeric is extremely strong, and it gets stronger as it cooks. A little goes a long way. Be judicious in its use. As noted, it’s a powerful yellow dye, so try not to stain your apron or clothes with it while cooking. To use: just add 1 teaspoon (or more, but be careful) to two cups of rice when it comes to a boil. Cover and simmer as you normally would.

Dry mustard – That’s right, dry yellow mustard in the powdered form. I know. You’re thinking about mustard on hot dogs, burgers, etc.; but mustard, in its own right, adds great flavor and color to foods. Like tumeric, it tends to be strong. Figure it this way, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of dry yellow mustard for 1 teaspoon tumeric. Just add to rice when it comes a boil, cover, and cook as instructed.

Parsley – For green rice. Yes, it’s hard being green. But in rice it’s okay. Adds another dimension and flavor to the dish. Simple: take 1 bunch of parsley (I prefer the curly Italian type parsley), wash and chop finely (by hand, or in a food processor). Saute it in 2-3 tablespoons olive oil with a couple of finely chopped garlic cloves thrown in. To enhance the flavor you can even add a chicken bouillon cube, and (if you want) 3 tablespoons light cream. Add rice, water, and cook as you normally wood. It will give you deliciously green-hued rice.

Black Rice (Arroz con Calamares) – This is rice cooked with squid or cuttlefish. The color comes from the dark color imparted to the grains as they cook with the squid in its ink. It’s a favorite in my crowd. The trick here is that the rice will come out darker if canned squid is used. 4-ounce cans of squid in their ink can be found in most supermarkets or Asian and Caribbean stores. To prepare: saute, in 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 green bell pepper (cored seeded and chopped), 1 small onion (chopped), and 1 clove garlic (finely minced). Add 1/2 cup tomato sauce, and 1 chicken bouillon cube. Stir in 3 cans squid in this ink plus 6 pimento stuffed Spanish olives. Stir in 2 cups rice, water to cover by about 1/4-inch, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and cook until liquid is absorbed (about 20-25 minutes).

There you have it, friends, different and varied ways to add delicious color to your rice dish. Experiment, see which one you like best—and enjoy!

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Wok Cooking – Part II (Steaming)

A wok is a perfect tool for steaming foods. The whole idea is to cook food rapidly using hot most air. This cloud of steam evenly cooks the food without need to boil it in water or broth. It’s perfect for cooking seafood since it preserves the delicacy of the fish. In the process one uses as much water as in necessary to steam the dish and, if the water boils away during the steaming, more water can be added to the wok.

Any food can be cooked by steaming, be it meat, sliced or in big chunks, or vegetables, either frozen or fresh. If the food is frozen, it should be brought to room temperature otherwise condensation will result and the food will become too moist and watery. Slow steaming takes about 40 minutes to an hour. Quick steaming of cut or sliced food can take 5 to 15 minutes.

Most woks come with a steamer attachment: a small round, serrated metal stand on which you can place the food. If you don’t have one, then you can make a homemade version by piercing holes in a metal pie plate. The wok is filled with 2-3 cups of water. A small can is placed into the water and the pierced pie plate rests on the can. The food is laid on the pie plate and the wok is covered with the lid after the steam starts rising. You start steaming the food when the water reaches a fast boil. When steaming delicate foods such as fish, timing is very important. Too long a time steaming will toughen the food. It’s best to remove steamed foods a minute before they are completely cooked. That way the heat of the steamer will complete the cooking process and the food will come to table hot and perfect.

The recipe given is for steamed chicken. The chicken can be steamed as is, in water, and a sauce poured over it before serving. My recipe calls for the chicken in a marinade (makes it more flavorful that way).


12 ounce chicken (with bone and skin), cut into approximately 1-inch pieces


2 tablespoons light or dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1. Rinse chicken pieces under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. In a bowl, mix marinade ingredients. Add chicken pieces and let marinate for 15 minutes at room temperature.
3. Arrange the pieces on a plate in a single layer and steam at medium-high for 10 minutes. Serve with boiled rice.
Yield: 4 servings.

Note: A bigger (2 1/2 to 3 pound) chicken can be use. In this case, increase soy sauce to 3/4 cup, and marinate with other ingredients as given. Place chicken pieces on a plate and arrange in a heaping shape with skin side on top. Steam for 10 minutes, remove lid from wok and, using tongs or a fork, rearrange chicken pieces so that skin pieces are on bottom and other pieces on top, and steam for another 10 minutes.

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Fried Rice

Nothing speaks to us more of what we consider “Chinese” cuisine than fried rice. Problem is, it ain’t Chinese, it’s an American invention. It’s part of that overall catchphrase of what in known in the trade as “Chinese-American” cooking. Think of chop suey, egg foo young, chow mein, etc. They did not originate in China. The were invented in the good ole U.S.A (just like fortune cookies). And it all has to do with the Cantonese influence on American cooking.

Large scale immigration from Canton in southern China to the U.S. in the 1800s assured that this Americanization of Chinese cooking would take hold. The Chinese immigrants who flooded to California to work on the Pacific Railroad were constrained by the lack of authentic ingredients and vegetables that had represented their diet back home. They had to make do with what was available. Not only that, if they went into the restaurant business they had to make their dishes palatable to Western tastes. It’s amusing to think that someone from the Chinese mainland would come to this country and go in search of genuine American chop suey, chow mein, or fried rice.

Fried rice is a very easy dish to make. All you need is rice. And there’s an argument here. Some people swear that genuine fried rice should be done only with the sticky Chinese style of rice or something like Nishiki premium grade rice (I know, it’s Japanese, but some consider it of better quality). I cook fried rice with the good old long grain variety such as Carolina brand or even Uncle Ben’s. That’s what my friend Eddie Hor, of late memory, always used. This is his recipe.

It should be noted that, in some fried rice recipes, the eggs are cooked along with the rice. Eddie would cook scrambled eggs separately and then add the eggs to the rice. Also, one can use light soy sauce or dark soy sauce if you want a darker color.

You can add other ingredients to this basic recipe, and make it vegetable fried rice, or shrimp
fried rice, or whatever (you can even cook it with Spam). Be creative, let your imagination reign.


4 tablespoons peanut oil or olive oil (I prefer the olive oil)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cooked rice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 scallions, or as many as desired, washed and coarsely chopped

1. In a wok or frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat and add the eggs. Cook, stirring, until they are lightly scrambled, seasoning with pepper. Remove the eggs to a dish and set aside.
2. Clean out the wok or pan with paper towels. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and, when hot, add the rice. Stir fry for a few minutes over medium-high heat, using chopsticks or a wooden spoon to evenly cook the rice.
3. Stir in the soy sauce and scallions. When rice is heated through and has achieved desired color, spread the scrambled eggs over the top. Serve immediately.
Yield: 4 servings.

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