Friday, January 9, 2009

Amazing Arroz

When I was 18, and before my first year at college, my parents allowed me to spend a summer in Guadalajara, brushing up on my Spanish skills and getting a head start on my units. I had the great fortune of being able to live with a family who had relatives in my small town who were patients of my father. And like most Mexicans, being the hospitable folks they are, this family was so very happy to welcome a total stranger into their home. I shared a room with two sisters about my age, one of whom had to give up her own bed so she could sleep with her sister in a twin bed. I would have never been so generous.

It was a lovely experience, and a growing one too. I learned to navigate a huge foreign city by myself, hopping into taxis and buses to get to my destinations. Perhaps I was a bit naive in assuming that I would be safe, but I never got into any trouble at all, even if I did get many strange looks. My pale skin and red hair gave me away instantly, but folks were always surprised at how well I managed the language and culture.

The best part of my adventures was the food, of course! I managed to pack 5 pounds onto my small frame in a matter of weeks. The mother of the house was an excellent cook and she got up early to make me a delicious breakfast each day. It usually consisted of scrambled eggs and tomatoes or a huge bowl of hot pinto beans with cheese and tortillas, hot chocolate (Mexican hot chocolate is fabulously spiked with cinnamon), and freshly squeezed orange juice. Mexican breakfasts are made with ample portions because they do not eat again until the late afternoon, when they have their main meal. When I got home from school we would have a huge feast with chiles rellenos, grilled meats, or enchiladas, and rice and beans. Always rice and beans. It was the rice that did me in, I think.

Homemade Mexican rice is so much better than that MSG loaded garbage they sell in the supermarkets. And it really tastes nothing like the packaged stuff. It is so easy to make and if you've got a tomato, onion, clove of garlic, a pinch of cumin and some chicken base, you are in business. Oh, and you need a blender too. Your rice will rival the best Mexican restaurants. The mother of the house shared her recipe with me, and I make it often for my family and friends.

Arroz Mexicano

1 1/2 C long-grain rice (I like basmati)
1 tomato, cored and coarsely chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion
1 clove garlic
1 t chicken base (I like Better Than Bouillon)
1 pinch cumin
1 pinch sea salt
2 t vegetable oil

Heat oil in medium sauce pan then add rice and cumin, stirring to coat. Saute rice over medium heat, stirring often, until rice looks white and opaque and is just beginning to get golden. Meanwhile in a blender add tomato, onion, garlic, chicken base, and sea salt. Blend, adding enough water to make it easy to puree. Add enough water to bring it to 2 1/2 C of liquid. Run blender again to mix thoroughly. When rice is opaque, carefully stir in the liquid mixture from blender, taking care because it will splatter. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 18 minutes, or until tender.

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