Peruvian Cuisine, Traditional Food

Paradise on Your Plate, Peruvian Green Rice

Green rice with Chiken
Green rice with Chiken

Green rice, earthy and rich. To arrive at this world of color and taste you simmer rice in a flavor base, beer, ground cilantro, and broth. To it, you can add peas, corn, and red pepper to bring contrasting color. It all makes an amazing combination that deserves to be widely tried and widely appreciated.

I have had Persian green rice, sabzi polo, and it is wonderful. A classic New Year’s dish, it combines the tones of dill, parsley, and cilantro in a Persian technique of cooking (first parbroiling and then steaming while making a crust) that gives a bright, airy promise and celebration of spring.

Mexican green rice has also crossed my palate. It was scrumptious. With its touch of darkness from poblano chiles, and an herbal taste from parsley and cilantro, and a meatiness from broth and toasted rice it, along with its Persian cousin, are well worth making part of your culinary repertoire.

Though also part of the same family, the Peruvian green rice has a depth and richness beyond compare. Traditionally made and served with chicken or duck, it is outstanding.  However you can make it and eat it all by itself and feel perfectly satisfied.

All these rices come from a burst of cuisine between India and Iran thousands of years ago with their almost neighboring development of kingdoms and empires. The last two are kinds of pilafs where the rice is cooked in a broth that is well seasoned. Sometimes the rice takes on the characteristics of the broth and sometimes it gains in complexity as it and the broth cook together.

These rices carry the story and adventure of Asian kings, wars, conquests, victories and courtyards.  Each is an ode on a plate.

From Persia (Iran) the Arabs carried this idea to Spain where it flourished and from there brought it to the New World where it continued to develop as it incorporated techniques and ingredients from the new lands and their civilizations. It took on a terroir, a taste of  the land and people in new climes.

All three rices can be made alone, but the Peruvian one tends to meet a similar family of dishes, and one mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit Mahabharata where meat is cooked with the rice. One flourishing of this idea is the great Spanish paella. Another is the ubiquitous arroz con pollo, or rice with chicken. Like the green rice pilafs it changes ingredients from country to country or from region to region as it uses what the Spanish found and natives had. Arroz con pollo is the delicious standard of Sunday dinner throughout the Latin world.

In Peru, this green rice also continues more of the Mahabharata tradition since you can stew lamb, goat, or beef with the rice. These tend to be called secos.

Also common to the three rices is cilantro, called culantro in Peru and coriander in Europe. This is one of the most ancient of herbs, native to West Asia and Southern Europe. Its redolence and depth of flavor, both fresh and cooked give depth to these green rices, but it is the way this herb marries with other flavorings makes them delightfully complex and varied.

To make a Peruvian green rice you first prepare your base, your aderezo—what elsewhere is called a sofrito. For this you fry seasoned chicken in oil until browned and cooked. You then set the chicken aside.

You add alliums (onion and garlic) to the heated oil to soften and then yellow ají (chile pepper) paste and maybe a red ají or panca ají paste. You cook and then add cilantro blended in a bit of broth. To this you add your rice. In Peru, they add the washed and drained rice to boiling liquid, or you can do this the more American way of adding the rice to the paste, mixing and cooking just a bit before adding the broth and bringing to a boil. 

Peruvians do not just add broth, they use either their local, indigenous drink, a corn beer called chicha, or they use beer.

In Peru you also add shelled green peas, diced red pepper, and kernels of corn to cook in the broth as well. If using US frozen peas and corn add them at the very end to steam and heat. The pepper you will cook in the broth.

Now there is another choice of technique. Before adding the broth, if you only browned the poultry and did not fully cook it, you could nest it in the aderezo and pour the liquid over it as well to cook it with the rice. Or you can serve your nicely browned poultry to the side of the green rice for a nice contrast in flavor and color.

If you cook the rice alone and use a vegetable broth, you can make a vegetarian version of the green rice that will surprise your guests and fill them with wonder.

Here is a recipe for green rice with chicken we published a few years ago. It is good.

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