I grew up eating Mexican rice of the Rice-a-Roni quality. In other words, boxed rice and unknown spices + canned tomatoes + butter + water. It was delicious. But it was not Mexican. And I clearly didn’t know any better. But even if I had known better, I have forgiven the follies of my foodie-less youth.
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve figured out that this Mexican rice wonder of my childhood can not only be made at home, but (not surprisingly) tastes way better than the romanticized Rice-a-Roni of yore. Plus, this rice can be made without any canned vegetables and with discernible spices that I always have on hand anyway, making it fresher and cheaper than the boxed stuff.
Because rice was always the highlight of Mexican feasts growing up, whether in my super plain bean-cheese-rice burrito or as a side dish to any number of restaurant main courses, I like to say that I “know” Mexican rice. That may or may not be true, but I have been exposed to a wide variety served everywhere from fancy Mexican joints to chintzy taco shops. Based on those experiences, I would say this recipe straddles both worlds in the best way possible. It has the complex flavor profile of the restaurants without the price tag, and a homemade quality without the, um, lard.
Toasted in only a little olive oil for a few minutes, the rice develops a rich, nutty flavor before sauteing briefly in peppers and garlic. Then, the rice cooks in chicken broth alongside fresh tomatoes and onions, slowly absorbing the cumin, paprika, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. The end result is a wonderfully fluffy Mexican rice, enriched with the flavors of fresh produce and earthy, warming spices.
This veggie-filled rice is the perfect starch to pair with fajita-spiced meat and veggies, either as a more formal main course or stuffed inside a more casual tortilla.
Note on cooking times: In my stainless steel pot, the rice cooks in the oven for the full time described below; however, in my Le Creuset Dutch/French oven, the rice finished cooking in half the time (i.e., 15 minutes total instead of 30 minutes). Pick your poison.
To make this vegan, use vegetable stock in lieu of chicken stock.
6 oz. tomatoes (can substitute canned if needed)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 dark green poblano pepper (or green bell pepper), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c. rice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 c. low sodium chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F.
Chop tomatoes and onion, and set aside. Mince bell pepper and garlic, and set aside. (Note: Chopping can be done in food processor, but keep tomatoes/onion and pepper/garlic separate for cooking purposes.)
Heat pan on low. Add oil and rice, and cook for approximately 5 minutes, until golden. Turn heat up to medium. Add chopped garlic and peppers, and cook for 1½ minutes. Increase heat to medium-high. Add broth and tomato mix, and cook until boiling. Stir in the spices.
Cover pan, and transfer to oven. Cook for 15 minutes, then stir and cook for a final 15 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and serve with Fajita-Spiced Steak, Poblano Peppers, and Onions recipe below.
Fajita-Spiced Steak, Poblano Peppers and Onions
8 oz. flank steak
1/2 poblano pepper or bell pepper
1/2 red onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
Season flank steak with 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/4 tsp. pepper, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, and 1/4 tsp. garlic powder. Set aside. Chop peppers and onions into 1/2-inch wide and 2 to 3 inches long strips, and set aside.
In medium pan over medium-high heat, sear steak until medium rare, just a few minutes per side. (If you prefer well done meat, you should choose a different cut, as flank steak is at its most tender when medium rare, and gets tough when cooked well done.) Remove from pan, and allow to rest on cutting board while you cook onions and peppers.
Add onions and peppers to the same pan, stir in remaining spices and seasonings, and cook until onions are soft (peppers will be softened but firmer than onions). Remove pan from heat.
Slice flank steak against the grain (otherwise it will be chewy and hard to eat) in strips the same size or slightly larger than peppers and onions. Mix steak strips with peppers and onions.