My very first reference for arroz con habichuela, or rice and beans in English, is from a very popular (also terrible) Puerto Rican song from the 90’s called “Mi Abuela”. As I began to discover this dish, I was pleasantly surprised with the simplicity and the flavor complexity of this kind of meal. It’s a very humble and simple dish and yet its flavor has the soul and essence from the people of Puerto Rico: the rhythm, the positive energy, the joy, all these warm feelings that invade me when I think about the people of the Caribbean, generally.
The secret of this distinctive and passionate flavor is the sofrito. Without it, rice and beans are a mere lifeless preparation. The sofrito can be made very easily using a food processor (you don’t even need to have knife skills). Just blend together ingredients like green bell peppers, sweet chilli peppers (the mild chilli variety), onions, garlic, and cilantro. The original recipe includes recao (sometimes called culantro) which is a wild herb, related to cilantro (coriander) with a very similar taste, but you can omit it this ingredient if you can’t find it, or swap it for some coriander.
The sofrito is the flavor base for any preparation in Puerto Rico like chicken, meat, fish and, of course, these delicious rice and beans. So you can give Boricua flair to your home cooking including sofrito in your classic everyday recipes.
Ingredients for the rice and beans
- 2 cups of rice
- 1 16 oz can of beans (you can use your favorite kind of beans)
- ½ cup of Puerto Rican sofrito (I used Jeannette Quiñones’ recipe)
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or “achiote” oil
- 1 l. chicken stock (or 1 bouillon cube and 4 cups of water)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation of the rice and beans
- Heat a medium-big pot. Pour the vegetable oil in.
- Add the sofrito and cook for about 3 minutes until the smell changes from fresh vegetables to cooked.
- Add the can of beans and the rice.
- Add the water and cover with the lid.
- Cook until the water evaporates almost completely, and that’s it!
You can enjoy this meal with any kind of protein like grilled chicken or meat, with a fried egg, or for a Meatless Monday dinner or lunch with some fresh pico de gallo salad and corn tortillas.