My husband Paul and I were empty nesters for about a year and a half before we started taking on foster children. In that time we prepared a lot of rice for meals, most often basmati, because we loved the aromatic, nutty flavor and made a lot of Thai-inspired concoctions. In the past I had infused rice with herbs while cooking or flavored it after cooking, but typically I did not stray far from basic white rice as a bed for a dish or mixed into a casserole. This pattern served me well until a group of foster kids joined us, arriving in pairs at our home over the course of a few months. And this is where Mexican Rice comes in.
For a few weeks, the first two politely ate a little white rice with a meal. Then the oldest asked if I could make rice the right way. “Hmmm,” I thought. I knew I was cooking the rice properly. So I asked for and received an explanation: “…orange rice. Like (my parent) makes.” Now it was making sense: Mexican rice.Jump to Recipe
If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that food is an important way to make anyone—especially foster kids—feel more at home and attached to their culture and family traditions. Our eldest expanded her request: “Rice and beans. Please?” And of course, I agreed. And while I’d eaten my share of Mexican rice and beans at restaurants, I’d never made Mexican rice.
About Mexican Rice
As I researched the subject, the most interesting thing I discovered is that the rice grains are sautéed —toasted, really—prior to being boiled. Call me ignorant, but I had never heard of this, even though it’s a fairly common method across cultures.
The process requires good time management to cook the rice mixture while bringing the water for the rice to a boil. When you have four kids clamoring for attention while you are making dinner, that can be tough. There were several times I took a pan of rice or a pot of water off the heat to catch up the other one. The good news is, you can sauté the rice mix ahead of time and boil it later. You can also cook it in a rice steamer—just don’t leave it in for long after it’s done or the bottom might brown a little.
I am a proponent of adding veggies and fiber to meals whenever possible. With this rice, I add in diced orange peppers. Did you know that orange peppers have more vitamin C than oranges? For the kids I very finely diced them so they would not notice it—the key was getting them into the pan without them seeing them being cooked. All but one holdout loved the rice.
Do you fry dry rice for any dishes you make? If so, when and where did you learn about dry frying rice?
Great with Beans
For the beans, I kept it simple. I took a can of refried beans, often the low-fat variety, added about a teaspoon of garlic powder and heated it on the stovetop as the rice was cooking. Done.
Both the rice and beans were kid-approved. In fact, I made rice and beans for them like I make green sauce for my husband.
A bonus? Mexican rice and refried beans make a quick potluck casserole. One day dear, sweet husband forgot to tell me about one such event for his office, and what I had on hand—of course—were fixings for rice and beans. So I layered rice over beans and sprinkled some Mexican cheese on top and had a nice, warm dish ready for a midday holiday party. I came home with an empty dish—I’ll claim that a resounding success.
A Foster Family Success Story
Our foster kids have returned to a parent, which in case you were wondering is the goal of fostering—to help families resolve the immediate and underlying crises that separated them so that the family can reunite. This happens most of the time, but not always. Successes like this are celebrated. By the way, if you know someone who works in the foster system, high five, hug or thank them: they have a tough job that can make a huge difference in our communities.
We are lucky because we are still in touch with the kids—and this does not happen so often. It’s truly a blessing to stay in their lives. They are the only people in the world ever to call me “Mommy”—two of them, anyway—and that’s a bond that will never break, even if being their mom only lasted about a year.
I sometimes bring them rice when we visit. I continue to make it on occasion because it works so well with a variety of dishes we like to eat. This dish is still making the office party rounds, too … by request.
“I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2000 of something. ”― Mich Ehrenborg
- 1 ½ C long grain rice
- 3 C water
- 2 packets Sazon Goya Con Culantro Y Achiote Coriander and Annatto*
- ½ yellow onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- ½ orange bell pepper finely chopped
- 1-2 TBSP vegetable or olive oil
- 1 tsp chicken boullion OR salt to taste in lieu to make a vegetarian version
- Chop onion, garlic, and pepper. Rinse rice in strainer.**
- Place oil in large frying pan (enough to fully cover the bottom) and heat to medium. Place water in a medium pot and set to high to bring to boil.
- Add seasoning, garlic, onion and pepper to pan, stir together, and sauté until onion starts to become translucent.
- Add rice to mixture and stir until all rice is orange. Continue to cook (about 5 minutes), stirring often. Do not let the rice burn—the goal is to lightly toast the grains.
- Add the toasted mixture to boiling water, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Because you are steaming the rice, you do not remove the lid until the 20 minutes is up.
- Remove from heat. Fluff before serving if desired.
- You can dry fry the ingredients ahead of time and store in the refrigerator within the next couple of days before cooking the rice if desired.
- Rinsing removes some of the starches but also any enrichment added to rice. If you prefer rice with more starch or would like to avoid removing additives of enriched rice, it can be cooked without rinsing.
- This rice also cooks up fine following white rice directions in a rice steamer. Serve or store in an airtight container. Refrigerate.