Friday, October 14, 2011

The Best Vegan Arroz con Gandules!

Who doesn't love a Pot Luck Supper? At the church I used to attend, one Sunday a month we all brought our favorite foods and specialty dishes to share right after service.  Elsie, an elderly Latin woman, was always there. She kept busy behind the scenes; cooking, serving, and making sure everyone was well fed.

Pot Luck Sunday always meant slim pickin's for me. There really wasn't much I could eat, other than the meat-less dish I contributed and perhaps a couple of iceberg lettuce leaves.  I was surrounded by trays and trays of baked ziti and lasagna (all prepared with meat), BBQ chicken wings, Chicken Parmesan, and sausage and peppers all prepared by good Christian women. One Sunday, Elsie happened to notice I had very little food on my plate.

"Why are you not eating?" she asked.

I explained I was a vegetarian. She mumbled in Spanish how I was going to "waste away without meat". Then she lovingly took me by the hand and led me to a big tray of rice and pigeon peas.

"Eat this," she said, proudly. "I made it. No meat."

It was really good: perfectly cooked yellow rice, sliced olives, lots of onions, tomatoes- and NO meat!  From then on, Elsie's contribution on Pot Luck Sunday was a huge tray of her special rice and pigeon peas.  She would stand guard while everyone helped themselves to her rice, warning them to "only take a little, because Cynthia needs to eat!"  She would then pack up the left-overs for me to take home.

One day, Elsie gave me her prized recipe. She had written it out on an index card and told me not to share it with another living soul.  I was honored and promised to guard it with my life. I took a quick peek at the recipe before safely tucking it away in my purse. First ingredient: a box of Goya Arroz con Gandules!

 I happened to know that particular brand of rice has chicken fat, chicken broth and other assorted chicken products. I also finally realized why I suffered with certain digestive disturbances the day after every Pot Luck Sunday. Of course, I didn't have the heart to tell Elsie I could no longer eat her famous dish, so I went right on eating it.  An upset stomach was a small price to pay. It brought Elsie such pleasure to watch me enjoying her arroz con gandules.

 The last time I saw Elsie before she died, she smiled weakly and whispered, "I can no longer make the rice for you, but you have my recipe. Make it, and remember me."

I've adapted Elsie's recipe slightly. Of course, I eliminated the Goya rice but for extra flavor, I use Soy Chorizo. It boosts the protein in the dish and adds a slightly spicy kick to the rice. You won't need to prepare meat with this dish. Serve it with sliced avocado on the side and big green tossed salad.  And don't forget the Sangria!

Elsie, this is for you!

Vegan Arroz con Gandules:

Spanish Saffron Rice : See Recipe
1 package Trader Joe's Soy Chorizo, casing removed.
2 Tablespoons Spanish olive oil
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 medium spanish onion, finely chopped
1-15 oz can pigeon peas, drained and rinsed
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup pitted green olives with pimentos (sliced into rounds)

Prepare rice according to recipe. It needs to cook about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat.

Add the garlic and the onion, saute until soft.

Add the soyrizo, crumbling it up with a spatula until it resembles ground beef. Cook and stir often for about 5-7 minutes. It won't brown like beef, but it will change color slightly.

Add the pigeon peas, the tomato sauce, and the olives. Allow to cook approximately 5 more minutes. Stir frequently. .

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add the soyrizo/pigeon pea mixture to the rice. Mix it gently but make sure it is well blended. Pour into a baking pan and place in the oven. Your rice shouldn't be too moist, it should be dry but not dried out! Check it after ten minutes. If it still looks too moist, return to oven for about five minutes more. I wouldn't leave it in any longer than 15 minutes total.


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