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Rice or potatoes? Potatoes or rice? They both are main course fillers for us in northern Europe. You have your portion of meat/fish/beans/tofu/tempeh/protein plus a mound or two of veg or salad, and you look for something to have ‘with that’. Filler, no more, when you look at them like this.
But both rice and potatoes can come into their own as a standalone dish, and what dishes they are able to make! Paella, risotto, tahdig, arancini, onigiri – only the tip of the rice-berg. Tartiflette, latkes, gnocchi, bubble and squeak, and a bushel more.
But if we pile them on the side, are potatoes a more flexible produce than rice? Boiled and mashed; roasted and chipped; crisps, croquettes, hasselbacks, dauphinoise and boulangeres – and that’s before I googled. Rice on the other hand can be boiled, boiled or boiled, be it fluffy, glutinous or fried. Steaming is pretty much like boiling and even if you’re Persian and stick it in the oven, the boiling must have happened at some point along its way.
On the other hand there are scores of ricey desserts and not only Eastern, while potato will resist sugar – and I’m ignoring those weird people who put sugar on latkes. Plus you can certainly fashion some sort of a bake out of rice flour (what?!), while potato flour only thickens your sauce.
Pilaf is a cooking method and Mexican rice is cooked that way. It’s basically giving the rice a head start in hot oil with aromatics of choice, before you deluge it with water, stock or milk and leave to its own devices for half an hour or so. Being Mexican, it has tomatoes, chillies and coriander in it but I hear Mexicans are not as steadfast as, say, Italians about ‘the only way to cook’ their dishes (just an example, all right?!) so you can add peas, carrots and other little animals if you like; or even change its colour from rojo to verde.
I like the pilaf way – it has action from the start but doesn’t turn into devastatingly boring stirring and stirring and ladling and stirring (risotto – I’m talking to you).
Anyway – to cap it all, we feature rice here with a little addition of diced potatoes, which is an authentically Mexican option I understand. And who says you can’t have everything?
mexican riceServings: 4Time: about 45 minutes
- 200g (1 cup) long grain rice
- 100g (4-5 medium sized) fresh ripe tomatoes
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. groundnut oil
- 160ml (2/3 cup) water
- 1 jalapeno chili, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 small carrot
- 2 tbsp. frozen peas
- 1 small potato
- 3-4 sprigs of coriander
Cover rice with cold water, drain and rinse with fresh water until it runs clear. Shake the moisture off the rice on a sieve.
Roughly chop the tomatoes, onion and garlic. Blitz them with the salt and tomato paste in a blender or food processor.
Peel the carrot and potato and dice them into pea-sized pieces.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or sauté pan over medium heat. Add the rice and cook for about 3 minutes until it crackles when stirred.
Add the tomato and onion puree and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes until it changes colour and absorbs the liquid. Add the water and bring the rice to boil.
Add the chili, carrots, peas, potatoes and the coriander sprigs. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with a lid and cook for 20 minutes - until little holes appear in the rice.
Take the pan off the heat; place it on a damp tea towel and rest covered for 10 minutes before serving.
The bottom might have crisped up to form a crunchy layer, like the socarrat in paella or tahdig in Persian rice – that will be the best bit.