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Vegetarian Arroz con Gandules: A Modern Take on Puerto Rican Rice and Beans

I love trying new recipes and sharing them with fellow food-lovers. Some of my favorite recipes are the ones with five or fewer ingredients!

Arroz con gandules, ready to eat!

Arroz con gandules, ready to eat!

Although more complicated than an ordinary white rice side dish, Puerto Rican arroz con gandules can be a meal in itself. It's an inexpensive, perfect mix of protein and carbohydrates with some veggies thrown in. Learning how to make this dish is rewarding because cooking rice and beans is a gentle art.

Once you've mastered this recipe, it will become a go-to, fast, and filling meal. One thing is for sure—your family and friends will be stuck on this recipe like white on rice!

If you are feeding a crowd, go ahead and double the recipe, but add about 1/4 cup extra rice. You want to be able to tell anyone who wants seconds (or thirds!), "Sure, there's more in the pot!" Be sure to make enough because everybody likes it!

In fact, my boyfriend used this recipe to win a company-wide cook-off during the summer of 2019, prevailing over dishes that included meat.

Cook Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

25 min

50 min

1 hour 15 min

3-4 hungry people as a main, 6 or more as a side

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped or diced
  • 1 medium green pepper, chopped or diced
  • 2 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 1 small (7.5-8 oz.) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (13.5 oz.) can gandules (pigeon peas)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup salad olives, or more if you prefer (sliced green olives, with pimientos), and one tablespoon of the brine
  • Spice mix (see below)
  • Optional: Imitation bacon bits, one capful or to taste

Spice Mix

A rice dish like arroz con gandules would be nothing special if it weren't for the spices that are used! Here's what you need:

  • 2 tbsp. granulated or three cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup dry achiote seeds (annatto) or one tablespoon of ground achiote
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp. adobo
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 packet Sazón Goya con Culantro y Achiote (probably located in the ethnic food aisle of your supermarket). No, this is not cheating; we are adding extra spices and this is simply a nice base. If you leave out the other spices your rice will be okay, but not nearly as good.
Add the achiote to oil in a large pot.

Add the achiote to oil in a large pot.

Instructions

1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy pot or caldera. Add the achiote seeds and heat for about three minutes over medium heat. The achiote will flavor and color the oil and this is what you will use to cook the sofrito (seasoned vegetable base).

Heat the achiote in oil.

Heat the achiote in oil.

2. As the oil warms the achiote seeds they will give off a slightly smoky smell and tiny bubbles will rise around them. Do not overheat as the seeds will turn black and the oil will taste bitter.

Alternately, you may use ground achiote instead of the seeds, leaving it in the dish as one does with ground spices. It will make cleanup easier since there is no straining involved.

The achiote should make the oil golden or reddish.

The achiote should make the oil golden or reddish.

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Saute the onion and pepper.

Saute the onion and pepper.

3. Heat the oil until it turns a warm orangey-red. Strain the oil with a tea strainer (dedicate for future achiote use only, or your future tea will taste like this dish) or scoop out the achiote seeds with a spoon and discard.

Rest the spoon on a glass plate; do not rest the spoon on the stove or counter as the achiote oil will stain.

4. Add the onion and green pepper. Sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Diced veggies will cook slightly faster and you will end up with fewer bits of vegetables showing in the final dish.

Add the seasonings.

Add the seasonings.

5. Add the adobo, black pepper, garlic, oregano, Sazón, and vegetarian bacon bits. Stir to coat with the oil, and cook over low to medium heat for another 3 or 4 minutes, stirring frequently. The veggies will turn a deeper orange and smell ever so slightly smoky.

Coat the rice with the oil.

Coat the rice with the oil.

6. Add the rice and fry, stirring occasionally, until the rice is slightly opaque. This will take about 4 minutes.

Add the liquid ingredients, gandules, and olives.

Add the liquid ingredients, gandules, and olives.

7. Add the water. It will sizzle! Add the canned goods: the tomato sauce, gandules, olives and pimientos, and brine. Stir several times, making sure nothing is stuck on the bottom, but also being careful not to press the ingredients into mush, either.

This is not hot enough.

This is not hot enough.

8. Let it come to a boil. This is a simmer.

This is hot enough!

This is hot enough!

This is the right type of boil. Not a rolling boil for cooking pasta, but not a simmer either. See the size of the bubbles? They are about 1/2-3/4 inch in diameter.

Stir once more, very gently so as not to disrupt the boil.

No peeking!

No peeking!

9. Put the lid on the pan and simmer for 25 to 50 minutes or until the rice is dry. Do not lift the lid, or your rice will turn out gummier than it should, and you will be disappointed.

This part really depends on the flame level, amount of rice you are cooking (is it a double or triple batch? If so, you're likely looking at the high range of time), and type and size of pot you are using, so use a glass lid if you are concerned.

Serving Arroz con Gandules

When ready, the rice will be fragrant and the bean and olives will have risen to the top. Serve with a green salad and sliced avocado.

Please note: this picture at the top is of another batch of rice made in a different pot, with different lighting, on a different stove. (My family ate the original batch before I had remembered to take a photo!)

The crispy, delicious pegado!

The crispy, delicious pegado!

A Word About Pegado

And that word is YUM!

Pegado (pronounced "pegao" or "pega'o") is the prized, crispy rice bits that stick to the pot, and it is fought over at the table. But making pegado takes practice, and is not scientific. After the first half hour or so, raise the heat ever so slightly and cook a little longer than necessary (try about 8 to 10 minutes). But keep your eye on it and don't walk away! You don't want the pegado to burn, because in addition to not tasting as good as it should, it will make cleanup really difficult.

Proper pegado requires scraping to get all those delicious bits. Don't use a fork (unless you want to scrape your pot); employ a plastic dough scraper instead.

The first time I managed to make pegado was a happy accident. I immediately took notes. (And I keep them in a safe place!) But if the charred bits of grilled foods and the end of the roast isn't really your thing, pegado probably isn't for you. So don't sweat it. The rice will be perfectly yummy without it.

© 2012 Rachel Vega

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