Spring time is probably the busiest time of year for our family, so one pot meals are the perfect solution for a no-fuss dinner. Chicken and rice is a classic one-pot combination in all different cultures (China, Japan, India, Spain, Portugal, West Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, Cajun) and I consider it pure comfort food. Today’s recipe for Peruvian Green Chicken with Rice and Quinoa (Arroz con Pollo Verde) is just one variation, spiced with lots of fresh cilantro and cumin, and made a bit healthier with the addition of quinoa and some extra vegetables.
Both chicken and rice absorb flavors well, which makes them the perfect canvas for different herbs and spices. I chose boneless skinless chicken thighs because they don’t dry out as easily as chicken breast, and a combination of white quinoa and RiceSelect™ Jasmati® Rice, a long grain American grown jasmine rice, similar to aromatic Thai jasmine rice. Although I like the chewy texture of brown rice, my kids like white rice, so we compromised, combining fragrant Jasmati rice and white quinoa (high in fiber and protein).
I’ve been intrigued by Peruvian food following a meal at a local Peruvian restaurant. The restaurant is located in a little strip mall across the parking lot from a large electronics store, and next to an Indian grocery store, not in a very central location, and easily missed by the ordinary person. As a foodie, I’m always on the lookout for interesting cuisines, especially inexpensive good eats. This restaurant won’t win any awards for decor, but the prices were very affordable and the menu had lots to choose from, including ceviches, fresh snapper (my friend ordered this and it came with head and tail), and Saltado de Mariscos (Sauteed shrimp, squid, scungilli, mussels, octopus, crab, onions and tomatoes).
As soon as we were seated, a bowl of Peruvian green chili sauce and a basket of bread were placed on our table – the sauce is a “secret recipe.” Of course when anyone tells me it’s a “secret recipe,” I need to find out what that is. I’ve been looking for this “secret” green sauce recipe for weeks and have come across a few variations. It’s basically a cilantro sauce spiced with fresh jalapeno peppers, made creamy with a bit of mayonnaise. Some recipes I came across for this green chili sauce added lettuce leaves to it. The waitress at the restaurant would only tell us that it was actually quite healthy. Hmm…perhaps because it’s made with vegetables?
I came across today’s recipe for Peruvian Green Chicken with Rice (Arroz con Pollo Verde) and the elusive Green Chili Sauce (Aji Verde) in a cookbook at our local library, Peruvian Cookbook A Beginner’s Guide. Although this dish is traditionally made with white rice, I decided to bump up the nutrition in this dish by using half white quinoa (quinoa actually originated in the Andean region of Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia 3000 to 4000 years ago), and half Jasmati rice (my kids are not huge fans of quinoa, so I “hid” the quinoa in this dish). I also added some chopped cabbage and increased the amount of vegetables in the recipe. The original recipe said to add beer after the dish is cooked, which seemed odd to me, so I used some beer as cooking liquid for the rice and quinoa.
As I was in a rush for dinner the night I made this, I cooked the vegetables and chicken briefly on the stove top before throwing everything into my rice cooker…I had to run to the train station to pick up one of the boys who had just returned from a college trip. The rice cooker is a great appliance to have if you want a meal that can cook without any watching over. We walked in the door and I whizzed up the Green Chili Sauce – dinner was ready in just a few minutes.
The Green Chili Sauce (Aji Verde) is well worth making – in my view, it makes this dish – the bright flavors and spice bring this simple chicken and rice dish to a different level. I’ll be ordering my own copy of this beginner’s Peruvian cookbook – it’s for a good cause (in support of eradicating poverty in Peru) and a great introduction to Peruvian cuisine.
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