Arroz Verde de Zihuatanejo (Green Rice from Zihuatanejo) is a traditional Mexican side dish that can be thrown together easily on a weeknight. The recipe comes to me by way of Buen Provecho: 500 Years of Hispanic Cuisine, a 1995 community cookbook compiled by a Hispanic employee group at AT&T. Arroz Verde de Zihuatanejo is one of nearly a dozen different rice side dishes in Buen Provecho, among them the venerable Latino Yuppie Baked Green Rice and Spanish Chinese Rice. This recipe hews closer to a traditional “side of rice” and serves as a worthy all-purpose accompaniment for a Latin American themed meal.
Zihuatanejo is a tourist spot in in the south of Mexico right on the Pacific Coast. Like Cancún, it was a sleepy little fishing town until the mid-1970s when the Mexican government moved to make it a tourist destination. These days it’s one of the most popular spots in Mexico, home to an international airport and hosting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year. Zihuatanejo is well known for prime fishing, and – by extension – for its fresh seafood but does not seem to be especially well known for rice. Nor, to be honest, is Arroz Verde de Zihuatanejo particularly distinctive. It is a simple, traditional rice that is mixed with sofrito and then boiled/steamed on the stovetop. It is lovely and colorful but not the sort of dish that would stand out as a local specialty.
The recipe is unfussy and uncomplicated. A simple sofrito is prepared with green peppers and aromatics, along with a shock of parsley for color. The sofrito is mixed with long grain rice and broth, then cooked on the stovetop until the liquid is completely absorbed. Mechanically it is little different than the improvised “Mexican rice” that I’ve been making for years. There are no tomatoes or hot peppers for acid or heat. No herbs or spices to punch up the flavor. Just a mild, toasty rice side dish with a light tinge of green that plays a supporting role to whatever it’s served with.
I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe. The first will be unsurprising to regular readers: I’ve replaced the green bell pepper with a mild green Mexican pepper. My local grocer usually carries either Anaheim or Pasilla peppers, which have a better flavor and brighter color than the humble bell pepper and are not any more expensive. When they cook up they don’t turn to much nor do they have the weird waxy film that plagues green bell peppers. They are all around a better choice. The second adjustment I’ve made is unapologetically nontraditional: I’ve used basmati rice in place of standard long grain rice, as I do with all of my Mexican rice dishes. I realize that basmati originates literally on the other side of the world from Mexico, but its long slender grains and propensity for not sticking to itself make it perfect for Mexican rice.
The mild flavor makes this an extremely versatile side. I served it to my family with grilled hanger steak and a side of bright and salty Frijoles con Chorizo. It would also go well with lighter Mexican fare, like fish tacos or even as a simple pilaf alongside baked chicken and fresh broccoli. It is neither innovative nor lifechanging, but it is easy and inoffensive. Enjoy!
- Rinse and drain rice.
- Remove stem from peppers and coarsely chop. Add peppers, onion, garlic, and parsley to a blender or food processor and pulse until pulverized to form a simple sofrito.
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add sofrito. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice, until mixture is softened but not browned. (If the sofrito starts to brown reduce the heat). Remove from heat and set aside.
- Heat the remaining oil in a thick-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add rice and cook, stirring frequently, until rice is lightly browned and oil is absorbed.
- Add broth and sofrito and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer for 30-40 minutes until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Add salt to taste and serve.
Basmati rice is far from traditional, but it works brilliantly for Mexican and Spanish rice dishes.