I mentioned making green rice recently and I was asked what that meant. I think red rice or “Spanish” rice is probably more common. But green rice is just a quick switch-up of a few key ingredients, important enough to change the color of the end result, I suppose.
Chicken enchiladas are typically served in a green or “verde” salsa. Generally, this means tomatillos are used instead of tomatoes. The green is accented with a healthy dose of cilantro, a bit of jalapeño, and a lighter stock.
Unfortunately, in the case of many restaurants this would be chicken stock, but since we have complete control of the kitchen tonight we will use low-sodium vegetable stock instead! With no compromise in flavors, I promise. In fact, I think it ends up with a richer taste that has more depth.
Tomatillos are sort of like baby green tomatoes. But way different. When you find them fresh it’s best. And usually that’s not too hard to do. But in a pinch you can use canned ones. The thing about tomatillos is that they are covered in their husks, which need to be removed. Then they leave behind a sticky residue that has to be rinsed off. They really are special little creatures.
Oh, but they’re worth it. They aren’t bitter or raw. They have their own complex and fully-developed flavor. Which just happens to be complimented very nicely with lime (or cilantro—did you ever notice how lime-like that was?) and a light green salsa. This isn’t particularly spicy. If you want that, just don’t scrape the seeds from the jalapeño.
So this green salsa is the base for rice, but it’s baked. This makes it easier to prepare in advance, but does tend to leave some crunchy rice grains behind. A simple stir takes care of most of that, but baked rice is truly special and it’s the closest you’ll get to the rice you’re served at Mexican restaurants. I still haven’t fully cracked that code, but I work hard at it.
One key is to rinse the rice before starting. This does remove all of the “enriched” vitamins added back to the white rice, but that seems to be the price to pay for the texture you want. Browning the dried rice in a bit of oil is the next step. You want it dry here because wet rice will spatter and pop! And you think it will never brown, but suddenly it does and you need to act quickly.
Finally, stir of the prepared roasted salsa back in for moisture while baking, cover tightly to keep the steam in, and wait—for a final stir, to fluff and smile, somewhere back from the rice paddies where they grew up.
Oh, I nearly forgot. You could make this with brown rice. The rinsing won’t be quite so dramatic, but the end results will be nearly the same. However, you will need to cook it longer. Don’t buy into that old sad song that you can’t check on rice after it’s started cooking. To start, I suggest 50 minutes, take a peek, dip deep inside and get the tiniest spoonful—too firm? Cook another 10 minutes. Enjoy.
Baked Green Rice
6 to 8 generous servings
1 lb tomatillos
1/2 white onion, sliced in large chunks
1 jalapeño, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups long-grain rice
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp oregano, preferably Mexican
1/4 tsp cumin
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup vegetable stock, preferably low-sodium
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel and rinse the tomatillos. Place on a large baking sheet with the onion, jalapeño, and garlic. Roast 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally. When slightly browned, remove from the oven.
Rinse the rice until the water runs fairly clear. Spread out on a paper towel-lined plate and let air dry, stirring around a couple of times to dry.
Place the roasted vegetables in the bowl of a food processor. Add the cilantro, sea salt, oregano, and cumin. Process until combined. This should make about 2 cups. If not, add enough water to make that amount.
Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Add the rice and cook until lightly golden, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in the onion and cook another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Stir in the vegetable stock and salsa from the food processor and remove from heat.
Add the green rice mixture to a 3 to 4 quart dish. Cover with foil and bake until the rice is tender, 30 to 40 minutes.
Set aside for a few minutes, fluff with a large spoon, and serve. Maybe alongside Vegetarian Chicken Fajitas!