Fiesta Rice

This recipe is like being reunited with an old friend.

When I was first learning to cook on my own, I purchased the cookbook 100% Vegetarian: Eating Naturally from Your Grocery Store by Julianne Pickle. It is a small cookbook and extremely simple. Just what I needed at the time. All ingredients from the book can be found at a typical large grocery store. No tempeh. No nutritional yeast. No exotic spices or herbs. Mostly it consists of carrots, celery and onions. Consequently, many of the recipes are quite bland. They are good; they just lack pizzazz.

Nevertheless, when I was first learning how to cook, I needed simple and bland. I needed to start with the basic and begin experimenting after that. Fiesta Rice was one of my staple recipes while in college. It was super cheap and versatile.

A little known secret about me is that I'm horrible at cooking rice. Or at least I was horrible at cooking rice. I tried the rice cooker, cooking rice like pasta, cooking different kinds of rice. I tried everything. I ruined many pots. I ate a lot of undercooked rice. Finally, I discovered one very specific method that works for me for cooking rice. It's not earth-shattering, but it works for me. I used it every time I cook rice (except for maybe risottos...). And I describe it in the recipe below.

It was while I was struggling to cook rice that I discovered Fiesta Rice. For some reason, adding some tomatoes always made my rice taste fantastic - even if it was a little underdone. This version of Fiesta Rice is a little different than the version from 100% Vegetarian. I use fresh tomatoes and peppers instead of canned. Most importantly though, I add cheese. All the recipes in 100% Vegetarian are vegan, but for those of you who do eat cheese, add it to this rice! It transforms this dish from being good to being great.

You can add quite a lot of variety with Fiesta Rice. It can be a base for bean burritos. Or you could add just a can of beans directly to the rice for a complete protein. You can eat it like a dip with tortilla chips. Or just with a fork. Because of its versatility, I make a lot of this. Leftovers are really easy to use up and make for quick weekday lunches.

Fiesta Rice
Serves 5, inspired by 100% Vegetarian: Eating Naturally from Your Grocery Store by Julianne Pickle

1 cup basmati rice
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cups fresh tomatoes, chopped (this is an estimate; a little less or a little more won't make much of a difference)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
2 bell peppers (I used orange Ukranian)
4 mini-sweet peppers (or if you want something more spicy, use a jalapeno)
1/2 cup shredded colby cheese (or pepper jack, cheddar, or other nice melting cheese)
tomatillo salsa (optional)
sour cream (optional)

  1.  Rinse the rice well, until the water runs clear. Place rice in a medium saucepan with 1 3/4 cups water and some salt. Bring to a boil. Stir to make sure all the grains of rice are floating freely in the water. Turn down to a low simmer and let cook for about 20 minutes. When rice is done, it will not have a bite to it and most (if not all) of the water will be absorbed. Leave the cover off the pan to let any extra water evaporate until ready to use.
  2. Heat a little bit of oil in a large skillet and when hot, saute the onions over medium-high heat until translucent. Stir in the tomatoes and cumin. Cook for about 10-15 minutes or until the tomatoes are fully cooked and have become mostly a liquid mass. Crush any remaining pieces of tomatoes with a spoon. 
  3. Stir the tomato mixture into the cooked rice along with the salt and pepper. 
  4. Chop the peppers and saute just until al dente in the same large skillet. The peppers should still be firm and juicy. Stir peppers into the rice.
  5. Serve the rice with cheese and salsa and/or sour cream.

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