|Photo from glooarte’s flickr collection, subject to a CC License|
As a follow-up to my post about achiote (annatto seeds), this post offers a recipe that uses the seeds as a flavoring in a spicy rice dish. The recipe, which is adapted from one in Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, has four basic steps: making an achiote paste, preparing vegetables, cooking the rice, and adding the vegetables at the end.
The paste in this recipe is similar to the small blocks of “Achiote Paste” sold in Mexican grocery stores, blocks of spice that could be loaded with artificial colors, preservatives and who knows what. If you’re OK with the additional ingredients or have found a brand that is all natural, you could use part of that spice block to replace the homemade paste in this recipe, but that would reduce the brightness of the flavors.
The key ingredient in the paste, of course, is achiote powder, and this can be a bit tricky to acquire. Achiote seeds are not too hard to find (often labeled annatto), but they are notoriously hard to grind. If you try to grind your own, I’d suggest using a mesh strainer to separate the fine powder from the unground seeds, and then regrinding the large pieces until you’re satisfied with the texture. Already ground seeds might be available in a Mexican grocery, from an on-line source or your local specialty spice retailer (the spice shop in Napa’s Oxbow Market has it in their normal inventory).
The flavor of the achiote paste is compatible with a variety of vegetables, so you can let the season be your guide or use this recipe to deal with vegetables lingering in your refrigerator or freezer (vegetables the have the right flavor, of course – I wouldn’t use turnips, beets or cabbage, for example). In the summer, use corn, tomatoes and roasted chilies. In the winter, use winter squash and black beans. Note that each vegetable should be prepared separately or added to the cooking rice at the appropriate time to avoid over- or undercooking.
Recipe: Rice and Vegetables in Achiote Broth
Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen
1 T. ground achiote (annatto) powder
1 t. ground allspice, preferably freshly ground
1/2 t. ground black pepper, preferably freshly ground
1 t. dried Mexican oregano
1 1/2 T. cider vinegar
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Salt, about 2 t.
In a saucepan (which will eventually hold the broth and achiote paste), mix the achiote powder with the allspice, pepper, oregano and vinegar. Finely chop the garlic and then sprinkle it with the salt. Using the back of a spoon or the edge of your knife, grind the garlic and salt into a paste on your cutting board. Add to the spice and vinegar mixture. Set aside.
Select 2 cups of the following vegetables (or any others that you think will work with the achiote paste):
- Fresh or frozen corn (defrosted if frozen)
- Winter squash, diced in 1/4″-1/2” pieces and cooked (roasted, steamed, sautéed)
- Cactus paddles (nopales), cut in 1/2″ squares and cooked (roasted or steamed)
- Roasted poblano or other chilies, cut into 1/4” pieces
- Cooked black beans
- Roasted red sweet pepper
- Green peas (defrosted if frozen)
- Fresh tomatoes, diced
Combine your chosen vegetables in one or more bowls, with the vegetables divided up by the amount of time they will need to reheat in the finished dish (e.g., defrosted corn or peas in one bowl, fully cooked poblano chilies and raw tomatoes in another). Set aside.
Vegetables and Rice
Cooking oil, 1-2 T.
2 carrots, diced
1 small white onion, diced
1 1/2 cups brown rice
2 cups mixed vegetables (selected from the Mixed Vegetables heading above)
3 cups water, stock or broth
Add the water, stock or broth to the saucepan containing the previously made achiote paste, and whisk well to combine. Place over medium heat.
In a medium saucepan, heat some cooking oil. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the rice is coated with oil and has a chalky look in places. Add the achiote paste liquid and the carrots to the rice, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the rice is done to your liking (30-40 minutes, typically), then add the cooked vegetables in stages, stir to combine, and cover, giving them enough time in the hot rice to cook or heat through. When everything is heated through, serve with garnishes.
Sprinkle one or more of these garnishes on the rice after serving:
- Toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- Diced avocado
- Queso anejo (a dry, aged cheese)
- A melting cheese like Monterey Jack
- Chopped cilantro