As a follow-up to my post about achiote (annatto seeds), this post shows a way to use them in your kitchen to make a spicy rice and vegetable dish that can be a centerpiece of a vegetarian meal. Achiote has an interesting flavor that’s hard to define — it’s a great change of pace from the typical Mexican flavors that we encounter.
The recipe, which is adapted from a non-vegetarian 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/annatto powder, and this can be a bit tricky to acquire. Achiote seeds are not 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. Ground seeds are much easier to use, and will be available in a Mexican grocery, on-line, or at your local specialty spice retailer (In the S.F. Bay Area, I have found ground annatto at the Oaktown Spice Shop in Albany and Oakland, and at the Whole Spice in Napa’s Oxbow Market).
The achiote paste at the foundation of the recipe is compatible with a variety of vegetables, so you can let the season be your guide or use vegetables lingering in your refrigerator or freezer. In the summer, try fresh corn, tomatoes and roasted chilies. In the winter, try winter squash and black beans. Peas and corn from the freezer are good year-round. However, sulfurous vegetables like turnips, broccoli, or cabbage are not good choices.
The recipe is also adaptable to many garnishes. I especially like toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), as they bring an earthy flavor and appealing crunch. Mexican cheeses like queso anejo or queso fresco are also good.
Rice and Vegetables in Achiote Broth
- 1 tbsp ground achiote (annatto powder)
- 1 tsp ground allspice preferably freshly ground
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper preferably freshly ground
- 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
- 1 1/2 tbsp cider vinegar
- 3 garlic cloves peeled
- Salt about 2 tsp
Mixed Vegetables (2 cups total)
- 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
For the Rice
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 small white onion diced
- 1 1/2 cups brown rice
- 3 cups water or vegetable stock
Garnishes (choose a few)
- Toasted pumpkin seeds pepitas
- Diced avocado
- Queso anejo a dry, aged cheese
- A melting cheese like Monterey Jack
- Chopped cilantro
Make the achiote paste
In a saucepan large enough to hold the 3 cups of water (or 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 in the saucepan.
Prep and cook the vegetables
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., cooked squash in one bowl, defrosted corn or peas in one bowl, fully cooked poblano chilies and raw tomatoes in another). Set aside.
Make the Dish
- 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 (2 quarts or larger), heat the 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, about 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- 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 optional garnishes: toasted pumpkin seeds, diced avocado, queso anejo (a dry, aged cheese), a melting cheese like Monterey Jack, chopped cilantro
Adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen
(Originally published November 23, 2012)