When I go out to eat with a girlfriend, most of the time the food is beside the point. Typically, we’re chatting away, sometimes so focused on conversation that the server has to gently remind us to order. Although we hope to enjoy our meal, it is often simply a way to sit down for a lovely, long talk.But every once in a while, that’s not the case. And so it was with this easy Mexican-style cilantro rice.
A couple of weeks ago, a girlfriend and I made dinner plans. We chose a convenient and nicely furnished Mexican restaurant. After making the reservation, I realized it was part of a chain. That fact alone automatically lowered my expectations. Still, my good friend Carole, who is of Mexican ancestry and who gave me my favorite guacamole recipe, had recommended it, so I figured it was worth a try.
Much to our delight, our main courses were delicious. Even more interesting though, was the cilantro rice, served on the side of a shrimp dish, was notable. In fact, the rice was so flavorful that I assumed that it must have had 1 or 2 “secret” ingredients. But when I asked the waiter for the recipe, he insisted that the dish had only 2 ingredients: rice and cilantro.
A few days later I searched for cilantro rice recipes in my cookbooks and online. I never found one that was simply rice and cilantro. I was tempted by the green rice recipe in Pati Jinich’s cookbook, Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking. But hers was more complicated than what I was imagining and so were many of the other cilantro-infused rice recipes I found.
After a bit of dabbling with cilantro (or “potshki-ing” in Yiddish American slang), I came up with my own 4-ingredient (not counting water, salt and pepper) version. I’ll probably continue to experiment, but flavor-wise, this does come close to the version I enjoyed. We’ll have it tonight along with Pati’s Simple Beans From the Pot, corn tortillas, guacamole and sautéed vegetables. And of course, one of my favorite condiments, hot sauce.
Cilantro is a leafy herb, sometimes called Chinese parsley. It’s quite popular in Asian, North African, Mexican, and Latin American cuisines. Some people do not enjoy cilantro and it turns out there is a scientific reason why their sense of smell finds it off-putting. Julia Child was one of those; apparently during one interview she said that cilantro and arugula were the 2 foods she could not abide and that if she were served cilantro, she would remove it and throw it on the floor. But for those who enjoy cilantro or who haven’t yet tried it yet, this recipe provides a tasty break from plain rice.
Mexican-Style Cilantro Rice
Servings – 2 large or 3 medium Cost – $2.50
- ⅔ cup long grained rice
- Water for cooking rice + 2-3 teaspoons extra
- ¼ – ⅓ cup cilantro leaves (less than 0.5 ounce)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Juice from 1 large slice of lime (about ½ teaspoon)
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Small pot with cover
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoons
- Large spoon
- Small blender or food processor
- Make the rice with water. I followed a method learned from Grace Young. She taught me to add cool water to the rice, swish it around and pour it out. Repeat this process a few times until the water runs clear. Then boil the rice with about 1 inch of water in the pot (uncovered) for approximately 12-15 minutes, until the water disappears, lower the light, cover the pot and cook the rice for 5 more minutes, after which you let it sit, covered for 5 additional minutes.
- While the rice cooks, rinse the cilantro, dry lightly with a paper towel, and pull off the leaves.
- Put them into the mini-food processor or blender. (Although you could finely chop and then mash the leaves with a knife and then a mortar and pestle, a food processor or blender works much better.) Add 1 tablespoon of oil and 2-3 teaspoons of water, then chop the cilantro as finely as possible, to a pesto-like consistency.
- When the rice is done, use the spoon to separate the grains, add the cilantro mixture, and mix until you have thoroughly incorporated it into the rice. Add the fresh lime juice, sprinkle on salt and pepper, and serve.