Friday, May 18, 2018

Touching Up My Roots: Spanish Rice

It was appropriate that, when going through my recipe box the other day, I ran across my mom's recipe for Spanish rice. Appropriate because it's been almost exactly ten years since she passed away suddenly, ten years during which I think of her almost every day, sometimes fleetingly, sometimes with a pang when I run across a spectacular rose on my walk through the neighborhood and think, "Oh, she'd love the blush on this one!" (She had a particular thing for roses, which she grew in abundance at my parents' home in The Dalles.)

My mother (r), me as a teenager (l).

For me, food has always been a connection to her, though not in the way that most food writers speak about their Jewish or Greek or African American grandmothers passing on generations of food culture to their offspring. My mother was a practical cook who came of age in the post-World War II switch to convenience food, when if you had a family of five to feed you bought ground hamburger, cans of vegetables, boxes of cake mix and Bisquick. Not that she couldn't "put up" multitudes of jars of fruit with her dark blue graniteware canner or use two dinner knives to cut up butter and Crisco, producing what I still remember as pie crusts that any pastry chef would envy.

But her milieu was the middle American cooking of Betty Crocker and Ladies Home Journal, the advice of practical how-to guides of the time like Joy of Cooking. So we grew up on dinners like tuna casserole and Swiss steak, with the occasional exotic soupçon of tacos made with hamburger browned in packaged taco seasoning or a "goulash"—more hamburger spiced with chili powder and tossed with frozen corn and noodles.

My recipe box, broken lid and all.

I still have—and make—my mom's recipes for pineapple carrot cake and potato salad. Though I've switched to James Beard as inspiration for my macaroni and cheese, and I've updated her tuna casserole with Oregon albacore and chanterelles rather than Campbell's cream of mushroom soup. So when I found that recipe card for her Spanish rice, it begged for some zhuzhing, too. It occurred to me, when browning the hamburger and pondering the origin of the name, that it bears a certain distant, Americanized resemblance to paella. Adding a handful of chopped Spanish olives (we keep them around for martinis on Friday evenings), switching the green bell pepper for a poblano pepper and adding a good dose of smoked paprika made a passable, and quick, version I think she'd approve of.

Spanish Rice

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. hamburger
1 yellow onion, cut in 1/4" dice
1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped in 1/4" dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. smoked paprika (Spanish pimenton)
1 c. rice
1/2 c. Spanish green olives, chopped (optional)
2 c. roasted tomatoes, puréed (or tomato sauce)
1 3/4 c. water
2 tsp. salt (or to taste)

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the hamburger, breaking it up into a fine crumble as it browns. Add the onion and sauté until tender, then add the poblano pepper and garlic and sauté until tender. Add the paprika, rice and olives and stir to combine, then add the puréed tomatoes, water and salt. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover tightly and cook until rice is done, 20 to 30 minutes.


Anonymous said...

Dear Kathleen: Beautiful Janet Bauer, with the indelible smile lines ever present, had a laugh a lot like a rich syrup. I was such a fan, and appreciated her strength, courage and sass.
She would be happy you and Bruce enjoy full lives that overflow to your communities, the same way she lit up everywhere she went.((��))
Kathy Cogswell

Kathleen Bauer said...

Oh, Kathy, you're making me cry. Thanks so much for sharing your memory of my mom. Best to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

She was singular and stunning.🌾kci

Kathleen Bauer said...

So true. Thx again, Kathy.