Arroz con Quimbombó
I missed my kitchen. While there’s been plenty to post, it’s mostly been food that was blended or frozen, steamed or fried, quickly. In and out, I’ve avoided recipes that would force me to spend too much time in the warmest part of my hot apartment in my sweltering city. Though I couldn’t stand the heat, I wasn’t staying out of the kitchen much longer.
Taking the long way home through the farmer’s market at Grand Army Plaza after my morning run, I saw an enormous pile of fresh okra. Bright green, firm and unblemished, it had little to do with the frightened batch I’d scared up last winter when I wanted stew. It had been awhile since I’d gone to the market list-less, looking for nothing in particular and everything at once. Eating seasonally has become such an imperative (just the name locavore is intimidating) that it’s easy forget the immediate benefit of letting the greenmarket decide for you.
Needing a break from frying, I decided to try something new and make arroz con quimbombó. Brought to Cuba in the seventeenth century by African slaves, okra is a staple of Creole cuisine that I’d largely taken for granted as a thickener for soups and stews. Somewhere between an arroz con pollo and creamy risotto, the meat or pork added – fried chunks, bacon, prosciutto, chorizo – is incidental. If I wasn’t go to have it on it’s own, I at least wanted to make it about the okra.
While the okra soaked in cold water, I prepped the onions, peppers and garlic for the sofrito, surprised at how much I missed the chopping and dicing. Trying to do as much as possible beforehand so that the timing would be right when I added the rice. Once it was all simmering, I stepped away for a few minutes while the ingredients sorted themselves out. In a half hour, I had a bowl of bright gold rice, star shaped okra, and red rounds of chorizo that were well worth the heat. Even after a needed vacation, it’s good to be home.
Arroz con Quimbombó/Rice with Okra
Barely adapted from A Taste of Old Cuba by Maria Josefa Lluria de O’Higgins. Okra can get sticky, very quickly when cut. Soaking the pods whole in cold water and drying them well before chopping cuts down on the gumminess. The cut pods can also be soaked in cold water and lime or lemon juice then drained before using.
1/2 pound fresh okra
1/4 cup canola oil
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
1 large green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/4 pound jamón de cocinar (raw ham)
1 small chorizo, skinned and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon saffron
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups Valencia or short grain rice
Soak okra pods in a large bowl cold water to cover for 30 minutes. Blot the pods with paper towels and dry over rack lined with more paper towels.
Heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Sauté the onion and peppers until soft, about 3 minutes. Add minced garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes. Add the chorizo and ham and continue to cook until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes more. Add the tomato sauce and vinegar and bring to a simmer. Slice the okra into 1/2-inch rounds, dropping them into the sofrito as you go, cook an additional 5 minutes.
In the meantime, heat the saffron in a seperate dry skillet for about 30 seconds. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat. Add the chicken broth, wine with saffron, salt, pepper and rice to the sofrito, stirring lightly. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and continue to cook covered over low heat until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.