Chicken Dinners: Spanish Rice with Chicken, Olives and Chickpea Tomato Sauce
This dish is one of the few Spanish influenced recipes that my mom learned to make from my South American-blooded dad's mom when they married. It's also the only dish that she continued to cook after they divorced. My mom (who grew up eating platefuls of roast pork and plain boiled cabbage) would tell me stories of how she'd make the trip to these special ethnic grocery stores tucked under the subway tracks to stock up on all the exotic essentials: cilantro, garbanzo beans, peppers, plantains. Apparently cilantro was exotic in the 1970s.
I've never really paid attention to the origins of this recipe, and I've always considered it authentic Hispanic cuisine in my family. But after cooking professionally for some time, close inspection of the components brought up questions. Italian sausage? Canned tomato sauce with chickpeas and green olives? The best was when I Googled the recipe and the results included, "Puerto Rican brown rice with olives and chickpeas." (Dad, do we need to have a talk?) However it originated, I've come to the conclusion that my grandmother's recipe was slight hodgepodge of ethnicities from the melting pot that is New York City, and that easy to find ingredients (Italian sausage) were adapted.
To recreate this hearty rice dish, I stayed mostly true to what I remember. That meant cooking a sofrito of green peppers, olives, and garlic. Next, I added Italian sausage (it's delicious in this) and lots of cilantro. I then dumped the green olives into the rice, tucked in the pre-browned chicken, and let it all cook. For the extra family touch of flavoring, I sprinkled in a dash of adobo seasoning. We always served a tomato-chickpea gravy on the side. Though my family would literally heat the chickpeas in a pot with a can of tomato sauce and call it a day (if we were lucky, more olives would be tossed in), I tried to kick it up a notch by puréeing whole (canned) tomatoes and flavoring the sauce with cilantro. The final results? It was ridiculously delicious and my kitchen filled with all the Spanish aromas that I remembered as a child. My dad would be proud.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore working on her new baking cookbook, and as a recipe developer for HungryGoWhere Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.