They would often have large numbers of family over to visit and each time there was a huge undertaking in the small kitchen they had. Women would converge there - aunts, mothers, cousins, daughters, grandmothers - and they would each take up something that contributed to the large meal they would all share.
The men would head outdoors to play horseshoes or stay in to watch sports on TV; no cultural divide there!
On one of these occasions, Brauli invited me over so I could watch her make rice and beans. There were many questions from me, which she and the other women would try to answer (in between trying to over stuff me on various dishes) as she went along.
The ingredients were not ones I had heard of before and they tried to explain as best they could. My laments of "Shouldn't you stir that?" were met with giggles and choruses of, "No! No! Just put the lid on. Don't touch." Once it was finished, Brauli promised to come to my own kitchen and help me make it there.
I gathered the ingredients as best I could and Brauli came by to show me how to make it for myself. I still had a hard time not stirring, but I got over it quickly.
Other friends of ours, Jose and Henriquetta, made beans and rice with the same method, but different ingredients. Jose always preferred green olives and never used pigeon peas (which were the only beans Brauli used). My daughter Megan's best friend's mom always uses kidney beans. I had a conversation in the ethnic aisle recently with a very sweet Puerto Rican woman who told me she's as shocked as I that certain ingredients are just not available here unless you seek out a small grocer tucked in a side street nearby. We also agreed that the sofrito being sold on the supermarket shelf is not the "real deal".
The one thing that cannot be left out of this dish is sofrito. Sofrito is a sauce used heavily in Hispanic cooking, although it varies from cuisine to cuisine and is used in the Mediterranean, as well. The Mexican version is not the same as the Puerto Rican version, etc. It's also one of those things that everyone has their own recipe for. I can tell you that the Sofrito sold in jars by Goya is not the one you need for this. The sofrito sold in plastic containers in the freezer section is far closer to what is most commonly used - at least here in Pa where we have a very large Hispanic population.
This is the recipe as taught to be by Brauli. It's the one I use time and again, adding ham or shrimp sometimes or tossing in green peppers. I haven't made it with olives myself, but Jose's version was really delicious with them added.
You need a good heavy pot for this. My friends all had calderos (literal meaning is cauldron) for theirs - the aluminum type - but I have a heavy Calphalon aluminum pot I love that works just fine. Make sure you have a tight-fitting lid, as well.
Puerto Rican Rice and Beans
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons sofrito
4 oz tomato sauce
1 packet Sazon (the orange Goya packet - con culantro y achiote)
1 can green pigeon peas - gandules verdes
1 small green pepper - chopped (optional)
1 cup rice - rinsed
1 cup water
Heat the pan over high and add oil. Add sofrito and stir for a minute. Add tomato sauce and stir again. Toss in Sazon, beans and pepper, if using. Now is the time to add other things like olives or ham. Stir in rice and water and cook, stirring often, until the water has almost evaporated completely. Once the rice is dry enough, mound it all in the center of the pot. Turn the heat down as low as possible and put the lid on firmly.
Leave the rice this way until done, about 20 minutes. Do NOT remove the lid to check every 5 minutes or the heat will escape and it will take forever. When the rice is done it's not fluffy like whit rice, it's very al dente and oftentimes a lot of it will stick to the bottom of the pot. This is totally normal! Scrape it up, if you like and serve it. It definitely shouldn't be burned at all, though, so make sure your flame is turned as low as you can get it.
Added water and green pepper.
Cooked dry and mounded in the center of the pot.
The best part; Ready to eat!