How many times, after opening a can of tomato paste and removing the one tablespoon you need for a recipe, have you scratched your head wondering what to do with the rest of it? Here’s a new rule to live by: when you buy tomato paste, buy rice as well so you can make this red rice.
This simple, satisfying side dish takes only a few minutes to prep and tastes just like what you’d eat in a Mexican restaurant. Serve it on the side of refried beans or not-too-spicy black beans, tuck it inside a burrito or eat it on its own.
The fresh ingredients I put in this red rice dish prove Julia Child’s maxim for eating well:
You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces, just good food from fresh ingredients.
Whole garlic cloves
My daughter MK first cooked rice for us with whole garlic cloves buried inside the pot like little treasures. The garlic infuses the rice while the whole, cooked, pillow-soft cloves melt inside the lucky garlic hunter’s mouth in a burst of flavor.
In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain revealed several secrets for cooking food at home that tastes as good as restaurant food. One of them: cook with shallots.
You almost never see this item in a home kitchen, but out in the world they’re an essential ingredient. Shallots are one of the things—a basic prep item in every mise-en-place—which make restaurant food taste different from your food.Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
Shallots cost more than onions but the next ingredient on this list will more than compensate for that cost. And if you don’t have shallots on hand, use the onions that you do. Your rice will still taste fabulous.
Homemade vegetable broth
Any vegetable broth will suffice but homemade really elevates this red rice—or and any dish that calls for broth.
For the first batch of red rice that I cooked, photographed and ate for this post, I chose homemade corn cob broth. Sweet, tomato-complementing corn cob broth is my favorite type of vegetable broth.
For a second batch, I used a combination of 2 parts corn cob broth and 1 part tomato juice strained from fermented tomatoes. That juice contains no tomato pulp but simply clear liquid and tomato essence. It added even more flavor to this dish. I could have used all parts strained tomato juice but I love drinking it by the glass. I didn’t want to part with nearly two cups all at once.
Homemade tomato paste
Relax, you don’t have to make your own. Any tomato paste will work in this recipe. But homemade will add more flavor, as homemade anything tends to do. If you’d like to make your own tomato paste now while tomatoes overrun markets and gardens, go here for the fermented tomato paste recipe and go here for the slow-cooked tomato paste recipe. I used fermented tomato paste for this post.
Mexican Red Rice (Arroz Rojo)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium shallot, finely chopped or 1 small white onion
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ teaspoon salt or to taste
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 2 cups unsalted vegetable broth or water
- 3 to 4 whole garlic cloves
- cilantro, minced, optional for garnish
- In a small pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the minced shallot or onion and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and combine well.
- Add the salt, rice and broth or water and stir to combine. Drop in the garlic cloves.
- Bring the rice to a boil, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover and cook until the rice has absorbed the liquid, approximately 18 to 20 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and allow the rice to sit for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork before serving and, if desired, sprinkle with minced cilantro.