Rice Recipes


Rice may have been domesticated about 12,000 years ago in Africa or Asia. Cultivated rice has been around for at least 6000 years and is believed to have developed concurrently in India and Asia later spreading to the rest of the world. There are two major modern types;  the longer grain like Jasmine and Basmati and the shorter grain like Arborio.  Rice was first brought to Iberia by the conquering Moors in the eight century. The Portuguese collected it along with African slaves from Gambia in the fifteenth century and brought both to Vera Cruz, Brazil in the early sixteenth century and the Spanish introduced it to Central and South America about the same time. Rice is the primary staple for about 1/3 of the globe’s population who obtain 75% of their total calories from the grain.  Average annual Asian consumption hovers around 300 lbs while Panamanians toss down 155 lbs and the USA at a wimpy  27. Sounds like a lot but remember that rice increase by a factor of 3 when cooked so we’re talking about 900, 450 and 81 pounds respectively of cooked grain!  Rice, like tortillas in Mexico, is the primary food source for the majority of Central America so when the price of either commodity rises it severely affects the lower economic tiers and becomes a national crisis. Panama has to import 25% of its domestic needs and many of the subsistence growers fear that approval of any FTA’s with the US, where rice is heavily subsidized, will undercut the local market and demolish their livelihood. There are eighty thousand  rice growers in Central America who employing some 1.5 million workers and rice supplies more protein than meat to the general Caribbean rim population. Rice originally was cultivated dry, not using the puddling technique of rice patties that minimized competitive weed growth by drowning the unwanted interlopers, until the Chinese discovered the wet irrigated method, about 4500 years ago, which is now the industrialized standard.



Every country in South America has several chicken and rice combinations and perhaps your mother had her version back in the old country. Again you can put in what ever is lying around and the more affluent throw chorizo and jamon in their pots.  Here in Panama we’re fortunate to have cheap fresh saffron in the stores so our yellow rice can indeed be true to its Iberian roots. The cooking liquid can be fortified with coconut milk, white wine or juice from the local bitter orange and the saffron replaced with achiote paste or powder.  Historically the old world version probably had some anise seed or fennel in the mix and if you wish you can add a splash of Pernod. Again instead of plain salt for seasoning we’re using granulated stock base since it has a bit of other ingredients, including the often erroneously maligned MSG that will smooth out your preparation.


                1 chicken cut 8

                1 or 2 chorizo or blood sausages or 3 ounces pepperoni sliced

                1 tablespoon garlic minced

                1 teaspoon each oregano and anise seed

                1 pinch dried saffron or 1 teaspoon achiote paste/powder

                4 ounces white dry vermouth or white wine

                1 onion, 1 large sweet pepper, 1 can hearts of palm all diced

                12 ounces well rinsed rice

                3 tomatoes seeded & peeled or 1 small can pear tomatoes chopped

                2 cups fresh chicken stock or water enriched with granulated base

                1 small jar alcaparrado chopped

                4 tablespoons chopped culantro

  1. Sauté the chicken in olive oil till browned
  2. Add the sausage, garlic, oregano, saffron & anise then 5 minutes
  3. Add the vermouth or wine to deglaze the pan
  4. Add the diced onion, pepper and hearts of palm
  5. Add the rice, tomatoes, stock, chopped alcaparrado and culantro
  6. Cover and simmer on stove top or place in oven till done
  7. Adjust  with granulated base and fresh ground black pepper



Here we’re using a processed, dried, cured, smoked or marinated and roasted, meat product sold in almost every Panamanian store. Remember ovens are not the norm so roasted products are often bought out. Smoked pork chops are another ubiquitous Panamanian convenience meat and are available in every meat department throughout the country and caned corned beef was a staple for decades. Whatever protein you decide on just put the on the rice when your serve it.

                1 tablespoon garlic minced

                8 ounce well washed rice

                3 ounces green or yellow lentils

                3 ounces green beans julienned

                3 ounces roasted red pepper diced (canned or jarred)

                2 ounces culantro minced (process in Cuisinart to paste)

                2 cups chicken stock or water with base

                6 ounces tasajo thinly sliced or shredded heated (nuked)

  1.  Sauté the garlic in a generous of olive oil till lightly fragrant
  2.  Add the rice, stir to coat with oil sauté 5 minute
  3. Add the lentils, green beans, roasted peppers and  culantro and  well
  4. Add the stock bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer
  5. Adjust seasonings with granulated base and white pepper
  6. Serve rice topped with sliced or shredded tasajo-cecina


You’ll need a large cazuela covered (Dutch oven) or a Pyrex dish that you can tent with aluminum foil because we’re going to cook the birds on top of the rice in the oven.  You can remove the lid, foil or plastic wrap for the last 15 minutes or so to crisp the bird if you wish.

                4 ounces pepperoni minced

                6 ounces white of leeks diced

                6 ounces green pepper diced

                6 ounces chopped or processed parsley, watercress or amaranth

                1 whole chicken or 4 Cornish hens or 8 quail, rinsed and seasoned

                5 cups chicken base enriched water

                1 Tablespoon curry powder

                2 cups washed rice

  1. Sweat the pepperoni, leeks, pepper, and parsley in a Dutch oven
  2. Place  the chicken, hens or quail on the sweated vegetables
  3. Add curry powder and stock, bring to a boil, then remove the birds
  4. Add the rice to the container  and return the chickens
  5. Cover and bake at 350 for 45 minutes, removing the lid after ½ hour
  6. Garnish with hard-cooked eggs and freshly grated Queso Blanco



Throughout the Caribbean and South America you’ll find a version of beans and rice, red beans and rice, black beans and rice, garbanzo beans and rice or green bean and rice and the bean goes on! The bean in this case is also known as cowpea, pidgeon pea, arhar, red gram, toovar toor, togari, kandi, gandul, Congo pea, gungo, gunga and black-eyed pea it’s a particular favorite of the Caribbean and Panama. So the name of the dish changes from locale to locale and in the American South it’s know as Hoppin’ John, the bean is eaten all over the world. The formulation can be simple or gourmet depending on the amount of effort you’re willing to invest. I microwave my peas in chicken stock for a few moments and then finish them stove top. Canned black-eyed peas are ubiquitous throughout Panama and.

                4 ounces, Spanish cured bacon, pepperoni diced

                4 ounces sofrito without meat

                1 smoked pork shank or 2 smoked pork chop

                3 ounces onion, green pepper, celery diced

                1 tablespoon oregano, thyme, minced garlic, capers and green olives

                1 can drained or 10 ounces cooked gandules

                4 cups fresh chicken stock or water and granulated base

                2 tablespoons tomato paste, sauce or crushed your option

                2 cups well rinsed rice

  1. Sauté the onion, garlic, tomato and saffron in olive oil
  2. Add the rice and saute for  5 minutes, then add the clams and stock
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stir frequently
  4. Adjust seasoning with granulated shrimp base
  5. Serve topped with Parmesan,  fresh black pepper and lime wedges

Additional protein can be added at your whim and might consists of Spanish ham, chicken tasajo or even seafood the vegetable relish  and the culantro sauce/condiments allow each diner to season their own food. Furthermore you can garnish the dish with chicharronies even the kind right out of the bag known as pork rinds in the US.  You could also use evaporated or coconut milk/water as part of the liquid to add authenticity and even add a little rum if you like to the stock.


If you been here any amount of time you know by now that people in the Caribbean eat a lot of rice and they’ll eat just about anything with it; even more starch like otoe, name, yucca and camote.   The versions are numerous and you can’t make one that wouldn’t be eaten here in Panama.  Diners and cooks are very frugal because they have to be and as we stated earlier most people have no whims about eating a variety of offal most of which wouldn’t make it to the supermarket back in the old country.  Usually the rice is just white and I prefer it that way but there are a few other constructs I often fix. This recipe could also use legs, feet or wings which might be removed from the rice after cooking and fried crispy as a special treat.

            4 ounces fideo, vermicelli or chow mien noodles, broken

            1 tablespoon garlic minced

            1 teaspoon ginger minced, anise seeds

            6 ounces leeks white portion only, sliced

            8 ounces of well washed rice, I prefer basmati

           4 ounces of cleaned chicken livers roughly chopped

            4 ounces sliced mushroom

            2 cups chicken stock or base enhanced water

            To taste chicken base, white pepper & sliced green onions

  1.  Sauté the broken pasta in oil until browned
  2. Add the garlic, ginger and anise seed and sauté till fragrant
  3. Add the leeks and washed rice, saute till lightly browned
  4. Add the livers, mushroom and  stock to the mixture and stir lightly
  5. Bring to a boil, cover reduce heat and simmer till done
  6. Adjust s with white pepper, granulated stock and green onions at service


The local press has stated that over 40% of all Panamanians have some Chinese genealogy and so it’s easy to understand why fried rice is so popular. We’ll use some more tasajo (smoked-cured-dried) meat here since its readily available and can be kept in the freezer for quick meals.  You could also use some barbecued pork from the local Chinese market if you wish. We really not going to refry the rice but nuke it I mean it is the 21st century isn’t it?

                    1 quart precooked white rice, basmati or jasmine

                    4 ounces finely diced tasajo, cooked shrimp or chicken

                    1 ounce sesame and 1 ounce canola oil

                    2 two eggs, beaten and cooked like a plain omelet, diced

                    1 cup green onions, sliced

                    Soy sauce, white pepper, granulated chicken base to taste

  1. Combine rice, tasajo and oil nuke till hot
  2. Add egg, green onion, pepper and base mix and serve


You can make your own coconut milk by shelling a couple of coconuts and removing the meat which you then boil in water to create the milk, a nice activity for the local cub scout troop, or you can buy it in the store just be sure it’s the unsweetened type.  Coconut rice goes really well with most Panamanian dishes and it’s something like the East Asian version made with sticky rice and mangos although not quite as fragrant unless your make it so.  It’s often hard for North Americans to get used to the use of fruits and juices in the local preparations but they soon adjust. You can also add just about any kind of cooked bean to the rice and I like to top it with sliced green onions.  To make a little more exotic you can also add dried topical fruits and some toasted crushed cashews if you like.

                2 cans of 14 ounce unsweetened coconut milk

                ½ + teaspoon granulated chicken or fish base

               10 ounces rice, Basmati or long grain non sticky variety

                4 ounces shredded unsweetened coconut

                4 ounces sliced green onions

                4 ounces crushed cashews, lightly pan toasted

  1. Bring the coconut milk and stock  base to a boil
  2. Add the basmati or jasmine rice and return to the boil
  3. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cover for 15 minutes
  4. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes
  5. Put the rice into a large bowl and stir to release the steam
  6. Adjust the seasoning with white pepper and granulated base
  7. When the grains have separated mix in the green onions,
  8. Garnish top with roasted cashews


Use short grain rice here and frequently stir the rice as the liquid absorbs and you’ll sort of have a risotto when you’re finished

                4 ounces minced red onion

                1 tablespoon garlic minced

                6 + sun-dried tomatoes diced

                Pinch saffron or 1 teaspoon achiote paste

                1 cup short grain rice

                1 can baby clams including the liquid

                16 ounces fish stock or water with granulated shrimp base

                To taste Parmesan cheese, and chopped parsley

  1. Sauté the onion, garlic, tomato and saffron in olive oil
  2. Add the rice and saute for  5 minutes, then add the clams and stock
  3. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, stir frequently
  4. Adjust seasoning with granulated shrimp base
  5. Serve topped with Parmesan, fresh black pepper and lime wedges

PINTO GALLO; Painted Rooster

A kind of Latin American fried rice that presents itself in innumerable paradigms all dependant on what you’ve got  to throw in. This construct can be made with protein or without and it’s often served with a fried egg on top.  It’s a perfect dish for unexpected guests and provides an outlet for left over rice. The pantry can assist with canned seafood like sardines or smoked oysters or you can embellish with left over chicken pork or beef. In panama I often make with chicken necks that I’ve used for stock and Max our gardener and Lilly house girl love it.  Quantities are only a guideline as there’s really no recipe.

            4 cups precooked rice

            Olive or other oil to saute in

            1 teaspoon achiote powder, or paste or adobo powder

            Diced vegetables of choice, like onion, peppers, celery, chayote, squash

            Approximately one can of cooked beans, black eyed peas, guineos etc.

            2 ounces of culantro or cilantro chopped

            To taste oregano fresh or dried

            1 tablespoon cumin

            Diced protein of choice: bacon, ham, cecina, corned beef, deli roast chicken

            2 ounces chopped green onions

            To taste white pepper and granulated chicken base


  1. Saute the achiote powder until the oil take on a orange hue
  2. Add the selected vegetable saute till limp
  3. Add selected beans stir
  4. Add oregano and cumin stir well
  5. Add chosen protein mix well
  6. Add cooked rice and stir
  7. Add green onion
  8. Adjust seasonings with base and white pepper

Plate or bowl and serve. You can fry or scramble an egg or two and top the completed dish with it if you wish.

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