It’s tasty and economical, and with a few additions this humble dish can star at a dinner party!
From Mexico to Malaysia, and just about everywhere else, there are recipes for simple rice and tomato dishes that offer a wide variety of flavors and options. A base for the simple or the complicated, they create a memorable comfort food that spans nations and time.
Fond memories of my mom’s cooking
In my childhood, my mom made a simple tomato rice dish using Uncle Bens rice, canned tomato juice, an onion and some garlic, and a spice or two if she felt like it. It was easy, economical, filling, and delicious. We usually had this for lunch as my dad was not a fan of rice in any form; he was served it too much in the Navy, he told us. So, this became one of my mom’s dishes she made on snow days or during winter school holidays. I remember fondly, coming in from sledding to find a pot of this waiting for us on the stove, steaming hot.
Let’s make a few changes
Simple and delicious, and a wonderful technique replacing the rice cooking water with a flavorful juice that is absorbed. But with a few changes, we can serve it at a dinner party if we like! I swapped out the white converted rice for my favorite brown jasmine rice. I love that extra layer of flavor from this heavenly whole grain. I added the extra step of pre-soaking the rice which helps to keep it fluffy and reduces the cooking time.
Enter broccoli rabe
I needed some green in this dish, and a bunch of broccoli rabe (raab, rapini) sitting in my refrigerator volunteered to round out the flavors. I love the bitterness of this wonderful vegetable, and never blanch it out! However, if you prefer a milder taste to the rabe, go ahead and blanch it for a couple of minutes in salted, boiling water to take off the edge. Taste it first though, because it varies greatly in bitterness. If you can’t find rabe, you can substitute broccolini (a broccoli hybrid), or even regular, garden-variety broccoli.
The tomato base
The tomato juice I kept the same, but used a no-salt added variety so I could control the sodium level. Most canned or jarred tomato juice is extremely high in sodium. I have also used tomato paste reconstituted by four times with water to stand in for the juice, and if you like, you can use a vegetable blend juice that you think tastes good.
To balance the bitterness and acid of the tomato, I used sweet leeks instead of a stronger onion.
The pine nuts, choose wisely
Of course, it needed crunch! So, a topping of pine nuts ( also called piñón, pinoli, or pignoli) was a perfect slightly crunchy, buttery addition.
Look for the country of origin for the nuts, actually seeds, and choose Spanish or Italian nuts. They are longer and smoother than the cheaper (but not by much) and unfortunately most market-prevalent species from China which you don’t want. The Chinese variety is shorter and have a dark tip. They can also cause “pine mouth” a bitter taste in the mouth that can last for days or weeks and make everything you eat or drink taste bitter or metallic. This often does not happen until a day or two after you eat the nuts. Let the buyer beware! I find my Italian ones at the health food store, but Hannaford markets carries them in their organic section, sometimes. They are also sometimes disguised as coming from Italy with Italian wording, but learn to recognize what the Chinese variety actually looks like:
My husband came home from the market proudly offering what he thought were the italian nuts I asked for. Closer examination, and the container said “packed in the US” and the nuts were obviously the Chinese variety above.
However, if you don’t want make six stops sourcing the good pine nuts, use any nut you like, but try for something buttery like a walnut or Brazil nut. I’d use local butternuts, but my secret tree did not seem to produce much this year, so I’m afraid it might be infected with the blight that has hit our beautiful butternut trees in the northeast.
Roast the garlic, or not
Pan roasting the garlic adds another little delight to the rice, but if you don’t have time, just toss in a few minced cloves along with the spices.
Peasant food or party time
Serve up this tomato rice all by itself in a bowl with a topping of fresh tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms, a bit of Parmesan cheese or vegan alternative and you’ve got a satisfying and comforting supper. Now, to make this dish dinner-party ready, top with a bit of grilled fish or tofu!
Tomato Rice with Rabe and Roasted Garlic
- 12 -15 fat garlic cloves
- Olive oil
- 2 leeks, sliced
- 1 tsp. crushed fennel seeds
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 ½ cup brown jasmine rice, rinsed and soaked
- 4 cups low-sodium tomato juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 head broccoli rabe (rapini), trimmed and chopped
- 1/3 cup toasted Italian Pine nuts, or walnuts
- Cherry tomatoes or sautéed mushrooms and fresh basil to garnish
Prep: Remove the garlic cloves from the head, keeping them in tact when peeling; if you have trouble peeling, pop them in the microwave for a few seconds. Trim off the ends of the rabe and chop into desired lengths. Clean the leeks well and slice them. Toast the Pinenuts lightly in a dry sauté pan, then crush them a bit, leaving a few whole. Halve the cherry tomatoes if using or sauté a few mushrooms. Rinse the rice well and let it soak for about a half hour to an hour, or longer if you remember to do so.
In a large sauté pan, place the garlic cloves in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium-low heat, pan roast the garlic until it is fragrant and light brown. This will take about 8 minutes. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, add a bit more olive oil and cook the leeks until softened. Add the fennel and bay leaf and cook another minute. Drain the rice, add to the pot, and stir to coat all the grains. Add the tomato juice and seasonings, bring to a boil, cover, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is almost cooked. You might have to add a bit more water toward the end. The pre-soak will shorten the cook time considerably.
Toss in the rabe, chop the roasted garlic roughly and toss that in too, mix well, cover, and cook until everything is tender.
Plate, add tomatoes or mushrooms to garnish if using, top with the nuts, and fresh torn basil leaves if you have them around.
Sylvia’s Tomato Rice
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 cup Uncle Ben’s
- 2 cups tomato juice
- Dried basil or oregano
Cook onions in butter and garlic. Combine and cook until rice is done.
© Copyright 2021– or current year, The New Vintage Kitchen. Unattributed use of this material is strictly prohibited. Reposting and links may be used, provided that credit is given to The New Vintage Kitchen, with active link and direction to this original post.
The New Vintage Kitchen does not accept ads or payment for mention of products or businesses.