Chef Patricio Sandoval of New York, Chicago and Miami’s Mercadito, knows his way around Meatless Mondays. His arroz verde (a cilantro and pepper laced rice casserole) makes a scrumptious side or main dish. (Photo/Courtesy Patricio Sandoval)

Meatless Monday recipe: Chef Patricio Sandoval’s arroz verde

Chef Patricio Sandoval, the critically acclaimed chef behind the Mercadito restaurant group with outposts in New York, Chicago and Miami, didn’t have to travel far to find inspiration for today’s meatless Monday recipe, his famous arroz verde: “I grew up eating it in Mexico because my mother and my grandmother made it often,” recalls the Acapulco native. “It’s a very traditional rice casserole.” Like many of the dishes on his restaurant menu, he confesses it’s “not ‘my recipe.’ It’s a recipe you see all over Mexico, just served in a slightly different, more refined way.”

Chef Patricio Sandoval

Chef Patricio Sandoval

Not all that surprising given Sandoval’s culinary legacy: he grew up the son of a restaurant owner and is the brother of the wildly successful chef, Richard Sandoval, who has restaurants worldwide. “My father had a restaurant for 30 years. I spent a lot of evenings there and all my birthday parties were there,” he says. “But I was the only one in my family who thought I would not go into the kitchen. In fact, I didn’t start my culinary career until I was 23, when I started working with Richard.” After a few months in the kitchen with his brother, Patricio enrolled in at New York’s prestigious French Culinary Institute, where he refined his techniques and learned to take Mexican food to a new level. He opened Mercadito in New York nine years ago, then started his expansion to Chicago and Miami three years ago. “Culinary school taught me a lot about how to treat food and ingredients,” he says. “And it taught me about the importance of the little details and consistency. I am very proud that nine years later we’re still considered one of the top Mexican places in New York.” His arroz verde, which has been on the Mercadito menu since the very beginning, also remains one of his most popular dishes. “The classic dish is very simple,” Sandoval says. “It calls for garlic, cilantro and poblano. But I added green bell pepper and some epazote for a little more depth. I also added some heavy cream and topped it with a cheese blend that creates a nice crust and gives it great texture.” It makes a great side dish, or vegetarian main course.

Arroz Verde (Green rice casserole with Oaxaca and Manchego cheeses)

1 ea. poblano pepper, cut and deveined
1 ea. green bell pepper, cut and deveined
5 ea. garlic cloves, whole
2 small onions, one sliced, the other diced
3/8 cup epazote, roughly chopped
¾ cup cilantro
2 ½ cups water
3 T butter
2 cups Carolina long grain rice
Salt to taste
7 oz.  Manchego cheese, finely grated
4 oz. Gouda cheese, finely grated
7 oz. Oaxaca cheese, finely grated
8 T heavy cream
1. Make the green stock. In a blender, blend the peppers, garlic cloves, the sliced onions, epazote, cilantro and water until there are no visible chunks and mixture is smooth. Set aside.
2. In a large pot, melt butter over medium heat and cook the diced onions until translucent. Add the green stock and season with salt. It should taste like seawater. Bring to a boil, add rice and let boil again. Lower heat to low and cover with foil. Cook for 45 minutes. DO NOT PEAK!
3. Meanwhile, in medium bowl combine the grated cheeses and set aside.
4. When the rice is cooked, put in a large bowl and combine with 1 T of cheese mixture and heavy cream; mix well.
5. When ready to serve, spoon rice into a shallow baking dish. Top with remaining cheese and bake 4 to 5 minutes in a 300 degree F oven, until cheese is crispy.

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