It is a known fact that Asian countries are the rice bowl of the world. But, there are also few European countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal where rice plays a huge part in the gastronomy! The versatility of the rice grains to absorb any flavor and seasoning has paved way to create wonderful dishes around the world. Biryani, pilaf, paella, risotto, rice pudding and kheer, ranging from savory to desserts, there are endless possibilities to make with rice.
There are two main varieties of rice that are cultivated in Portugal – the agulha and carolino. The former rice variety has long and fine grains like needles (agulha) and is best used for dishes that are dry. It can be used as plain white rice on the side for vegetables or meat, for oven baked dishes like arroz de pato (duck rice) and can also be used for cold salad type dishes like salade de arroz com atum (rice with tuna).
But arroz carolino, the widely produced crop in the nation, is used in most recipes including arroz de grelos. It is a short grain variety, which resembles the Italian rice variety Arborio. The carolino variety has a tendency to absorb water completely while cooking and in turn absorbs the seasonings well. Its high amount of starch makes the end product creamier and melt-in-the-mouth. Hence this is preferred for saucy and stew-type rice based dishes like arroz de grelos and puddings.
Clearly, rice is ingrained in the Portuguese culture. It is said that the Moors from Seville, Spain, introduced the rice to Portuguese in the 13th century. Portuguese make rice dishes depending on the season and the availability of the local produce. It is a staple in every Portuguese home.
An interesting thing to note is that most of the Portuguese rice dishes are wet and saucy in consistency. They are often compared to the Italian risotto.
One such beloved dish enjoyed by the locals especially during winter and early spring is the arroz de grelos. Originating in the northern region of the country and Galicia, Spain, grelos is a generic term for a sprout or bud of a plant. Grelos is derived from the Portuguese verb greler, meaning “to sprout”. Even though it has become a blanket word for all leafy greens, grelos in the Galicia and Portugal community exclusively refers to turnip tops or rapini (broccoli rabe), which belongs to the turnip plant family. Rap or raab means turnip in Italian.
Grelos have also become a staple of the Portuguese people. They thrive and grow like weeds in the Portuguese climate. Grelos are bitter, nutty and pungent in nature. Hence they are never used raw or in pureed form. It is necessary to cook them well so that the bitterness is reduced. Also, consuming tender and fresh greens when they are in season also helps in enjoying the best greens. A good way to know if the grelos are tender or not, is to make a cross section at the end of the root. If the center is snow white then the greens have become hard and are not edible.
Arroz de grelos is a simple rice dish that is creamy and starchy with the subtle bitterness from the greens. It is a comfort food that is hearty and warm and melts in your mouth with each bite. They are often served with seafood.
Other popular Portuguese arroz dishes include arroz malandrinho, arroz de marsico (with shellfish), arroz de tomate, arroz de coentros (cilantro) and the dessert arroz doce.
Tips & Suggestions to make arroz de grelos
– Try to use the short variety grain rice that has high amount of starch.
– The rice must be sautéed well in oil before adding the liquid. This helps in preventing the clogging up of rice. The grains stay separate but well cooked.
– To get the correct consistency of the rice, add enough liquid or broth while cooking. Do not let the rice become dry, always keep it hydrated.
– Trim the roots at the ends and use only the tender stalks of the rapini along with the buds and leaves.
– Blanch the greens and then use it in the recipe. This ensures there is no discoloration of the greens and it helps in reducing the bitterness of the greens.
– You can substitute grelos with swiss chard or kale.
– Serve arroz de grelos with seafood, especially fried codfish.
Arroz de grelos is a simple Portuguese rice dish that is creamy and starchy with the subtle bitterness from the greens. It is a comfort food that is hearty and warm and melts in your mouth with each bite.
- 2½ cups short-grain rice (e.g. arroz carolino)
- 5 oz. rapini (also called broccoli rabe)
- 1 onion , finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 cube bouillon
- Thoroughly wash the rapini and blanch it in salted water. Drain and reserve.
- Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan. Add the bouillon cube and cook for a few minutes over medium heat until the cube dissolves.
- In another saucepan, heat the olive oil, add the onion and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally until lightly browned.
- Add the rice and stir well.
- Add reserved broth and rapini, stir, cover and cook for 15 minutes.
- If necessary, add boiling water during cooking to keep enough broth so that the rice is well hydrated.