Coconut Rice with Black Eyed Peas

One day not too long ago, I was poking around my cookbook collection, when I decided I had too many Anglo/French-focused books. Determined to be more multicultural, I hit up my favorite book store in the city: Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks. Every time I go to Bonnie’s I lose a large chunk of time browsing her amazing collection; on my last visit, after a lot of wandering around, I settled on a 1966 reprint of Berta Cabanillas’ 1956 classic Puerto Rican Dishes. I haven’t shared anything yet from this book, so when this rice dish caught my eye recently I decided to go for it.

This rice could serve as a flavorful side, or as a light main course. The vegetables in it lighten the coconut milk flavor, and bacon adds a nice meatiness to round everything out. In the introduction to her book, Berta Cabanillas notes that she’s tried to collect recipes “representative of [Puerto Rican] cookery.” I only visited the island once, but from what I tasted then, this mix of tropical and Spanish flavors is really spot on. The freshness in this dish is giving me beach flashbacks…which in turn are giving me flashbacks to the utterly ridiculous sunburn I got on that trip.

Seriously, what was I thinking? OK, actually I know exactly what I was thinking: “I’m part Italian! I can totally tan despite the fact that I’ve been in Northeast winter for months and I have zero base.” What this picture doesn’t show: I also forgot to put sunblock on my feet, and I wound up with second-degree sunburn “socks.” My feet and ankles were a few shades darker than my legs for about a year…Starting out approximately the color of these tomatoes.

That was a fun trip, though. Also fun: deciphering the directions on this well-used and stained page (the sign of a really good vintage cookbook) and turning them into a real recipe.

As you can see, the one in the book doesn’t even have an amount for rice…I think I worked something tasty out, though. Here it is.

Coconut Rice with Black Eyed Peas (Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side)
3 oz. Canadian bacon
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1 sprig parsley
1 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 plum tomatoes, chopped
1 can coconut milk
1 15-oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
2/3 c. white rice

1. Heat a little olive oil in a medium saucepan over a medium flame. Add the garlic, sautee for about 30 seconds until it starts to get fragrant, then add the bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, for a minute or two until it starts to brown.
2. Add the pepper, tomato, parsley sprig, salt and a dash of the coconut milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for a minute or two to allow flavors to blend.
3. Add the peas, rice, and the rest of the milk, and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and keep the pot simmering on low for about 20 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Serve hot.