A Holiday Tradition
Gandules – also known in the rest of the Caribbean as guandules or just peas – are the traditional Puerto Rican legume of the holiday season. I dare you to go to a Christmas party in Puerto Rico without arroz con gandules. These days, I might even extend that dare to Thanksgiving meals in the island. The minute you taste the sofrito laced rice and peas, you know it’s Christmas or you are reminded of the season.
Green pigeon peas can be found either canned or frozen, with fresh peas being a little harder to come by. I was extremely lucky a few years ago. I had a co-worker that grew them on her backyard. When the holiday season was around the corner, she would start taking orders for her cosecha, the harvest. Although there are few things better dishes than arroz con gandules made with fresh peas, the convenience of canned gandules cannot be denied, especially for recipes like this one.
The Quick Pickle
Escabeche is the name given to dishes in which fish or vegetables marinate in vinegar and vegetables over a period of time, and to the marinade itself. Unlike ceviches, foods en escabeche are usually cooked and then steeped for flavor and for preservation. In Puerto Rico, the most popular escabeche dishes are bananas, yuca or cassava, and green pigeon peas. Pickled cassava is traditionally a side dish. The bananas go back and forth between the main meal and appetizers. The peas are traditionally served as an appetizer, but I also like tossing them into lunch salads with other preserved vegetables like artichokes and hearts of palm.
For this version of the pea escabeche, I chose lighter flavors to brighten up the earthy taste of the gandules. The lemon peel and thyme are not traditional to Puerto Rican cooking, but I like how they balance the vinegar and bay. One of my favorite lentil soup recipes has orange peel in it and I knew that citrus could also work with the peas. I swapped the onions for milder shallots.
Need more inspiration to celebrate the holidays Puerto Rican style? Check out these other recipes: