This is one of the most surprising Valencian dishes I’ve learned about recently.
It uses just a few humble ingredients to deliver way more flavour than you could possibly expect. And it uses a sweet ingredient (raisins) on a savoury dish—not a typical feature of dishes that side of the world!
Ingredients (for 4 people)
- 150 g dried chickpeas
- 100 g raisins
- 2 medium sized potatoes
- 6 garlic cloves
- olive oil
- 280 gr bomba rice (alternatively, any of “paella”, Calasparra, round, Arborio, risotto or sushi rice can work)
You will also need:
- a pressure cooker or deep pot to cook the chickpeas & potatoes
- an oven-proof tray or deep dish
Soak the raisins and the chickpeas overnight (in separate containers!).
The next day, drain the chickpeas. Wash or peel the potatoes (I just give them a really good scrub). Then place both in either a pressure cooker or a deep pot, and…
- if using a pressure cooker, add about 3 cm of water (it doesn’t need to cover everything). Close the lid, bring to high pressure, cook for about 30 minutes, then turn off and let the pressure come down until you can open the lid.
- if using a deep pot, add enough water to cover the potatoes, bring to a boil, cook on a high heat for 15 minutes or so, with the lid half open, then simmer until both chickpeas and potatoes are tender (this can take a considerable time if the potatoes are big—consider slicing them in two or more to speed up the process). You might also need to top up with hot water from time to time as it evaporates. Allocate about 1:30h to cook with this method.
Note: Ideally, we want to use the water from cooking the chickpeas and potatoes, so do not discard it! If you can only use tinned chickpeas it’s fine, but I haven’t tried using the water from the tin (the aquafaba) instead of the cooking water. Homework for you! You could still aim to use the water from cooking the potatoes!
And while the chickpeas and potatoes cook…
Peel the garlic cloves, and place them on a pan with plenty of olive oil and a pinch of salt, on a very low heat. You want to cook them very, very slowly so they get to a soft, almost caramelised state, but not quite. Don’t let them burn!
[⚠️👉 I am assuming the chickpeas are ready to be used at this point—if they’re not, then turn the heat off and wait until they are before continuing! 👈⚠️]
When the garlic cloves start showing some colour and become tender, drain the raisins and add them to the pan. Cook and stir, still on a low heat, until they start plumping up.
Turn the oven on to 180ºC fan / 200ºC.
Get the chickpeas out of the deep pot with a slotted spoon (so you don’t drain the cooking water off into the sink!). Keep the cooking water warm, simmering in the background while you complete the rest of steps.
Add the chickpeas to the pan. You might want to increase the heat a bit now. We want to mix everything evenly, and coat the chickpeas with the oil in the pan.
Once the chickpeas are nicely coated with the oil, it’s time to move on to the next step:
Add the rice and paprika:
Stir it like you did with the chickpeas, so everything is distributed evenly and coated in the pan oil:
Then transfer to the oven tray or deep dish:
Slice the potatoes lengthwise, and perhaps make a few cuts in a grill pattern. Place them on top of the rice.
Taste your “stock” for salt i.e. liquid from cooking the chickpeas and potatoes. If you are using chickpeas from a can or run out of cooking liquid (likely if you used the pressure cooker), use hot water. In either case, add salt to taste (I normally aim for enough salt that it’s noticeable, but not so much that it feels “salty”).
Add 560 gr of this stock / hot water to the tray (it’s a 2:1 liquid:rice ratio, if you want to use a different amount).
Push things down slightly to make sure that they’re distributed evenly and as much under water as possible.
When the oven reaches the cooking temperature (180ºC fan/200 ºC no fan), place the tray in the oven and bake for about 30 minutes.
Check the rice then: first we want to make sure the water has been absorbed/evaporated and there is no visible liquid between the grains. If it still seems moist, keep cooking for another 15 minutes or so (keep an eye on the rice!).
The ideal is to have a nice slightly caramelised crust. If it looks like it is pretty much cooked (as described above) but it still is quite plain in colour, you could bake for a few more minutes until it acquires that slightly deeper colour we’re after, as shown in the picture below:
Note how the potatoes have started to brown in some parts, the garlic clove and raisins that floated to the top are also quite caramelised, the chickpeas are lightly roasted and will be slightly crunchy to the bite. This is all desirable!
You might even want to turn the fan heating off and use only the top grill if you want to accelerate that process.
When you’re satisfied with the colour, take the tray out of the oven and leave somewhere to cool down and settle before diving into it!
This dish keeps well in an airtight box from one day to another, so if it’s only two of you, you can enjoy the rice twice (you will thank Past You!).
This is a relatively unknown dish in Spain, even within the Valencian Community itself!
I grew up about just 40 km away from the places where this dish seems to be typically cooked and I just heard about it this year, when I read a recipe from Miriam Martínez, where she cooked a version mostly after a recipe from Claudia Roden’s “The food from Spain” book.
Of course this made me very curious; for one, because it was like taking one of the fattiest rice dishes that we cook in Valencia (oven baked rice, with an abundance of blood sausages and pork ribs) right on its heels and turning it into a vegan version of itself. And also, it was the first time I saw raisins on an Spanish rice dish that was not meant to be a dessert. “Can this even work?”, I wondered!
Inevitably, I fell into a research rabbit hole trying to learn more about this rice and where it comes from.
What I learned is that, as with any good old popular recipe, there are multiple variations: adding garlic, tomato and/or onion or not, frying or boiling the potatoes ahead of time, but the commonality is that the recipes coming from Valencian authors do not seem to include cinnamon.
In terms of areas where this is cooked, there are two areas in which it seemsa more popular: La Ribera (half way in Valencia province) and La Marina (next to the coast in Alicante), perhaps because it was close to where the raisins themselves were grown.
In general it seems like a really humble dish, which perhaps has fallen out of favour because it’s not as flashy as perhaps other dishes loaded with big lobsters and prawns on top.
Given that both potatoes and tomatoes were brought to Spain only after America was
discovered invaded, I suspect the more ancient recipes would be the ones that do not include either of those ingredients.
Some links and sources for you:
- Arròs al forn amb cigrons i panses – the recipe from the very traditional book of Valencian cuisine “Els nostres menjars” (1977) (online recipes – in Valencian). It’s possibly the simplest of all recipes I found. It does not use tomato, potatoes or garlic. Really barebones!
- I also consulted my “Arroces” book (published in 1956 by the Valencian Cooperative of Rice Cultivars). There I found a recipe for a rice with chickpeas and chorizo, and a variation in which you could replace the chorizo with raisins (specifically “pasas de Corinto” i.e. currants), but that recipe uses onions and tomato. Interestingly, it uses 250 g of chorizo for six people – way less meat per person than the usual recipes you see on the internet for “paella” with chorizo, prawns, chicken, the lot!
- Lola Rivero, alias “The Baker from Alzira” (in La Ribera) is one of the best known cooks of this dish
- Here’s a lovely short video (in Valencian) where she demonstrates how to cook it. Note that she advises to fry the potatoes rather than boiling them ahead of time. She’s also adding a bunch of roughly chopped parsley and garlic, rather than frying the garlic cloves like I did.
- Arròs al forn amb pances i cigrons: la recepta – the recipe from Lola, written by Casimir Romero, in catalan, with more pictures of how it looks like! There are mentions to the potential Cordoban origin, where sweet and sour dishes were common, although this has not been fully embraced by modern Valencian cuisine, and it’s in fact only still cooked in some towns in La Ribera (like Alzira).
- Another recipe – suggests using sweet potato as an alternative. Again, pointing to La Ribera as a traditional place for cooking this type of rices.
One last anecdote: since this dish does not contain meat, it’s also called “widowed rice” (arroz viudo). This type of dishes are typical of Lent, but frankly I think they should be eaten all the time! (weather permitting).