Arroz con gandules is a combination of rice, pigeon peas and pork, cooked in the same pot with Puerto Rican-style sofrito. This is one of the signature rice dishes of Puerto Rican cuisine. Arroz con gandules is part of Puerto Rico's national dishes along with pernil (roast pork).
This dish is mainly served during Christmas season or for special occasions. The sofrito is the most important part of seasoning the rice. In Puerto Rican cooking sofrito, which is used as a base in many recipes, typically consists of the following ingredients: The Caribbean herb known as Recao, cilantro, onions, garlic, aji dulce peppers, cubanelle peppers, and piquillo pepper. The first step is cooking the pigeon peas if they are being prepared from dried form or fresh, and the canned variety are widely available in Latino markets or supermarkets in cities where there is a significant Puerto Rican population. In a separate pot (caldero), annatto (achiote)-infused oil, which gives the rice and ham the dish's distinctive yellow/orange color is then heated. Pork usually in the form of salt pork, ham, or ham hocks is added. Bacon, Salchichon (salami), longaniza, or chorizo can also be used alone or in combination. The sofrito is also sauteed in the oil to release the aromatics and cooked until most of the water has evaporated while stirring gently. Olives, capers, tomato sauce, and bay leaves are then added and cooked until sauce is thick almost to a paste. Rice, pigeon peas, salt, black pepper, cumin, and in some recipes orégano brujo and coriander seeds are then added and stirred until every grain of rice is coated with sofrito. Broth or water is then poured into the pot and cooked on high heat then lowered once boiling starts and covered with a plantain leaf and lid. In the countryside this is cooked over open fire pit. Note: Pigeon peas are believed to have a higher iron content than regular beans.