Peruvian Christmas Rice (Arroz Arabe) is a Peruvian rice dish with a well-defined Arabian influence. Vermicelli is browned in oil before adding the aromatics, spices (including saffron and cumin), rice, pecans, and dried fruit (raisins or goldenberries). Garnished with fresh mint and pomegranate arils, it is a quintessential Peruvian holiday dish that can be prepared in about 30 minutes!
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks – About Peruvian Christmas Rice
Peruvian cuisine is a unique blend of indigenous flavors, Spanish influences from colonization, and contributions from various immigrant groups, including those from the Middle East. The influence of Arabic cuisine in Peruvian cooking can be traced back to the arrival of Lebanese and Syrian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here are some ways in which Arabic influences have enriched Peruvian culinary traditions:
- Anticuchos are quite similar to Middle Eastern shish kebab – meat on a stick.
- Arabic flatbreads, known as “pan árabe” in Spanish, are widely consumed in Peru. We have them nearly every morning in the Sacred Valley and the Andes with eggs, avocado, fruit, yogurt, and puffed quinoa.
- Some Peruvian desserts like mazamorra morada and breakfasts like quinoa porridge, use ingredients like cinnamon and cloves, which are commonly found in Middle Eastern sweets. The blending of spices in Peruvian desserts may reflect a cross-cultural exchange.
- Rice dishes like this Peruvian holiday rice that uses spices such as cumin and saffron, vermicelli, and dried fruit are often enjoyed for holiday meals. The preparation of rice with a variety of spices is reminiscent of Arabic-style rice dishes.
You may see the Middle Eastern influence in the herbs – mint and cilantro – or the fruit – dried fruit and pomegranate arils. The fried vermicelli is a signature Middle Eastern ingredient, and one I’ve known since I was a teenager enjoying Arabic rice in Fresno, California. My Peruvian rice dish includes fried vermicelli.
So, have I convinced you yet? One of my favorite things about Peruvian food is the diverse cultural influence. If you’re interested in more, see Arab influence in Peruvian food.
📋 Ingredients Notes
Here is a quick look at the ingredients in the recipe – it’s handy to use at the grocery store or as a summary of what you need. Skip to the recipe for quantities.
- vermicelli – In the US, vermicelli is a very thin pasta that may also be labeled angel hair, fideo, or cappelini. It may be a long, thin pasta, or it may be packaged in nests (as shown in the ingredients photo above).
- rice – My “go to” rice is basmati, and I always have it on hand. You can use your preferred long-grain rice, but be sure to check liquid ratio and cooking time!
- ají amarillo paste
- ground cumin
- dried fruit – On photo day, I happened to have dried goldenberries, and we love them. However, raisins are more widely used in Peruvian Christmas rice. You can use craisins, dried cherries, etc. Be creative! This festive rice dish is more of a “template” than a recipe. If you’re not familiar with goldenberries, see chocolate covered goldenberries, goldenberry salsa, or shrimp in goldenberry sauce for more information. They have become widely available outside of Peru, and you can order dried goldenberries online.
- broth – You can actually use vegetable broth, or even water if you prefer. It has plenty of flavor without chicken broth, and that keeps this vegan if that is a concern.
- saffron – Saffron is optional, but if I have it, I use a generous pinch because of the color.
- nuts – Either pecans or slivered almonds would be traditional. I recommend taking an extra minute or two to toast them in a dry pan.
- garnishes – The pomegranate arils provide gorgeous color, and lovely texture. Fresh herbs are great too. Cilantro, fresh mint, fresh oregano, and flat-leaf parsley are all good options.
🔪 Step-By-Step Instructions
- Toast the vermicelli – In a medium non-stick cooking pot, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the vermicelli and continuously stir to toast it evenly. Vermicelli should turn a nice golden brown, but watch carefully not to over-brown or burn it (If it burns, you must throw the vermicelli away and start over).
- Add rice and aromatics – Add the rice, cumin, ají amarillo paste, and garlic, and continue to stir so that the rice will be well-coated with the olive oil. Season with salt.
- Add the broth or water, saffron threads (if using), and dried fruit. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover, and cook according to package instructions (19 minutes for basmati).
- Finish the Peruvian holiday rice – Once cooked, turn off the heat, but leave the lid on for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in the toasted nuts. Garnish with herbs and pomegranate arils as desired.
Yes, with a caveat – If you plan on having leftovers (as we often do), garnish the rice per plate rather than the pot or serving bowl. The pomegranate arils and fresh herbs don’t reheat well. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. I have not tried freezing it.
💭 Top Tip
I cook basmati rice 19 minutes with great results. Be sure to check your rice package instructions. 15 to 20 minutes is average. If the rice is not cooked, and the liquid is absorbed, add a couple more tablespoons of liquid.
Peruvian Christmas Rice (Arroz Arabé)
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- 2 teaspoons olive oil - or butter
- 2 ounces vermicelli - broken
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 1 tablespoon ají amarillo paste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 2 cups broth or water
- 1 generous pinch saffron threads - optional
- ¼ cup dried fruit - raisins or goldenberries
- ¼ cup pecans - toasted and chopped (or slivered almonds)
- garnishes - fresh herbs and pomegranate arils
- In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil on medium-high. Add the vermicelli and continuously stir to toast it evenly.
- Add the rice, ají amarillo paste, cumin, and garlic, and continue to stir so that the rice will be well-coated with the olive oil. Add the salt.
- Add the broth or water, saffron threads (if using), and dried fruit. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover, and cook 19 minutes (for basmati).*
- Once cooked, turn off the heat, but leave the lid on for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Stir in the toasted nuts. Garnish with herbs and pomegranate arils as desired.
NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.