Peruvian Christmas Rice (Arroz Árabe)

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!

A white Dutch oven with Peruvian Christmas Rice (Arroz Arabe), a copper spoon, and print napkin.

👩🏻‍🍳 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

Ingredients for Peruvian Christmas rice including broth, rice, vermicelli, spices, fruit, and ají amarillo paste.
  • 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!
  • garlic
  • 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

Step 1 - Toast the vermicelli in olive oil for the Peruvian Christmas rice.
  • 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).
Step 2 - Add basmati rice, ají amarillo paste, garlic, and ground cumin to the pot, and sauté until fragrant.
  • 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.
Step 3 - Stir in the broth, dried fruit, and saffron to the pot of Peruvian rice.
  • 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).
Step 4 - Stir in toasted pecans to the Peruvian Christmas rice. Cover.
  • 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.
A yellow ceramic bowl with Peruvian Christmas rice, a copper spoon, and salsa criolla.
The Peruvian Holiday Rice in a serving bowl ready to enjoy with salsa criolla and Peruvian turkey!

❓ FAQ

Is this Peruvian holiday rice good left over?

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.

A white Dutch oven with the completed Peruvian Christmas rice garnished with pomegranate arils and fresh herbs.

Peruvian Christmas Rice (Arroz Arabé)

A Peruvian-Arabic fusion holiday side dish with rice, vermicelli, dried fruit, ají amarillo paste, ground cumin, fresh herbs, and pomegranate arils…
5 from 1 vote

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Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 19 minutes
Resting Time 10 minutes
Total Time 34 minutes
Course Side Dishes
Cuisine Fusion/Eclectic, Peruvian
Servings 4 servings
Calories 249 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

* 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 249kcal

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.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

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2 Comments

  1. This is very similar to the rice pilaf I grew up with in central California (due to the region’s large Armenian population), but elevated with the addition of the saffron, dried fruit, nuts, and garnishes. Really tasty and easy!

    1. I thought of the Armenian rice from Clovis/Fresno memories as I worked on this rice dish… It’s interesting how food evokes memories from decades past!