Arroz con Queso: Traditional Bolivian Sticky Rice with Cheese
(Santa Cruz, Bolivia)
Arroz con queso (rice with cheese) is a Bolivian side dish traditionally served with grilled meats or hearty meat dishes. It is a type of extra moist rice into which milk and cheese have been incorporated to achieve a delicious sticky rice with gooey, melty cheese. Variations of this dish exist in other places of the world but in Bolivia, arroz con queso is typical to the Eastern tropics where it is a very popular dish in the smallest of towns and largest of cities extending from Beni and Santa Cruz to as far South as Tarija, and throughout the Amazon region, continuing into Brazil.
To successfully cook this very easy and delicious Bolivian side dish recipe, keep the following in mind:
a) Use short grain or pearl rice as these are starchier varieties of rice that will release their starch into the water as they cook and thicken it, a desired effect for this recipe.
b) Bolivians use either Chaqueño or San Javier cheese, both locally made brands of cheese that are not available for export. However, it’s simply important to use a cheese that is solid enough to be cut into cubes and soft enough to melt well. Mexican queso fresco, widely available in the US, or even mozzarella, will do just fine.
c) Adjust the amount of salt used according to the cheese used, as some types of cheese are much saltier than others. If you feel unsure about how much salt to use, it is better to begin with little or no salt prior to incorporating the cheese. After adding the cheese you can taste your arroz con queso to see if it requires a bit more salt.
d) The desired result is a soft, creamy rice dish with a consistency almost like macaroni and cheese, rather than a dry, loose rice. Therefore, it’s very unlikely you’ll mess up this recipe, so don’t be afraid to experiment with your favorite seasonings or even with other types of cheese.
2 cups of short grain or pearl rice 6 cups of cold water 1 cup cheese, cut into cubes 1 tsp. minced garlic 1 tbsp. minced white or yellow onion 2 tablespoons of butter 1 cup of milk Salt to taste
Put 6 cups of cold water into a pot and bring to a boil. Add 2 cups of pearl rice into a pot on medium heat. Cook at a boil for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Reduce the heat to your stove's lowest setting and simmer, stirring more and more frequently as the water reduces, so as to ensure that your rice doesn't stick to the bottom of your pot.
Notice that this recipe does not call for you to cover your pot with a lid. The rice should be cooked in an open pot, or you can cover your pot for short periods of time but place the cover on your pot only halfway, leaving an opening for steam to escape.
Meanwhile, in a small fry pan, sauté the minced onion and garlic in 1 teaspoon of oil until the onion becomes translucent and soft. Set aside.
Cut one cup of cheese into small cubes. If you prefer not to taste actual chunks of cheese in your rice, you can grate your cheese instead. Doing so will result in a slightly mushier rice.
When the rice is almost fully cooked, but there is still a little water in it, add the garlic and onions and stir until mixed.
Add the milk, butter and the cheese to the rice. Stir continuously until the cheese melts completely and the rice is fully cooked. By now the milk will have reduced into the rice and eventually the rice will be soft and creamy and fully cooked with gooey cheese inside.
Salt to taste, garnish and serve hot all by itself or as a side dish with any grilled or barbecued steak, pork or sausage.
Keperí (an oven baked steak) is one of the traditional Bolivian foods that arroz con queso is served with. So yummy! Take a look at this video to watch how both keperí and arroz con queso are prepared. This will also give you a chance to see what the consistency of a properly cooked arroz con queso should look like.