The first time I had Rice-A-Roni® was in high school when I was over a friend’s house for dinner. I didn’t even know what it was, to be honest, but darn it, it was good, especially for a kid who only got “treats” like these when I was over at someone else’s house (I didn’t get to taste Texas toast garlic bread until I was in elementary school and, again, over at a friend’s house). The food at home was wonderful and healthy, but it was fun to eat these types of treats when I was at someone else’s house.
Fast forward to today, and Rice-A-Roni is one of my husband’s comfort foods we buy every once in a while. We’d get it more often, but it has a long list of not-so-healthy ingredients and the salt content is kind of ridiculous. So, loving him as I do, I set out to make a copycat recipe.
I learned something really interesting while I was browsing through recipes—the original Rice-A-Roni recipe is based on a recipe for rice pilaf! I was intrigued. According to this NPR article, the creators of Rice-A-Roni, the DiDemenicos, lived next to an Armenian immigrant in San Francisco in the 1940s. Lois DiDemenico, a young immigrant herself, didn’t really know how to cook. Her next door neighbor, Pailadzo Captanian, took her under her wing and taught her several dishes, including a recipe for rice pilaf. The DiDemenico family took the recipe and created the product we know today.
Rice pilaf is an ubiquitous Middle Eastern rice dish—each family, each country, each region has its own variation and there’s no one way to make it. It generally starts with a base of aromatics and results in a deliciously fluffy dish full of savory flavor. The secret to the fluffiness is to dry-cook the rice until it’s lost its translucency and looses some of its starch. This will help the rice absorb more liquid and make it fluffy instead of gummy.
This recipe also include turmeric, just like the original recipe , which is what gives it that brilliant yellow color—plus, turmeric is really good for you.
Armed with that knowledge, and stealing some ingredients from the Rice-A-Roni box, I set out to make a replacement for the boxed version. It’s not as easy as pouring the content of the box into a pan, but it’s still a quick dish to make (on the table in just about half an hour), and I promise it’s completely worth it—it’s husband approved!
- 2 ½ cups of low sodium chicken stock (has to be low sodium!)
- 1 ¼ cup of basmati rice
- 1 serving of vermicelli or other pasta broken in to small bits (I used GF rice pasta)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- ½ chicken bouillon cube or ¾ tsp. of Better Than Bullion (you can use less if you want less sodium)
- Italian flat-leaf parsley or 2 Tsp. Italian seasoning
- ½ tsp. turmeric
- Heat olive oil in a sauce pan or pot over medium to medium-low heat until the surface is rippling, then sauté the onion and garlic until fragrant and translucent.
- Melted the butter, then add the dry rice, stirring it around until the rice has become less translucent (not quite so white), but not brown.
- Add in the bullion, turmeric, chicken broth, parsley or Italian seasoning and pasta and stir until fully combined.
- Let the rice cook 15 to 18 minutes, stirring infrequently (you don’t want to agitate the rice and cause it to release too much starch), until all the liquid has been absorbed but before the rice starts to stick to the bottom of the pan or pot.
- Take the pan or pot off the heat, cover, and let sit for five minutes.
- Serve and enjoy!
There you have a delicious copycat side dish, but this time, it’s pretty healthy and comes without all those strange ingredients or the same level of sodium.
‘Till next time!