11 May 2012

Zarela Martinez Game Changing Creamy Rice Casserole

Creamy Rice Casserole 
Zarela Martinez came late to her calling. As a young mother and social worker in El Paso, Texas, this northern Mexican native began baking cookies and catering for extra cash. Her mother, who is a renowned cookbook author, encouraged her to pursue her passion, and arranged for her  to travel to various U.S. cooking schools. It seems that culinary talent runs deep in the family. After several years of study, Zarela met Paul Prudhomme, who urged her to focus on her passion for regional Mexican dishes and develop her personal style. She spent a week in his kitchen, a brief period of time that changed her life.

Mexican born Zarela Martinez is one the leading U.S. restaurateurs. Her namesake restaurant was a Manhattan institution and a culinary trend-setter which closed in 2011. Martínez, 63, debuted Zarela on Sept. 28, 1987, introducing a city pretty much devoid of a decent taco to fresh-made tamales and tortillas, moles and a rainbow of unheard-of chiles - poblano, ancho, chipotle, guajillo, habanero.

She has since hosted a PBS 13 part cooking series cooking series, launched a line of Walmart housewares, authored three books and become a tireless ambassador of Mexico's culinary richness. In the past she has made guest appearances on many TV shows including "Julia Child: Cooking with Master Chefs" and " Martha Stewart".
This innovative chef has earned her place on "the list' of Gourmet Lives 50 Women Game Changers for her role. Our group began this journey of chronicling recipes from the Gourmet Live's list of 50 Women Game Changers back in June. The end is drawing near as we have reached #47 on the list!! Whether you agree or disagree with the authors chosen fifty on the list of 50 Women Game Changers and their order it has been an enjoyable and creative outlet to cook from the masters and those we admire with a group of dedicated ladies. There have even been a few successful bloggers on "the list". We have checked out books from the library, borrowed cookbooks from friends, surfed the Internet and browsed our own cookbook collections seeking that one recipe that will highlight that weeks outstanding woman. This group is spearheaded by my favourite well-travelled blogger Mary of One Perfect Bite who invited bloggers to travel along on this culinary journey throughout the year. 

Lets see what we have brought to the table for our 47th Women Game Changer.......

Mary of One Perfect Bite -  Pebro de Pollo
Val of More Than Burnt Toast - Creamy Rice Casserole
Susan of The Spice Garden - Chille Rellenos
Heather of Girlichef - Camarones al Ajillo (Garlicky Stir-Fried Shrimp)
Miranda of Mangoes and Chutney - Shrimp with Chipotle Peppers
Jeanette at Jeanette's Healthy Living - Warm Artichoke and Hearts of Palm Dip
Kathleen Van Bruinisse at Bake Away with Me -  Zarela's Avocado Ice 
Linda of There and Back Again - Beans Fried in Butter
Barbara of Moveable Feasts - Pumpkin Cheesecake
Mireya - My Healthy Eating Habits - Ensalada de mariscos "Rapafa"
Veronica of My Catholic Kitchen - Drunk Chicken
Claudia of Journey of an Italian Cook - Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Salad
Alyce of More Time at The Table - Savoury Cornbread
Jill at Saucy Cooks - Pork with Red Mole Sauce-Colaradito

This rice casserole, studded with fresh corn kernels, peas and poblano chiles, and made creamy with sour cream and cheddar cheese, is Mexican comfort food. “People love it because it’s creamy, crunchy and cheesy,” said Zarela. “It’s Mexican baby food. Like rice and beans.”

**Creamy Rice Casserole**
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup Uncle Ben's or other converted rice
  • 1 Poblano chile
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/8 cup plus 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
  • 1/8 cup peas, fresh or frozen
  • 4 ounces grated Cheddar cheese
1. Preheat oven broiler. In a small saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil and add butter and salt. When the butter is melted, add rice and return to a boil. Reduce heat to very low, cover rice with a tight-fitting lid, and cook 25 to 30 minutes. Spread rice on a baking sheet to cool. (To cool quickly, put the rice on the baking sheet in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes.)

2. Place poblano on a broiling pan about 2 inches from the broiler. Using a pair of tongs, turn poblano every 3 to 5 minutes, until blistered all over, about 15 minutes. (Alternatively, the poblano may be roasted directly over a gas flame, turning every minute until blistered all over, 3 to 5 minutes.) Transfer to a paper bag and allow to cool. Reduce oven to 350 degrees.

3. When the poblano is cool enough to handle, gently scrape away blistered outer skin and discard the top. Slice open lengthwise and gently scrape away and discard seeds. Slice lengthwise in quarter-inch strips, and cut cross-wise into quarter-inch dice. In a small bowl, combine the sour cream, 1/8 cup chopped onion, and chopped cilantro. Season with salt to taste.

4. In a skillet over medium heat, heat vegetable oil until shimmering. Add 1/4 cup chopped onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes. Add diced poblano and sauté 1 minute, then remove from heat and transfer to a casserole or clay pot. Add the rice, corn, and peas. Toss lightly. Add sour cream mixture and grated cheese. Mix lightly but thoroughly. Cover the casserole or clay pot with a lid or foil; if using a Pyrex casserole, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until thoroughly heated, about 30 minutes. Serve with a green salad, if desired.

Serves 4

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. Your dishes and photos are spectacular Val. Wow and double wow.

    Zarela is a very interesting woman and gutsy to move to NY, but it sure paid off for her.

    Hope you have a wonderful Mother's Day.

  2. Love your presentation! Anything with rice I have to save and this one I will be making soon.

  3. Beautiful presentation, Val!! Your Creamy Rice looks so wonderfully delicious! My kind of dish. Lovely post!

  4. Delighted to see Zarela featured. I've known her since her early days in NY and your readers might be interested to know that the culinary vein passed from her mother to her to her son who is Aaron Sanchez, a celebrity chef often featured on Chopped and other Food Network programs.

    You did a nice job on that rice which I've eaten at Zarela's and made myself at home. Delicious, isn't it? Another my favorites of her recipes is Pavo Borracho (drunken turkey) which I wrote about once.

    P.S. I like your Spring styling to the dish. Very nice photos.

  5. That looks wonderful! I love that kind of rice dish.



  6. What gorgeous photos, Val. The recipe sounds really interesting and easy to make and it is a great representation of Zarela's cooking. It is hard to believe that we are nearing the end of our quest. Just 3 more weeks and then the curtain falls. Have a great weekend. Blessings...Mary

  7. Amazing photos and a wonderful recipe. Zarela sounds like an amazing woman. Thanks for sharing this Creamy Rice Casserole.

  8. AnonymousMay 11, 2012

    This dish just spells C-O-M-F-O-R-T Val! And I love the way you coordinated your spring flowers with that beautiful blue and white dish. Great post; thank you!

    Jill (http://saucycooks.com)

  9. What a smashing presentation, Val! Love your casserole dish.
    And the "comfort food" rice looks really good. Nice flavors and easy to make.

  10. Creamy, crunch and cheesy and some heat! I'm sold. The photos made me wishing for it.

  11. What a great bio about Zarela. She sounds like a down to earth person that I would enjoy meeting. The rice dish sounds perfect —yes, real comforting.

    Mireya @myhealthyeatinghabits

  12. Look amazing and love your casserole, Vall maybe I feel horrible still but I enjoy the recipes and the pictures ha!! not so bad!

  13. How interesting to read about this enterprising lady... good for her and good for you! Love your photos. I have to say I am pretty ignorant about Mexican cooking, needless to say, here in Istanbul I don't know of any Mexican restaurants. Thanks!

  14. Beautiful post! I have the video she made about cooking this rice on my blog. Have a great weekend!

  15. I'm so happy to be learning so much about Zarela this week - I can't believe I knew nothing about her before! This creamy rice dish sounds fabulous!

  16. Zarela is completely new to me but I can tell I'm going to be happy making her acquaintance. Delicious looking and sounding recipe.

    Have a wonderful Mother's Day.


  17. Gosh that rice looks great. I will have to try it soon. Thanks for sharing with us.

  18. This does sound like the ultimate comfort food. Can't believe we are almost at the end of this fun event. I have learned so much about all these incredible women in food.

  19. It's been interesting, for me, to learn about these culinary women. I've never heard of this person, but am glad to broaden my horizons. As for the recipe, I really do have to add this to my list of Mexican recipes to try. It has my favorite components, and I am on a Mexican food kick, as of late. This would make a beautiful side dish. The flowers are so pretty, that used to style the photo, too.

  20. I just added this to this week's menu.

  21. This rice sounds and looks wonderful and your recounting of Zarela's culinary history is so interesting!

  22. if you're gonna make a rice dish, this is the right direction to take!

  23. I think I'm embarrassed to say I'm not familiar with her. Thanks for sharing her tenacious story. and, recipe! All things rice are great. Happy Mother's Day to you!

  24. Sounds like quite the delicious and comforting side dish!

  25. Love the series still and the rice looks simple, but very flavorful. Mexican comfort food.

  26. I was such a slowpoke about making Zarela's dish and posting about her that I'm also slow to make the rounds of the her other posts ... boy, the dishes this week are fantastic! I have made oa rice dish that has the corn and pepper in it, but have never added that creamy element! What a great way to make it creamy and almost risotto-like! Yum! Your photo with the flowers and that gorgeous covered dish are just beautiful too!

  27. what a gorgeous photo.
    that purple just pops!


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