Spicy Cilantro Rice with Vegetables (Arroz con Pollo, Sin Pollo)

Recipe and photograph contributed by Morena Escardo Yield:  4 entree servings (or 8 side-dish servings)
Prep Time:  35 minutes Cook Time:  55 minutes

Spicy Cilantro Rice with Vegetables (Arroz con Pollo, Sin Pollo)

When I became a vegetarian and didn't want to miss out on this dish, my mother and our family cook started experimenting with different ways of preparing it without the chicken. They first replaced the animal protein with cubed gluten protein, which absorbed the cilantro flavor really well. After a while, we realized that the rice was so flavorful on its own, that the chicken replacement wasn't even necessary. This was especially true when the rice was served with a big pile of salsa criolla on top. Salsa criolla is an onion, chili, and lime salsa used to accompany almost every dish in Peru.

Most Latin American countries have their own version of arroz con pollo. What sets the Peruvian version apart is its intense green color and flavor, imparted by the large amounts of cilantro and spinach used to make it. I consider it a very healthful dish thanks to its green component and all the added veggies. I also use brown rice instead of the usual white, which ups the nutrition factor. I’ve specified 2 tablespoons of aji (chile) paste, but you can use more or less—or omit it entirely—depending on your taste and tolerance for hot, spicy food.


1½ cups chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup spinach, trimmed

8 cups Roasted Vegetable Stock  or store bought vegetable stock, divided

1 red onion

4 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons aji mirasol paste or aji Amarillo paste plus more to taste if desired (optional)

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 cups brown basmati rice, washed well under running water for 1 minute

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 cup diced carrot (about 2 carrots)

1 red bell pepper, seeded, pith removed, and diced

1 cup frozen peas

1 cup frozen corn

Salsa Criolla:

½ red onion, finely sliced from top to root

1 small red chili pepper, finely sliced

2 radishes, cut in thin sticks

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  1. In a blender or food processor, process the cilantro and spinach with 1 cup vegetable stock, until creamy.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large pan set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring and shaking the pan for about 4 minutes. Add the aji paste, cumin, and turmeric, and keep stirring for 2 more minutes. Add the blended cilantro and spinach mixture, and fry it, stirring occasionally, for 5 more minutes.
  3. Add the rice to the pan, stir well for 1 minute to incorporate, and add the rest of the vegetable stock, the salt, and black pepper. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer for 25 minutes.
  4. While the rice is cooking, make the salsa criolla: mix the red onion, red chili pepper, radishes, lime juice, oil, cilantro, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Keep refrigerated while the rice continues cooking.
  5. Add the diced carrots and red bell pepper to the pan, mix quickly with a fork, cover again, and cook for 10 more minutes. If the rice looks too dry, add 1 extra cup of stock.
  6. Add the peas and corn, mix quickly with a fork, cover again, and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat and let the rice stand for 10 minutes before serving. Serve topped with salsa criolla.

Kitchen Tips

  1. I use brown rice when making arroz con pollo, but Peruvians always use white rice. Do what works best for you.
  2. In Peru we use giant kernel corn for this dish. If you can find it frozen in a Latin American market, use this instead of regular corn.
  3. The cooking time for rice can vary depending on many factors. If you feel it needs extra cooking time, feel free to cook it for a few more minutes, until it’s soft and fluffy but not mushy. Add some more vegetable stock if needed.

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