The term peasant food can be overused, and is often an affectation to evoke a bygone era of happy working folk eating simple, nutritious food that has cleverly been discovered as a culinary treasure. Peasant and food put together tends to annoy me a lot. It just feels fake.
And yet these rice fritters, which invariably gain a devoted crowd when I serve them, are genuinely the stuff of everyday lunch in Brazilian homes – peasant or not.
Brazilians, like most Latin Americans, eat A Lot of rice and beans. It really is everywhere, every day, at every meal. It’s no surprise crafty cooks would have found ways to use leftovers of both – bean soup and bean broth being other frequent presence on end-of-week dinners.
As a pre-starter choice in the supper club, these fritters are a complete sell out. If you want to really look the part, call them Bolinho de Arroz and start making those caipirinhas.
You’ll find all sorts of variations of this recipe, most with plain flour, and some debate on whether or not to add milk to the mix. I like to use breadcrumbs in place of plain flour, and no milk. This ensures a crispy first bite, and a soft inside, free from sogginess or oil.
As for the rice, use whatever next day rice you happen to have lying around. The only exception is risotto. The Italians have perfected their arancini, and it’s a good idea to save your leftover risotto for that. It won’t work so well in this recipe. American long grain, basmati, white, jasmine, it’s all fine. Next time you over order on your Indian takeaway, save the rice for this.
At the Eurovision supper club earlier this month, I made mejadra, a dish of white rice, lentils and onions to share. It went down very well, but we still brought some back home. This is what I used here. Rice and lentils, plenty of spices, quite a lot of onions. Once fried, I made a couple of dips to go with it: a sort of salsa verde with coriander, anchovies and lime, and a yoghurt sauce. Since I’m currently going through the phase of adding dukkah to everything I eat, a sprinkle of that on the rice cakes gave a very welcome final touch. I was given a jar of this spice and nuts mix by a friend who’s gone up several points in my good books since. I suspect there will be many variations of this North African mix. So far, I could detect cumin, semame seeds, oregano and chickpeas in mine.
The plan was to make a large batch of them and freeze some. That didn’t happen. The freezer is looking quite empty and desolate at the moment.
If you have any Turkish or middle eastern shops near you, it’s worth looking for labneh, which is a strained yoghurt, of thick consistency and quite sharp taste. Failing that, greek yoghurt works too, although it is more mild and sweet, and I’d add some lemon or lemon to it for tartness.
- Leftover rice: 4 cups. Long grain, basmati, easy cook all work well. Don’t use letfover risotto in this recipe. Save those for arancini.
(if you’re making rice especially for this recipe: prepare the rice one full day ahead and follow the instructions at the bottom of this recipe*)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup fine breadcrumbs
- 1/2 tbsp baking powder
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped, including the green bits
- 4 eggs
- salt and pepper
- Plenty of vegetable oil to fry. I used just under a 1 litre bottle of grapeseed oil. Corn or sunflower oil will work fine too.
- Beat the eggs a little bit with a fork in a small bow. Mix all ingredients – minus the oil! – in a large bowl, starting with 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs. Add the eggs.
- The best way to check if the dough is right is to get your hands dirty. Mix it all together with your hands, adding more breadcrumbs if necessary. You should be just able to roll up the rice cakes, leaving your hands still quite messy and sticky. Taste for salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil up in a large frying pan. Allow about 5 cm (2 in) of oil, just enough to cover the cakes. When the oil is very hot, turn the heat down to medium-high and fry the rice cakes in batches, taking care not to overload the pan, as this will bring the oil temperature down and compromise the crunchiness of the cakes. Turn the cakes around until they’re a nice golden colour all over, which should take about a minute. Remove the cakes from the frying pan and let them rest on kitchen towel.
1. Yoghurt: mix labnheh or preferred yoghurt with chopped parsley, one crushed clove of garlic, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime.
2. green sauce: chop 3 handfuls of coriander, leaves and stem. Mix it in a small bowl with 4 – 5 crushed salted anchovies fillets, plenty of olive oil, a squeeze of lime, salt, pepper, and 1/2 small red chilli, chopped.
*If you’re making rice especially for this recipe:
- 2 cups uncooked rice
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 litre preferred stock
- vegetable oil (not olive oil)
- Warm up 3 tbsp oil and add the chopped onions. Mix well and fry for about 5 minutes on medium – low heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and fry for another minute, taking care not to burn the garlic.
- Add the rice and mix it well for about a minute to make sure the rice is well coated with the oil and onions.
- Add the boiling stock. Use enough to cover the rice by about 3 cm (just over 1 in). Lower the heat to low-medium, half cover the pot and let it cook for about 12 to 15 minutes, until the water is evaporated. Taste the rice, and if it’s done before all the water is gone, turn the heat off and drain. If the water is gone and the rice is not yet done, add a bit more of boiling stock or water.
- Wait until the rice has reached room temperature, put it in a sealed container and place it in the fridge for 24 hours when it’s ready to use for the fritters.