Mercadito NYC: Arroz Verde al Horno

I spend a lot of time in NYC, it is my other hometown. Most of my closest friends live there and I try to visit as often as possible. Our favorite pastime is eating. They take me to their favorite places which quickly become my favorite places. One of these favorites is Mercadito, a small Mexican restaurant in the east village with really outstanding food and superb drinks. A while back, Mercadito opened a new space, just across Avenue B from their old space, called Mercadito Cantina. It is a slicker more designy space but the food is equally delicious. I was particularly impressed with the green rice casserole I ordered. It was a mix of melted cheese and perfectly flavored rice topped with more deliciously browned cheese. It was amazing. I have thought of it often since.

The good folks at Mercadito were kind enough to share the recipe with me. Now you, my lucky readers, can make this dish at home. It is good, outrageously good. I haven’t seen Bryan this excited about a recipe in a long time. I’ll quote from an e-mail he sent me the next day, “that stuff is unreal. amazingly delicious!”

But I haven’t even gotten to the best part! Mercadito is bringing their magic to Chicago. Yes, you heard it here first- a Chicago branch of Mercadito will open sometime in 2009. I’ll let you know details as they become available. In the meantime, enjoy this dish. And if you’re in the east village stop by for some tacos and an order of churros, which are extraordinary.


So, there are some challenging ingredients in this ingredient list, specifically the epazote and the oaxaca cheese. Epazote is an herb with a really distinctive flavor, somewhere between licorice, tarragon and gasoline—although Bryan thinks that I am crazy for thinking it tastes like petroleum. It is a nicely complicated flavor and important to Mexican cooking, try to find it. If you’re in Chicago or another area with well stocked Mexican markets this shouldn’t be a problem. If you’re only able to find dried epazote, try using that. If you can’t find oaxaca cheese, I would substitute fresh mozzarella, which should be a fine replacement.

Arroz Verde al Horno (Green Rice Casserole, recipe courtesy of Mercadito/Chef Patricio Sandoval)

  • 1 poblano chile, seeds removed
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, loosely packed
  • 1/4 cup epazote leaves, loosely packed
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup chopped Spanish onion
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Oaxaca cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Manchego cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Place first six ingredients in a blender and puree well. Set aside. Heat butter in a large pot over medium heat until melted, add onion and sauté for 1 minute. Add the green broth and bring to a boil, add a couple of tablespoons of salt and taste (the broth should be very salty). Add the rice to the the broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 15-25 minutes. (Check after 15 minutes and stir with spoon, continue cooking if needed)

Preheat oven to 350° F. In a large bowl, combine rice, 1 cup of oaxaca cheese, 1 cup manchego cheese, and heavy cream and stir to combine. Place rice mixture in one large casserole dish or several individual dishes and sprinkle tops with remaining cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes, and then transfer to broiler to brown the cheese on top.

*** Yes, yes, I know. This is a real heart stopper. Believe it or not, I actually cut a ton of fat from the original recipe. It might not be the type of thing you eat every day, but it is a nice treat.

32 comments to “Mercadito NYC: Arroz Verde al Horno”

  1. Yum, that looks tasty and interesting. Where are the good mexican markets in town? I haven’t gone exploring yet. Humboldt Park?

  2. Yum. Cheese. Rice. Cilantro. Three of my favorite things.

  3. Hey, Whitney, there are a bunch of places in Humboldt Park/Logan Square, particularly along Milwaukee Avenue (I got the epazote at the produce stand at the California Blue Line stop). Also lots of good choices in Pilsen. As the weather improves it is worth taking some time to explore.

  4. Oh my. I am a HUGE mexican food fan, and this just looks fabulous. The fact that you posted this recipe absolutely made my day. Thanks!!! :)

  5. hey tim, you have a new fan… me! i am definitely planning to make your risotto dish and apricot, sage, cornmeal cookies asap! also, a lil note, i own a bar across the street from Mercadito called B-side. next time you are in nyc eating green cheesy rice, come by and say hi! and if you have a moment, check out my friends food site, its equally as fab! http://www.brooklynfarmhouse.com/

    ciao for now!

  6. How cool that they gave you the recipe!
    I’ve actually never been to Mercadito, even though I live just a few blocks away…

  7. Sivan: I’ve been to B-side! Go Ave B!
    Maggie: Go try Mercadito! It took me a while to get there and now I eat there almost every time I’m in town. Order out even!

  8. That rice close-up is one of the best food photos I’ve yet seen. And it looks like a hell of a recipe. Thanks for getting the inside scoop!

  9. Epazote! How awesome is it. And how funny the second time we see is used is the day after someone whipped up a dish for us using the ingredient. It really is awesome. This rice looks like it would knock our socks off.

  10. What is epazote? I live in France and will have to punt to try and make this dish, especially when it comes to the cheese but it sure does look good.

  11. Hey Linda:
    Epazote is an herb used in Mexican/Caribbean cooking. There is a good chance you won’t find it in France, you could either leave it out (I think the dish would still be excellent) or dry to get your hands on the dried epazote and use some of that. More on epazote here:
    http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/spanishterms/g/Epazote.htm

  12. That looks fantastic! I’m always looking for new/more interesting Mexican rice dishes. I’m with you on the epazote… I think it’s the strangest taste, but it really gives a dish a distinct flavor.
    This is getting bookmarked, pronto.

  13. This dish looks amazing, and what a beautiful green color. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Wow, this looks incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it, but it looks like such a great alternative to traditional Mexican rice.

  15. oooh…rice and cheese, I have to try this. This reminds me of our Rice and cheese loaf..I will have to try this.

  16. I love baked rice dishes! I get to Chicago once or twice a year, so next time, I’ll have to see if they’ve opened the new branch yet!

  17. Linda, my food substitutions bible says that you can also use chopped fresh savory as a substitutions for epazote.

  18. This looks so good! I had my birthday dinner at Mercadito this year, they have so many different kinds of tacos and I love their guacamole!

  19. Mmmmmmmmm. Yum! If I make this at home will you meet me? I’ll even have the hot sauce and mucho muchacho cerveza’s.

  20. Oh G, I’d meet you anywhere. Happy V-Day.

  21. This rice sounds really good!

  22. I made this last night and it received rave reviews. I added about a cup of chopped up cactus (nopales) to the simmering onions in butter. I think it blended well with the flavors already in the casserole. Once again, your recipe recommendations ROCK!

  23. Renate: That is a great idea. Thanks for sharing…

  24. Last night my vegetarian friend and her daughter came over for dinner and I made this. She loved it and called this morning raving. I really enjoyed it too but the kids were skeptical and didn’t eat much.

    This is a super make ahead dish and it actually comes together really quickly.

    I had to make several substitutions but I still think it came out good and the overall color and texture were right. First off, I couldn’t get me hands on a poblano chile so I just added another green pepper and added 5 or so splashes of Tabasco green pepper sauce. Epazote was omitted altogether since I couldn’t get it and didn’t know what I could substitute. Finally, Manchego cheese was not at the store so I substituted Gruyere and that worked.

    I served it with a nice salad and red wine. For dessert I cut up a few of the raspberry breakfast bars from an earlier Lottie and Doof post that I had made earlier in the week and topped them with vanilla ice cream. Yummy!!

  25. Wow. And WOW!

  26. I am totally with you that epazote smells like gasoline. It really took me aback the first time I bought some.

    I’m definitely bookmarking this recipe to try sometime soon. Thanks for sharing!

  27. Wow, this dish is such a show-stopper.

    I recently resolved to stop eating the same boring stuff all the time, and to start trying out some more exciting recipes. This is the first one I went for, and I’m so happy I did.

    Thanks so much for sharing this!

  28. Would this work at all with store-bought verde sauce? It sounds amazing, but I live in Berlin, and I don’t know where I could find many of the ingredients. Also, can you suggest an alternative to Oaxaca cheese? Thanks so much.

  29. Hi Britta,
    While it would work, technically, it will not be the same thing at all. I’m not sure if I would recommend it? Or- just approach it experimentally and see what you come up with. Mozzarella is a good sub for the Oaxaca.

  30. Thank you!

  31. I am your newest fan. Believe it or not i have never read food blog before, this is a revelation. Beautiful work. I am in awe.

  32. OMG this looks absolutely delicious, will be making it (with veg broth) this weekend.

What do you think?