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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 [1], 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)

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.