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By any name, rice dish is delish

As the summer heats up, keeping meals simple and comforting feels grounding to me. Maybe you, too? You could say I’m craving simplicity bathed in melted cheese more than ever.

This week, I have a very popular one-pot meal seasoned with a little bit of controversy. Here’s the question: Do you call this dish Spanish rice or Mexican rice? I was always told the difference is Spanish rice is a main dish containing meat or poultry and Mexican rice was more of a side dish. So, I did my research and, spoiler alert, that’s not it.

What differentiates Spanish rice from Mexican rice is the spices used and how they color the dishes. Both types of rice have the same basic ingredients: rice, tomatoes and onions. However, Spanish rice uses saffron while Mexican rice uses cumin.

Saffron makes Spanish rice yellowish whereas cumin makes Mexican rice reddish orange in color. Also, in Spain, (where they have never heard of “Spanish rice”) this dish is popularly known as paella and often contains a protein like poultry or seafood. Mexican rice is otherwise known as arroz rojo (red rice) and is typically served on the side.

So, since I’m adding hamburger but using cumin instead of saffron (because saffron is ridiculously expensive) let’s call this Spanish-ish Rice. I mashed them together. OK?

This family-friendly dinner is an extremely inexpensive yet a soul-satisfying meal. It comes together fast, making it perfect for busy weeknight dinners. And one skillet? Yes, thank you.

It freezes well, too. That’s incentive to make a double batch and freeze some. This can also be used as a filling for stuffed bell peppers.

Using brown rice in this recipe boosts nutrition and fiber. I’m especially fond of brown basmati rice because it cooks up fluffy and freezes well so I can make it in quantity and freeze it in meal-sized portions. But because brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook, this speedy recipe calls for precooked rice.

If you prefer white rice or don’t happen to have cooked rice on hand, I’ve included the white rice quick fix below.

This popular dish has many variations and I believe every family has its own “perfect and only” way to prepare Spanish rice. Here’s a list of items you could add and no one would be mad at you: green or black olives; corn; sour cream; green chiles; pinto, black or red kidney beans; and more cheese. We need more cheese, please.

No matter how you make it, I know you’ll love this simply comforting Spanish-ish delish dish.

SPEEDY SPANISH-ISH RICE

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 20 minutes

What you’ll need:

1 pound (85/15) ground beef

Salt and pepper

1 16-ounce bag frozen pepper and onion blend, thawed

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 14½-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

½ teaspoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon salt

3 cups cooked brown rice, see note below*

1 cup Monterey Jack, cheddar or Mexican blend cheese, shredded

Chopped green onions and/or cilantro, optional

Here’s how:

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, cook hamburger, breaking it up into crumbles, until beef is no longer pink. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drain the excess fat and liquid from the pan. You don’t have to drain it all as a little liquid is good.

Next add the onion and pepper blend and cook until the onion is translucent. Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes and seasonings; bring to a boil. Add rice; heat through, stirring occasionally. Let this simmer for at least five minutes to marry the flavors.

Before serving, sprinkle cheese on top and cover with a lid for a minute to melt the cheese. Garnish with green onions and cilantro, if desired. Trust me, you desire.

Serving suggestion: All you need is a big salad and call it done.

*Note:If you don’t have precooked rice, just add 1 cup of uncooked white rice (not brown, it takes too long) and 2 cups chicken broth when you add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 20 minutes. Continue as written above.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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