It’s only natural for me to be the most comfortable cooking traditional Panamanian dishes. It makes sense for these dishes to have special meaning to me. That the mere thought of them takes me back home, to the house I grew up in on Calle L, to watching my mom busily stirring pots and pans. There are dishes that remind me of Sunday dinners with aunts, uncles, cousins.
Guandúes are also known as gandules, or pigeon peas and are commonplace in Puertorrican and Caribbean tables and generally combined with rice. In Panama it is usually made with coconut milk and rabito–salt cured pig’s tail. I don’t have the luxury of using freshly picked guandú, but I can find them in the frozen section or the Latin aisle of most of the grocery stores in my area. Goya is a well-known brand for Hispanic products, they have the frozen ones.
In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, brown the salt pork/bacon rendering some of its fat. Add the guandúes (pigeon peas), coconut milk and a bit of salt. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat until it simmers. Cook it until the peas are tender, about 40 minutes. Strain the liquid and measure, add enough water to make 3-1/3 cps of liquid, set aside.
This recipe uses the frozen peas, however, if you are using the canned variety, just skip the step above. Instead, strain the peas and measure the liquid in the can, then add coconut milk and water to measure 3-1/3 cups. Fry the salt pork or bacon just before adding the rinsed rice.
Add oil to the pan with the peas, rinse the rice and add it to the pot stirring all the ingredients. Add the liquid, check the salt, stir this well. Make sure you remove any drippings that may have been stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring it to a slow boil; once the liquid boils do not stir it again. Keep the temperature on medium high.
Once the liquid is almost completely evaporated, bring the temperature to low and cover with the lid. Allow to steam undisturbed for 40 minutes. When you remove the lid, all the peas will be at the top, go ahead and stir them into the rice. You’re done!
Note: The flavor of the coconut milk will intensify with time. You can cook the peas a day ahead to allow the flavors to meld together.
So, how did your pot come out?