Doña Felipa’s Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules

dona Felipa arroz con gandules Puerto Rico recipe

Puerto Rican arroz con gandules is the dish that sealed the deal between Doña Felipa and me. We had chatted a couple times, as neighbors do, across the fence between our houses, after I overheard her speaking Spanish on the phone. As anyone who knows her quickly learns, Doña Felipa Saez loves family, God, cooking and music.

One day—surprise!—she knocked on the door, carrying a huge pot of her arroz con gandules: rice and pigeon peas. This iconic Puerto Rican favorite dish is what families serve at Christmas to accompany the lechón asado or ham Navideño. But Doña Felipa’s version is so legendary, it’s requested year-round. Her church groups ask for it. Her friends beg her to make it, again and again. Every time she sees family, it must be cooked.

She’s not making it very often these days, tristemente. “This pandemic is taking away my life,” Felipa says. “I want to be out there, seeing people, going to the hospital to see if someone needs a ride home or help. Doing my things.” She shakes her head.

Today, I’m over at her house and we’re doing two of her favorite things: cooking and listening to the top 100 songs of the golden era of Puerto Rico. Su música. The rice water is boiling, and she is about to teach me how she makes her arroz con gandules so extra delicious.

“Now I’m going to tell you el secreto,” Doña Felipa says. When she adds the gandules, she uses the canned liquid the beans come in. Never throw it away: “El agua de los gandules no se tira.” Use it in your total 3 cups of liquid for the rice: it gives the dish that extra zing of salty deliciousness that makes her arroz con gandules so popular. “Queda sabroso,” she says.

Another Doña Felipa tip: Remember her sofrito, how she doesn’t use tomatoes? Dona Felipa again shows her do-things-her-own-way spirit in her choice of rice. She only uses long-grain, unlike most Puerto Rican cooks. Felipa likes her arroz on the dry side, to avoid the mush factor, she says. “Largo es mucho mejor.”

She dips a big kitchen spoon into the pot, and gives us each a burning-hot sample of rice to taste. Does it need salt? No, it does not. She nods, satisfied. “Que bueno salió.”

Yes it did: it’s salty, hearty, chewy. Está perfecto.

Arroz con gandules is the perfectly delicious, festive dish for family holidays—or to lift spirits on a down day during these times of pandemic.

Doña Felipa’s Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules

Doña Felipa’s Puerto Rican Arroz con Gandules

3 from 8 votes
Recipe by Felipa Saez Cuisine: Puerto Rican


Prep time


Cooking time




  • 8 oz 8 salt pork, sliced thinly in 1-inch pieces

  • 1/2 cup 1/2 corn oil

  • 6 cloves 6 garlic, pressed

  • 6 oz 6 sofrito

  • 2 envelopes 2 sazón with achiote

  • 1 1 red pepper, chopped

  • 10 10 olives, stuffed with pimentos

  • 3 cups 3 water (a little less if using gandules liquid)

  • 2 cups 2 rice, long grain

  • 1 can 1 gandules or pigeon peas (reserve liquid)

  • 1 tsp 1 adobo seasoning


  • Add the oil to a pan and set the burner to medium heat. When the oil is nice and hot, add the salt pork slices. Cook for 5 minutes, until they are golden brown. Scoop out and place on a plate with paper towel.
  • Into the pan with the same oil, add the garlic, sofrito, olives and achiote sazón packets. Stir to mix and let it all actively sizzle, without burning, for about 3 minutes.
  • Transfer the oil mixture to a large caserola or Dutch oven. Add the red peppers and saute for 3 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, rinse the rice in water, one time. Add the rice and water to the large pot with the oil mixture and red peppers. Stir and bring to a low boil. Add can of gandules or pigeon peas with their liquid. Stir, bring to low boil and cover.
  • Let cook for 15 minutes. Lift the lid and check on the rice-to-water ratio. If it’s too liquidy, take a big kitchen spoon and take out excess water. If it’s too dry, add a large kitchen spoon-ful of water. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 last minutes.
  • Turn off the burner. Cover the pot tightly with tinfoil and then cover with the lid on top of that. Secure tightly. Let the pot sit for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • At this point, Dona Felipa takes me into her living room and we listen to music from the greats of the 1930s and 1940s of Puerto Rico.
  • Está listo, she decides. Doña Felipa lifts the pot lid and removes the lid. She turns the rice over once or twice to make sure it’s cooked evenly throughout. She tastes it to see if needs a final pinch of salt or adobo—and deems it ready to serve. We admire its gold-rust beautiful color. It looks and smells delicioso.


  • Doña Felipa slices her salt pork into inch-long thin pieces, each split into three connected slivers, for the perfect rice-to-pork-on-your-fork sabor.
  • Tip: make Doña Felipa’s sofrito in large batches, freeze in small zip bags with about 6 oz each, and thaw before use.
  • When Doña Felipa lifts the caserola lid to add or take out water 15 minutes into the rice’s cooking time: This is a classic abuela-cooking move. Course correcting is essential for Doña Felipa because she guesstimates and feels her way through measuring ingredients.
  • Doña Felipa only uses long grain rice, because she likes her rice on the dry, firm side. Most Puerto Rican cooks use medium grain.
  • She recommends using corn oil with her arroz con gandules, but says you can use any kind of oil, including olive oil.
  • Go suave with the sal at the beginning, she cautions, since the salt pork is, as its name implies, salty. Ever the abuela cook, Doña Felipa cautions: You can siempre add more salt, but you can’t take it away.
saltpork for arroz con gandules
Doña Felipa slices her salt pork into thin strips to start this batch of arroz con gandules.
saltpork for arroz con gandules
saltpork for arroz con gandules
Save the oil you used to fry the salt pork. Add garlic, sazón with achiote, sofrito and olives, and let it all sizzle for 2 to 3 minutes, before transferring to your big caserola.
saltpork for arroz con gandules
Classic abuela-cooking move: Because she improvises measurements, a key step for Doña Felipa is to correct the amount of water-to-rice ratio once it’s been cooking for about 15 minutes.
If you have too much liquid for your rice, Doña Felipa shows us what to do. Spoon out extra liquid from the most actively boiling part of your caserola. That way you don’t lose any of the spices or savory oil flavors.
Arroz con gandules covering the pot
Once the arroz is done, turn off the heat, cover with tin foil and also cover with the lid. Let sit for 15 to 20 minutes, before serving.
Dona Felipa arroz con gandules
Está listo! One last stir and check to see if it needs a final dash of adobo or salt, and Doña Felipa’s arroz con gandules is ready to serve.

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