Colonial Mexican baked rice and picadillo: Torta de arroz

articles Food & Cuisine Recipes

Karen Hursh Graber

In Mexico, the word torta most often means a sandwich on a bolillo, or French roll. However, as in this case, it can also take on its original Spanish meaning of a flat, round cake or, figuratively, food shaped like that. Friar Geronimo most probably used a round cazuela to make this layered rice dish, thus calling it a torta. The original recipe called for it to be cooked a dos fuegos, with heat from above and below. After assembling the ingredients, I decided to forego the burning-coals-balanced-on-the-lid technique and baked it in the oven. The picadillo and the rice can be cooked a day ahead, refrigerated separately, and assembled just before baking. As with any rice cooked ahead, a bit of extra liquid, such as broth, should be added to the bottom of the pot when reheating, to avoid sticking or drying out. I used ground beef to make the picadillo, but ground pork or turkey could also be used. The addition of the beaten eggs is optional, but helps to “set” the casserole.


  • 1 cup rice, washed and allowed to dry thoroughly
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 ½ cups chicken broth
  • 1/8 teaspoon saffron
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • salt to taste
  • 2 large cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 pound ground or chopped beef
  • 1 pound roma or plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • pinch ground ginger
  • 1 cuaresmeño or jalapeno chile, seeded and chopped
  • ¼ cup pitted green olives, whole or sliced
  • 2 eggs, beaten (optional)

In a saucepan, sauté the rice in 1 ½ tablespoons of the vegetable oil until golden. Add the broth, saffron, cumin and salt to taste. Bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and simmer until the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet, add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onion is transparent. Add the meat and continue cooking until it is no longer pink. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, mint, ginger, chile and olives. Lower heat and simmer, covered, until a thick meat sauce has formed.

In a greased casserole dish with a lid, layer half the rice, then half the meat mixture. Repeat with remaining rice and meat. Pour beaten eggs over all, cover and bake for 20 minutes at 350º F.

Serve with a green salad and bolillos or French bread if desired. Serves 4.

Link to source articles
A guide to using spices in Mexican cooking
Early fusion food: Inside a Colonial Mexican kitchen

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2005 by Karen Hursh Graber © 2005
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