Why, WHY have I not discovered the greatness of cotija cheese earlier? It’s like feta and parmesan (two of my greatest loves) met and had a baby. It’s salty and firm and crumbly and tangy all at the same time. And when used in this Mexican-influenced brown rice risotto, it creates a super creamy and salty base that smothers every bite.
Truth be told, I made this recipe kind of by accident. I bought the cheese for shrimp tacos the other night, but when we were through eating the tacos, I realized I had forgotten to use it! I had a block of this delicious cheese I needed to use, in addition to some fresh corn and a red bell pepper and rice. So, this Mexican risotto was born.
It’s cooked in much the same way as traditional risotto (which is extremely simple and easy to do), and has red bell and jalapeno peppers, sweet fresh corn, cilantro, and cotija cheese in place of parmesan. And, a little cayenne pepper for some kick. It’s made with 100% real, clean, unprocessed, whole ingredients and it’s 100% YUM!
This is one of those recipes I know I will make again and again and again. I love risotto, because a) it’s incredibly rich and delicious, and b) it’s easily adaptable to using whole grains and real food. Traditionally, risotto is made with arborio rice– and it’s very delicious. But arborio rice is a type of white rice, which means its processed and not technically a whole grain. Using brown rice (or even farro or barley, like in barley risotto with asparagus, basil, and lemon recipe) makes the risotto much healthier and more nutritious (and still extremely delicious!).
Heres the thing, though. Brown rice takes a long, long time to cook- much longer than its white counterpart. A simple trick to cutting the cooking time of (most) whole grains down by almost a half? Pre-soak them. Yup, just like you would with dried beans!
If you soak the brown rice in water (enough to cover the rice by one inch) overnight in the fridge, some water will be absorbed into the rice and it will take much less time to cook. Normally, brown rice takes about 30-40 minutes to cook. Pre-soaked brown rice should take only about 20 minutes, making this meal under a half an hour to cook from start to finish.
If you’ve never made risotto before, don’t be scared of it. It’s extremely simple- but it is one of those meals that takes some tending to. And it makes GREAT leftovers- make a big batch of this and take it to work all week!
First, saute the peppers and onion in some olive oil. Then, add the rice (soaked or not) and salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper. Add 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable stock (warm or at room temperature), stir, and wait for the liquid to be absorbed. Add 1/2 cup more, and continue this process until the rice is almost cooked. At this point, add the corn (if you add it too early, it will become mushy). Continue in this way until the rice is cooked through, and stir in some cilantro and cotija cheese (aka, the food of the gods).
That’s it! Easy as pie. Hm, I wonder if I could use cotija cheese in a pie? Maybe in a crustless quiche?
Mexican Risotto with Sweet Corn and Cotija Cheese (Made with Brown Rice!)
- 1 cup brown rice
- 3-4 cups chicken or vegetable stock warm, or at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion diced
- 1 small or 1/2 large red bell pepper diced
- 1 jalapeno seeded and diced (leave seeds in for extra spicy risotto)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper depending on how spicy you want it
- 2 ears fresh sweet corn kernels removed (or 2 cups frozen corn)
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro plus more for garnish
- 1 cup grated cotija cheese plus more for garnish
- If stock is cold, simmer on low to warm up in a small pot on the stovetop.
- In a large pot or dutch oven, saute the onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeno pepper in the olive oil over medium-high heat until browned and softened (about 5 minutes).
- Add the rice, salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper. Stir to coat.
- Add 1/2 cup of the stock, stir, and allow all of the liquid to be absorbed.
- Once the liquid is absorbed, add 1/2 cup more of the stock. Keep repeating this process until the rice is almost cooked through (You'll need to taste-test this a lot. Tough life, I know)
- When the rice is almost cooked, add the sweet corn kernels and continue as you were with adding the stock gradually.
- When the rice is completely cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the cilantro and cheese until completely melted.
- Serve with extra cilantro and cheese, if desired.
If the rice is taking a while to cook, cover the risotto in between adding the stock gradually. This will keep the steam inside and make the rice cook faster.