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‘This rice is life-giving!’: An Eagle Rock chef shares her recipe

Fresh cilantro and peppers garnish Mexicatessen's steaming rice.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Have you ever had the amazing Cilantro Lime Rice at Cacao Mexicatessen up in Eagle Rock? It blows my mind every time how absurdly delicious it is. It’s fluffy, light, salty, fresh-tasting and a lovely shade of green. I would loooooooove to see that recipe profiled. This rice is life-giving!

— Marjorie Hunt
Highland Park

Life-giving food is what we need now, and this rice is definitely it. When working with chef Christy Lujan on her Mission Fig Mole recipe, I polished off the accompanying bowls of her cilantro lime rice. It is truly special, which may be why it’s a little tricky to nail.

The ingredients are easy to find and the technique is straightforward, but the ratios need to be just right to ensure evenly cooked grains. Lujan explained, “It’s easy to make rice with just water, but when you add other things, it’s a horrible thing to deal with, especially when I’ve had to change it in increments.” She scaled down her restaurant’s big-batch version for us in her home kitchen and shared the tips she’s learned over years of perfecting this dish.

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Chef Christy Lujan at Cacao Mexicatessen.
Chef Christy Lujan of Cacao Mexicatessen has been preparing more cilantro lime rice than usual during COVID-19 for the restaurant’s takeout family packs.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Most important is maintaining the proper proportion of solids to liquids. If you try to blend more vegetables or herbs into the lime-water mix, the rice may end up mealy. Another key is to not skimp on the oil or the rice may come out mushy or clumpy. Lujan said, “I know it seems like a lot of oil, but it also helps to fry the sauce and sizzle the grains. You want that nice toasty flavor.”

Even though you should aim for a consistent roasted-rice taste, you can customize the other seasonings. The cilantro is essential, but the spinach can be substituted with anything dark green, such as green onion tops, parsley or chives. Of course, the lime needs to be there too, but the acidity of lime juice varies from fruit to fruit. Lujan suggested tasting a sip of juice plain first. If it’s especially tart, cut out a few tablespoons. If it’s weak, add a few. However you adjust, be sure to add enough water to end up with 2 cups liquid total.

At the restaurant, Lujan uses fresh pasilla chile to make a mild rice. If you love spicy food, swap in the same quantity of diced fresh serrano, jalapeño or other green chile. To keep her rice vegan so all her customers can enjoy it, Lujan seasons with salt. At home, she uses granulated chicken bouillon as her mom does. Lujan said, “This rice is so much better if you’re able to use the Knorr [bouillon].”

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If you thought you liked the rice before, you’ll end up loving it even more after cooking Lujan’s home-kitchen version.

Cacao Mexicatessen Cilantro Lime Rice

Time 50 minutes
Yields Serves 4 to 6


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