Italian-Swedish-Jewish-Spanish Rice

My husband Roger would be the first one to tell you that his mother, Alice, was not a good cook.  He jokes that he knew when supper was ready when he could smell smoke.  In defense of my mother-in-law, I must tell you that her mother died when Alice was a mere two years old, so she grew up without a mother to guide her and teach her how to cook.

Alice was always very concerned with food safety and wasn’t going to chance her two boys getting e-coli, salmonella, or trichinosis.  Roger says she would routinely overcook meat to be safe.  He told me that, growing up, he thought apple sauce was invented to moisturize pork.  Same for ketchup with regard to hamburger.  I’m not sure what he did for chicken.

Despite having to learn how to cook on her own, by guess and by golly, Alice made sure there was a home-cooked meal on the table every night despite having to work full time most of her life.  She pretty much stuck to the traditional meat and potato meals of the times and didn’t get too fancy about anything.  With two boys to feed, she also liked to cook casseroles.  One day, she found a recipe for Spanish rice in a Jewish cookbook!  For whatever reason, she took it and ran with it which was quite unusual for her.  One major change was to replace the recommended white rice with wild rice.  The meal became a family favorite—so, of course, I had to make the one and only family favorite of Roger’s given to me.  Since I like to “run” with recipes as well, I tweaked it, too, thus we renamed the recipe.

Roger made it recently, and I came home from work to find that he, too, had changed it once again.  Instead of the 2 cups of tomato puree called for, he added one 8-oz. can of tomato sauce and a 16-oz. can of petite diced tomatoes which he drained.  We decided we liked this new version a lot.  The next-to-last version (I’ve listed both ways below) is more tomato-y throughout.  This version has a milder tomato impact throughout but has the nice bites of tomato interspersed.  I think next time, rather than drain the 16-oz. can of tomatoes, we’ll add it all in and eliminate the 8 oz. of tomato sauce.

This has been a family favorite for 60 years if you go back to when Alice started making it.  It’s a main meal casserole, and I serve it with a green vegetable or two.  If you’re not counting your carbs too closely, a dinner roll goes nicely.  It is deliciously savory and reheats well.  It also freezes well.

I don’t know that anyone else will recognize this as a Spanish rice, but it was Alice’s signature dish and we remember her fondly every time we have it for dinner.

Italian-Swedish-Jewish Spanish Rice

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  • 2-3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, chopped
  • 2 to 3 tbl. vegetable oil
  • 2 cups tomato puree OR one 16-oz. can diced petite tomatoes (undrained)
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/4 lbs. ground turkey or hamburger
  • 1 box Uncle Ben’s wild rice, cooked according to directions, OR 2 packages Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, “Long Grain & Wild”
  • 1/3 c. plain bread crumbs + 1 tbl. butter


Sauté celery, onion, and peppers in vegetable oil in large frying pan.  When soft and golden, dump into large Corning casserole.  Fry turkey or hamburger until cooked and add to vegetable mixture.  Add tomato puree (or 16-oz. can diced petite tomatoes, undrained), chili powder, salt & pepper; stir to combine.  Cook wild rice according to package directions and stir in to mixture.

Melt 1 tbl. butter and mix with bread crumbs.  Sprinkle on top of casserole.   Bake at 350o for approx. 45 minutes or until bread crumbs turn golden and you can see casserole bubbling.

Source:  Adapted from a recipe given to me by my Swedish mother-in-law, Alice

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