It’s been pointed out to me that I am headstrong, loud, and have a temper that can bubble up as quickly as an Alka-Seltzer tablet plopped in water. It’s also been pointed out that these endearing characteristics are probably innate and completely out of my control because I’m Latin American. I’m not offended. If one day I throw a plate at someone’s head I can blame it on my ethnicity.
I couldn’t help think of the stereotypical fiery Latin temperament when I was making this recipe. Arroz con leche (riz au lait or rice pudding), is such a languid, drowsy, gentle thing, so tender it’s even suitable for those with smooth gums and weak constitutions. And yet, it is among the most well-loved and frequently made desserts in much of Latin America. Maybe we’re all bark and no bite.
The accompanying rice pudding recipe requires some care and attention—it needs to be occasionally stirred over low heat for about an hour. I find watching the pudding steadily thicken is quite soothing, and the reward of a warm bowl of arroz con leche is worth every turn of the spoon.
This arroz con leche is flavored with orange rind, cinnamon, and (optional) dark rum; the scent is deep and sultry. You’ll notice I’ve used dark brown sugar as well as granulated sugar in the recipe: the pudding’s color will be golden rather than white, and the flavor more complex. At home I’d use dulce de rapadura or piloncillo (unrefined whole cane sugar), and do feel free to use either if they’re available to you.
A side note: arroz con leche is part of a children’s song; these are a few lines from one version.
“Arroz con leche me quiro casar / con una señorita de San Nicolás / que sepa coser / que sepa bordar / que sepa abrir la puerta para ir a jugar…. / Con esta sí, con esta no / con esta señorita me caso yo.”
(Rice pudding, I want to marry a young lady from San Nicolás who’ll know how to sew, who’ll know how to embroider, and who’ll know how to open the door to go out and play…With this one: yes, with this one: no, this is the young lady I will marry.)
ARROZ CON LECHE (Nicaraguan Rice Pudding)
Active time: 1 hour
Total time: 1 hour
Notes: Rice pudding is best served warm as soon as it is made.
3 ½ cups water
1 cup medium- or long-grain white rice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 3-inch pieces orange rind from 1 orange
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 ½ cups milk
1 cup sugar
¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup raisins
¼ cup dark rum (optional)
Ground cinnamon (optional)
Bring water to boil over medium-high heat in medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stir in rice, 1 tablespoon butter, orange rind pieces, cinnamon sticks, and salt. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring from time to time, until most of the liquid is absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes.
Stir in milk, sugar, dark brown sugar, raisins, and optional rum. Increase heat to medium-high and bring mixture to boil. Immediately reduce heat o medium-low and simmer, stirring from time to time, until rice is thickened and tender, about 35 to 45 minutes.
Remove from heat. Remove and discard orange rind pieces and cinnamon sticks. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Serve warm and dust with cinnamon if desired.