Mi Favorito Arroz Con Leche

If you do not yet have a recipe for arroz con leche, this is the one to save.  Arroz con leche is a delicious dessert that is ubiquitous in the Spanish-speaking world, and there are as many occasions and traditions associated with this dish as there are ways to make it.  Take a few heavenly bites, and you will never look at plain pudding the same way again.  Like so many things, this recipe is an amalgamation of many that I have tried, resulting in sweet and creamy (yet flavorful and slightly chewy) spoonfuls of pure goodness.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup arborio rice

1 1/2 cups water

3-4 pieces of lemon peel, about 1″ in length each

1 cinnamon stick

4 cups whole milk

1 14-ounce can coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

Place the rice, water, lemon peel, and cinnamon stick in a 5-quart dutch oven.  Cover and bring to a low simmer for about 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, combine the coconut milk, milk, salt, and sugar in a separate pot and heat to just under a boil.  Slowly add the milk mixture to the rice and maintain the slow simmer at the lowest heat.  Stir the mixture often, making sure to scrape the bottom to avoid any scalding.  If you have a whole vanilla bean, make a cut down the length of the bean, scrape out the seeds, and stir them into the rice.  Before the milk gets too thick, remove the lemon peels and cinnamon stick and discard them.  At this point add the vanilla extract if you did not use a whole bean.  Continue to cook, uncovered, while stirring frequently until most of the milk is absorbed.  Total cooking time is about 30-45 minutes.  As an option, after ten minutes of cooling, the texture may be smoothed with a wand blender.  I like to smooth it partially, leaving small lumps, but this is up to your discretion.

To me, a small dish of arroz con leche is a wholesome indulgence.  It can be garnished with raisins or a sprinkling of cinnamon.  Some people also like to add a small spoonful of sweetened condensed milk to the top.  It can be eaten warm or cold — a Colombian friend explains that she likes to eat it warm, like soup.  Another friend says that in Panama, they traditionally serve arroz con leche when a baby sprouts a first tooth.  The pudding is served in small containers to family and friends to mark the milestone!  In fact, it is often served around the holidays and for celebrations, but a special reason is not necessary for this delicious treat.  This makes at least 8-10 servings, so enjoy it and invite over your loved ones to share!

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