It’s considered the ultimate Mexican comfort food, as humble as it is simple—slow-cooked rice, milk, cream, cinnamon, and sugar form the basic ingredients, with many variations. But it’s a dessert rich in flavor and history, all the more wonderful because it can be made from common ingredients that cost only a few dollars.
So if you’re craving a warm, comforting treat, or need to feed a crowd something sweet and delicious, this might be one of the best bargains around.
Most recipes for Arroz con Leche only call for about half a pound, or one cup, of uncooked rice to serve four adults. Add in the price of the added milk and sugar, and you’re feeding a family something rich in flavor and tradition for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
The Long, Sweet History of Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche is common throughout Central and South America, but its roots trace back to Spain and beyond. The 700-year Moorish occupation of Spain from 711 to 1492 gave birth to an incredible sharing of culture, including influencing Spanish cuisine up until this day. The Moors introduced almonds, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, and cilantro, and were the first to plant crops of sugar, mint, spinach, and eggplants.
Arroz con Leche was believed to be brought by the North African Moors, who shared the traditional Arabic combination of rice, milk, cinnamon, and other spices. The recipe made its way across the ocean during the Age of Exploration as Spanish explorers occupied North and South America, where it took on the characteristics of the cultures there and varied as it was adapted and shared.
Variations of Arroz con Leche
Arroz con Leche recipes can vary depending on the country, region, or personal preference where you find it. Some prefer their pudding wet, others on the drier side. Some add raisins, others preserved lemon or shredded coconut. Here are some common preparations:
Costa Rica: Add nutmeg, butter
Spain: Add egg yolks, cinnamon, lemon rind
Mexico: Add chocolate, cayenne pepper
Columbia: Add butter, vanilla, cinnamon sticks, sweetened condensed milk
Try It Yourself:
Here’s a wonderful classic recipe from the Mexican Food Journal for Mexican Arroz con Leche.
The Spanish version is rich and custardy, thanks to added eggs; try this one from the Latino Foodie.