Beautiful rice. It is a versatile food and a true staple for millions of people around the world. For Celiacs it is the original alternative to gluten containing grains. For me personally, it was a lifesaver when other safe. sans gluten grains were not yet available the way they are today.
One of my favorite dishes to prepare with rice is arroz con leche. It is my comfort food of choice because it easily transports me to simpler times. It envelopes you with the smell of cinnamon and lemon zest and it warms you from the inside out with each satisfying spoonful. It is the Spanish dessert par excellence.
Arroz con leche should not be too sweet. It is flavorful but does not overwhelm the palate. It is a delicate dish but very, very easy to make. As always, the key is working with first rate ingredients from beginning to end. That way you ensure that your end product is everything it should be.
Start by selecting a short grain rice with a good amount of starch (amylopectin). Don’t use Bomba or Calasparra because (although utterly Spanish) the grains remain separate after cooking. To truly enjoy those types of rice you’ll have to wait until you make paella…(worth the wait, believe me).
Use a full fat or 2% organic milk with an excellent flavor profile. I prefer milk from grass fed cows. If you are dairy intolerant or prefer to avoid milk, you could use a good coconut milk. It will infuse the rice with a somewhat tropical flavor, but it does not change the texture too much. Traditionally, in Spain, cow’s milk was always used to make arroz con leche.
This dish requires some patience. Take your time to stir and watch over it while you cook. You will be rewarded with a beautiful bowl of creamy goodness.
Arroz con Leche
1 cup short grain rice
4 cups 2% milk (or non dairy coconut milk)
1 inch piece of lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 cup blue agave
2 Tbs butter
1 vanilla bean
Bring the milk to a simmering point and add the lemon zest and the cinnamon stick. Slice open the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the inside of the pod with the edge of your knife. Add to the milk both the contents and the shell of the vanilla bean pod.
Stir in the agave and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes. Measure the rice and add to the pot with the milk in it. From this point on you must watch and stir the rice almost constantly. Arroz con Leche is very much like a sweet risotto and needs your attention until done. As the rice cooks it will turn translucent and the starch in it will thicken the liquid gradually. Feel free to adjust the liquid is you prefer a thinner consistency. Test the rice for firmness: it should be soft but never mushy and the dish should be velvety and smooth.
Arroz con Leche can be eaten both warm or cold with a generous sprinkling of fragrant cinnamon on the surface.