There probably aren’t many dishes that transcend cultures, cropping up in country after country in some form or another.* Rice pudding does, which is understandable because it’s the ideal comfort food: easy to make (with ingredients you probably already have at home), hearty and warming and basically the culinary equivalent of your favorite cable-knit sweater. It’s flavored with rosewater in the Middle East, cardamom and pistachio on the Indian subcontinent, raisins and eggs in Italy, butter and fruit juice in Scandinavia, apple sauce and cherries in Germany, in the oven in England, and in Latin America, with citrus peel, cinnamon and ground cloves.
As someone who’s been burned one too many times by one-note rice puddings from the local diner, the spice and citrus in arroz con leche add nice bright flavors to the standard recipe, and it’s quickly become my favorite version of rice pudding (don’t worry, I’m no traitor — my favorite version of India’s take on rice pudding, kheer, is actually made with orzo). Like most comfort foods, there are a million versions of arroz con leche, as recipes vary from region to region and human to human. Which means you can basically do what you want, and what’s better than that?
I went with orange zest, cinnamon sticks and a pinch of ground cloves, and used arborio rice. The same starchiness that makes such creamy risotto also makes an exceptionally creamy arroz con leche, though one word of caution here: cook the rice pudding to a bit looser of a consistency than you would normally, since it will firm up a bit as it cools.
There’s some stirring involved here, but otherwise, no work at all — and within 45 minutes (ie. one episode of my new TV addiction, Breaking Bad [and yes, I’m 100 years late to the party, and yes, I know, I basically haven’t lived ’til I’ve watched this show]), perfectly creamy, dreamy dessert. There’s a reason people eat this stuff everywhere around the world.
*My brain, in its current post-work, writing-while-simultaneously-watching-The-Devil-Wears-Prada state cannot think of any. Can you? What other dishes show up across different cultures? …