Puerto Rico has a plethora of Christmas* food, which is appropriate if we consider that our holidays start at the beginning of December and end mid-January. It all start with Christmas prep (the tree usually goes up the day after Thanksgiving), then moves on to Christmas Eve and Day, New Year’s Eve, Three King’s Day on January 6th and then come our famous octavitas, which are the days after Three Kings during which we refuse to set aside the constant partying mentality. All this eventually ends in the craziness that is Las Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián celebrated in Old San Juan during the third weekend of January. Of course, all this involves more than a month of continuous eating: rum-spiked coquito, pasteles, gandules, asopa’o, pernil, tembleque; the list in endless. And of course, as with most cultures, sweets are a very important part of pigging out during the most wonderful time of the year. That’s when one of my favorites comes in: four spice arroz con leche.
Arroz con leche translates literally to “rice with milk”, which is basically rice pudding. And let’s face it, rice pudding sounds pretty bland and boring and not very festive. Nothing exciting about mushy, boiled rice. However, all it needs is some pep in it’s step to revive this Latin-American favorite. I was inspired by the French quatre épices, or “four spices”, which consists of ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger. But, to translate it for this dessert, I replaced the pepper with cinnamon, which is a classic flavor in Puerto Rican arroz con leche.
*Puerto Rico main religion is Christianity, which is why I mention Christmas. But, in all fairness and inclusion, there are other holidays celebrated on the island :)
Four Spice Arroz con Leche
4 1/2cupswhole milk
In a large pot, bring water and salt to a boil over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, rinse rice in a colander and drain well.
Once water comes to a boil, add in rice, butter and cloves, and stir. Decrease to low heat and cook uncovered for about 35 minutes. Do not stir the rice during this time.
In a bowl, stir together whole milk, sugar, ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon until sugar has dissolved. Pour the sweetened milk into the pot and stir. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil.
Once it has boiled, decrease the heat to medium low and cook for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the mix from sticking. The mixture should be creamy and not too liquid. Remove the pot from the heat and the cloves before serving.