Growing up my grandmother made only two Puerto Rican dishes – empanadillas and pastels. Just recently my aunt introduced what we forever called potato poppers and have recently found out are actually called croquetas. I just realized that my grandmother made another Puerto Rican dish, a dessert. When it comes to Puerto Rican desserts, the one that comes to mind is arroz dulces, or sweet rice. In other parts of the world, arroz dulces goes by many other names.
In African it is called M’halbi. In Indonesia it’s called Ketan hitam. Arroz dulces is known as Kheer or Payasam in India. Italians know it as Budino di Riso, and Spaniards call it Arroz con leche. The most common name for arroz dulces comes from England – rice pudding.
My grandmother will spend the entire day permeating the house with the smells of cinnamon, milk, and raisins. She makes plates overflowing with arroz dulces for each of her eleven grandkids. She also makes overflowing plates for each family in our clan.
There are many recipes for arroz dulces, but this recipe focuses on the Puerto Rican version of the dish:
1 ½ cups rice
4 ¼ cups coconut milk
3 cinnamon sticks
2 oz ginger
6 whole cloves
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup raisins
¾ cup coconut milk
1. Wash the rice and soak the rice in water, with the water rising above the rice, for 2 hours. The rice will soak up the water so be sure to use a lot of water.
2. Twenty minutes before the rice is done soaking, combine the 4 ½ cups of coconut milk, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg in a large pot.
3. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Bring the heat down to moderate, then cover and boil for 15 minutes.
4. Drain the rice and add to the pot. Mix the rice in and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the rice is dry. Do not stir the rice.
5. Combine the sugar and the raisins to the rice, stir, and boil the mixture over moderate heat. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 more minutes. Do not stir the mixture.
6. Add the ¾ cup coconut milk and stir in. Bring the heat back to moderate and boil for around 30 minutes, or until the rice dries again. During this time turn the rice over twice and occasionally scrape the bottom of the pot.
7. Remove the spices pieces. Spoon the rice into a flat serving platter or plate. All the rice to cool at room temperature.
This dish is best served cold.