Rustic woodfired spoon by Jim Shack. Plate by Roger Baumann. Photo by Marta Bartolomei Edmonds.
I want to start this decade by sharing with you a very simple but deliciously comforting recipe from the heart of Puerto Rico: Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Coco). This humble dessert of rice, coconut milk and spices is traditionally made in Puerto Rican households throughout the Christmas season. Big batches of it are made, poured into plates, sprinkled with cinnamon and then shared with neighbors and loved ones.
For such a simple dessert with few ingredients, it is surprising how many variations you will find in Puerto Rico. Every family has their own way of making it. Some families like it sweeter, some like to garnish it with cinnamon while others with cracker crumbs, some like to add fresh grated coconut and some use whole spices while others use ground spices. In my grandparent’s home, as Mima gratefully accepted her neighbors’ and friends’ arroz con coco, the tasting would begin. Pito, always the food critic, would comment on the neighbor’s interpretation of the dessert: “too much cinnamon” or “too much sugar” or “this one is too bland, it needs more ginger” or “que rico” when he liked one in particular. Pito developed his own version of arroz con coco. He prefers it with lots of fresh ginger and adds molasses. The recipe I share with you today is my version of Pito’s arroz con coco, I love the use of fresh ginger in his recipe, but have omitted the molasses.
A bite of this creamy, spicy desert is like taking a bite of Puerto Rico itself. Its simple, comforting, and surprisingly festive and delicious. I encourage you to try this easy recipe, make it your own and share with your family and friends.
Arroz con Coco (Puerto Rican Coconut Rice Pudding)
1 cup short grain rice
13 1/2 ounces coconut milk
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into 1/8″ rounds
6 cinnamon sticks
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1. In a heavy 4 to 6 quart pan, combine the rice, coconut milk, water, salt, sliced ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce it to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. After around 20 minutes of simmering, when the mixture is still loose and creamy, begin to remove the sliced ginger, cinnamon and cloves. Continue simmering until the rice is done (about 30 minutes) and the mixture resembles a thin custard.
2. Add the brown sugar, raisins and finely grated fresh ginger and stir to incorporate. Remove the mixture from the heat and pour into two slightly wet dinner plates. Garnish with the reserved cinnamon sticks and allow it to set for two hours. Slice and serve at room temperature.
Makes 8 servings.