Winter in Lima, with its full-on grey skies, wet air and breezes off the Pacific cry out for warm, nourishing meals - and the occasinal comforting dessert. Arroz zambito, a quintessentially Peruvian variation on traditional rice pudding, is a sweet mid-winter embrace. The dessert appears to have originated in the 1800s, relying on chancaca (molasses) for sweetness in lieu of sugar. The result is a deep amber, creamy riff on rice pudding with a more complex, earthy sweetness imparted by the molasses, complemented by raisins and a dusting of ground cinnamon. Other variations include nuts and/or shredded coconut. We're fans of the first version and soak our raisins in pisco for added flavor but have included measurements and steps if you want to add in coconut or toasted nuts.
The dessert takes just around 30 minutes to prepare, and a few hours to cool. It starts by infusing the cooking water - and your kitchen - with spices before adding and cooking the rice. The raisins and molasses are then stirred into the rice, which continues to cook, briefly, to absorb the liquid. Once absorbed, the pot comes off the heat, and the milk and vanilla are added. From there, cover, let it cool, stir again, and serve.
Ingredients – Serves 6 to 8
- 1 cup (200gr) long grain rice
- Hot water for soaking rice (roughly 1 ¼ cups)
- 2 cups water
- 1 orange peel (try to remove white pith so only peel remains)
- 2 three-inch pieces of cinnamon stick
- 2 whole cloves
- pinch salt
- 2/3 cup chancaca liquid (Molasses)
- 60 gr raisins (Optional: pre-soaked the raisins a few tablespoons of pisco and drain before adding)
- 140 mL evaporated milk
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 c shredded coconut (Optional)
- 1/2 cup toasted, sliced pecans (Optional)
- Rinse rice in cool running water and then soak approximately 15 minutes in hot water, use just enough water to cover the rice. Strain and discard water.
- Boil 2 cups of water with orange peel, cloves, cinnamon stick and salt. Once the water has boiled for approximately 4 minutes, dip a strainer in to remove the solids, leaving the water boiling.
- Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook rice over low heat, stirring occasionally so that it does not stick, approximately 15-20 minutes, until soft and but not mushy.
- Still over low heat add raisins (and coconut, if using) and then molasses, stirring from time to time letting the molasses absorb. This usually will take just 3 or so minutes.
- Once absorbed, remove rice pudding from heat. Add the evaporated milk off heat and stir until combined. Stir in the vanilla to fully incorporate it. At this point the pudding may look soupy. This is ok, it will firm up as it cools.
- Pour into a metal, ceramic or glass bowl. Cover with plastic wrap touching the pudding's surface.
- Place bowl on a wire refrigerator shelf (or place a metal rack on a solid shelf in the refrigerator, and the bowl on the rack).
- Cool approximately 4 hours.
- Portion and serve with (toasted pecans, if using and) cinnamon lightly sprinkled on top.
A few notes
- We wrote the recipe for long grain rice but it also works with arborio rice. Water may need to be adjusted if using arborio, the easiest way is to keep a kettle of boiling water nearby and if more water is needed to fully cook the rice, use the boiling water to complete the initial cooking process.
- Chancaca (also known in Spanish as panela, papelón, piloncillo and raspadura) is unrefined sugar cane. This recipe calls for the juice, or liquid form of chancaca. For making this recipe in the U.S., we recommend using molasses, or a combination of regular and blackstrap molasses for cost and ease of locating it. Some U.S. Latin markets sell chancaca (as does Amazon) in its solid, granulated and liquid form. This recipe requires the liquid form.
- The rice pudding is best served slightly warm or at room temperature. If it has become very cold, remove from the refrigerator and let stand, or gently warm up the portion to be served.
- Rice or soy milk can be substituted for evaporated milk (coconut milk can be a bit overpowering but technically works if you like the flavor) by boiling 1 cup until it reduces to just over half a cup (140ml).