Compiled by Rose Maramba
Arroz con leche, literally rice with milk, is Spain’s own rice pudding. Spanish folk have it for dessert. But really, it could fill in for light dinner especially if it comes with additional garnishings. Because in Spain it is usually served hot, it’s great in cool-to-cold weather.
Legend has it that the dish originated with the Moors from North Africa. No surprise there: those nomadic Muslim people of Maghrebi Berber descent were in Spain from their conquest of Visigothic Christian Hispania in 711 AD to 1492 when they were finally driven out by the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand. That’s 781 intervening years!
There could very well be more than a grain of truth to the legend. After nearly a millennium of interacting, moros y cristianos could not possibly not have influenced each other to a considerable extent. But for those who may not know much about Spanish history, despite the interminable years there was never a central Moorish government in Spain, just scattered caliphates the most extensive and important of which was the Caliphate of Cordoba.
That being said, Luis Benavides Barajas tells us that “without the important influence of the Moors throughout Spain, we would not be cooking and eating much of the Spanish food that is considered to be so typical of the country today.”
Benavides is the prodigious author of The Alhambra Under the Half Moon, History and Cuisine from the XIII to the XV Century ; El Valle de la Alegría, al Sur de Granada, la Cocina y su Historia ; Los Nazaries, la Cocina y su Historia, and many other books on gastronomy.
Rice with cinnamon is a traditional Arabic mix; the Moors brought it with them to Hispania-turned al-Andalus. It gave rise to what we now know as Spain’s creamy arroz con leche which had then been introduced to Philip II’s empire where “the sun never set.” Thus you have arroz con leche in Latin America and in the faraway Philippines (arroz con leche with chocolate whose name, champorado, is derived from the Mexican champurado).
The very word arroz comes from al-ruzz, the Arabic word for rice.
The arroz con leche made in the northern Spanish region of Asturias deserves a special mention: after sprinkling sugar the pudding is heated to obtain a caramelized crunchy top. (They do this too in Portugal.)
Enjoy! Ask your friends to come join you and while you’re feasting on it you might want to ponder how two clashing cultures could have produced such a simple comfort dish! There’s still hope for this old weary world!
Featured image/Demi via Flickr, CC BY2.0
Arroz con leche with cinnamon and lemon peel/Slastic, CC BY2.0
Colombian arroz con leche/Cuponeando, CC BY-ND2.0
Seville Cathedral/Jude Lee, CC BY2.0