A Cuban Grand Slam, Part IV

A spectacular meal is never complete without dessert. Wouldn't you agree?

Even if you think you don't have room for something sweet, a few bites of dessert always provides that finishing touch. I just feel it brings the meal full circle. And there's only one way to finish off a comida Cubana and that's with arroz con leche.

Arroz con leche (rice pudding) is a traditional way to complete a classic Latin American, Spanish, Caribbean and even Indian meal. In a country where rice is a staple, they quickly figured out that a great dessert can be made by adding milk to leftover rice and cooking it. Use some different dried fruits (raisins or golden raisins, lemon or orange zest), nuts (pistachios, almonds or cashews) and spices (cinnamon, cardamom or cloves), and you completely change the dessert based on the part of the world you are in.

Because pudding is one of David's favorite desserts (you might remember the pumpkin pie pudding we made last Thanksgiving which David said was "the world's best pudding"), you can imagine how thrilled he was when I suggested arroz con leche as the chosen postre (dessert) for our Cuban series. I, on the other hand, don't get that excited about pudding since it wasn't one of the standard sweet treats of my childhood.

Though because we had put so much effort into this Cuban meal, I really wanted to make sure this pudding would knock my socks off, too, so I came up with a recipe I thought would do just that. I wanted it to be coconut-y enough, but not too rich that we couldn't enjoy more than a few bites, as Cuban food is not for the dainty eaters.

We made the incredible fried sweet plantains, and served it with a succulent roasted Cuban pork topped with mojo sauce and for the gran final, arroz con leche. All that's missing from this great meal we showed you how to make is a recipe for the rice (I used brown rice) and black beans (I heated up a can of Whole Foods' 365 brand No Salt Added Black Beans and tossed in a few chunks of chopped serranos, some garlic cloves and a drizzle of vinegar), which can be served separately or the rice and beans combined (moros y Christianos), and a mojito, which I trust you can handle.

And, for the record, this coconut rice pudding did knock my socks off.

This concludes our Cuban Grand Slam series. We certainly enjoyed the results of our efforts as we got to eat everything we made and hope you have been entertained as well as motivated to make Cuban food at home. As always, we would love to hear from you regarding how your Cuban meal turned out and which was your favorite part. And if you have any suggestions for future themed dinners, we welcome your ideas!
Viva Cuba y buen provecho!

Coconut Rice Pudding (Arroz con Leche y Coco)
The Cowgirl Gourmet (http://www.thecowgirlgourmet.blogspot.com/)

Print recipe

The arborio rice makes it creamy, the coconut milk adds just the right flavor of coconut, the shredded coconut adds flavor and texture and the raisins give an extra pop of sweetness since this is not an overly sweet pudding. In fact, this is by far one of the best rice puddings I have ever had.

Serves 6-8

1 quart whole milk
1 cup arborio rice
2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup Ideal)
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
One 14 oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut (plus another 1/2 cup for garnish, if desired for a total of 1 cup)
1/3 cup raisins, organic are preferred, optional
Ground cinnamon for garnish
Toasted coconut for garnish, optional (In a medium saucepan over medium heat, toast 1/2 cup shredded unsweetened coconut, stirring constantly, until fragrant and golden, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool.)

Arborio rice

In a large saucepan, combine the milk, rice, water and sugar and bring to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat so it simmers and add the cinnamon stick, lemon or orange zest and salt.

Lemon zest and cinnamon stick

While it's cooking, stir frequently until the mixture has thickened and rice is tender. This should take about 30-40 minutes. You will think that the mixture is too loose, but trust me, it will tighten up once you add the coconut milk and cook it a little more.

When the milk and rice mixture has thickened, add the coconut milk and shredded coconut and stir well to incorporate.

Cook another 10-15 minutes until the rice is very tender and the liquid has thickened nicely. Add the raisins in and cook for 2-3 minutes.

While the pudding may still seem to be a little loose, remember that it will continue to thicken as it cools. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly.

After it cools somewhat, spoon into bowls and serve either warm or after refrigerated. Just before serving, sprinkle with cinnamon and, if desired, a little toasted coconut.

Variations: You could replace 1/3 cup of the coconut milk with 1/3 cup of rum to make a smashing coconut-rum rice pudding. You could also leave out the raisins completely, though a coconut-rum-raisin rice pudding sounds amazing. In fact, we so loved the idea we added a splash of rum to the pudding right before serving, stirred it in and swore we were in Havana.

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