Lima has always been a place to enjoy all kinds of extremely sweet desserts, most of them created during colonial times, when nuns spent their days at the cloisters preparing sweets and other delicacies. Even back then, two rice puddings were -and still are- very famous. One is the ubiquitous arroz con leche, white and creamy, served warm with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon. The other one, more rustic but equally delicious, is arroz zambito, sweetened with chancaca, and flavored with tiny Chilean coconuts, raisins, and aniseed. With this recipe you will see how a few changes to the traditional rice pudding can create a completely different dessert.
Peruvians love to serve arroz zambito after having creolle dishes like anticuchos, along other desserts such as the popular picarones. The latter also share the earthy flavor of chancaca with arroz zambito. If you don’t know it, chancaca is a by-product in the elaboration of sugar; something that could be considered raw, unrefined sugar. It has several names, depending on the country you’re in: some call it chancaca, like us, or panela, piloncillo, and melaza. Sometimes it has darker or lighter colors because it is artisanal, and even the same batch has several colors. You may be able to find it in Latin American grocery stores, or can replace it with the darkest kind of brown sugar available to you. To chop chancaca, keep it at room temperature, and using a knife shave the edges coarsely. It melts beautifully when heated, and makes delicious syrups for other desserts like buñuelos and the aforementioned picarones.
The original arroz zambito was made only with water, but cooks eventually added milk to the preparation to give it a creamier texture; they obviously loved the result because that’s the way it’s still eaten today. The rice used is regular long grain rice, but I adore Arborio´s texture in rice pudding, so I decided to make this dessert using Arborio too. It´s wonderful! And finally, regular coconut is a new addition I made because not everyone will be able to find Chilean coconuts at their grocery store. These are tiny coconuts, -the size of a walnut-, that taste and smell like real coconuts. Regular, dried coconut is a perfect substitution.
Cook the pudding over medium/low heat, stirring frequently to keep the rice from scorching at the bottom of the saucepan. This is why I prefer a heavy bottom pan.
The final texture of the pudding should be soupy, because if it looks thick in the saucepan, it will the too dry when cold. Remember that this dessert thickens when cool, so it´s better to stop cooking it when it’s still somewhat liquid. Serve at room temperature with toasted pecans on top.
This and many other desserts can also be found in our book The Everything Peruvian Cookbook.
- 2 cups milk
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 cloves
- ½ teaspoon aniseed
- ½ cup Arborio rice
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 can evaporated milk
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup chancaca, coarsely chopped (or dark browm sugar)
- ½ cup grated dried coconut
- ½ cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- ½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped
- Put milk, cinnamon, cloves, aniseed, Arborio rice, and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, lower the heat, and simmer until the rice is al dente and the milk is almost evaporated, (about 20 minutes).
- Add evaporated milk and water, chancaca, grated coconut, and raisins, and continue cooking over medium low heat until the chancaca melts, the rice is very soft, and the texture of the dessert is creamy, but still somewhat liquid.
- Turn off the heat and discard the cinnamon sticks and the cloves.
- Add butter and vanilla, stirring. Cool to room temperature.
- Serve in nice glasses, and sprinkle with pecans.