In my Around the World Reading Challenge, I read The Storyteller by Mario Vargas Llosa for Peru (you can read about it in my reading blog.) Much of the book takes place with the indigenous people living in the jungles of Peru.
I knew my Peruvian dessert would need to be something special. I was finding a lot of dishes with clear European influence, heavy on the dulce de leche, such as Suspiro a la Limeña, a very sweet meringue topped custard. This looks delicious, and I'd like to make it someday, but it did not seem quite unique enough. I also found a subset of anise-flavored desserts, which must be a Peruvian flavor profile, like the Turrón de Doña Pepa. Just looking at the picture made my teeth hurt. I started to talk to my friend Karen, who talked to her friend from Peru, and they suggested Arroz Zambito. The best recipe I found was over on the My Life in Peru site, where she explains the racial undertones to the word "zambito," but also states
"While it’s generally considered that the Spanish brought arroz con leche to Peru, the native Peruvians took the recipe and ran with it, turning it into something that is very Peruvian. So if we can look past the racial connotations of the name, we can see how it perfectly fits, in this marriage of European and indigenous Latin American flavors."This combination, of European and indigenous Latin American flavors, couldn't have been any more perfect to mirror the contrasts and conflicts in The Storyteller.
First I had to hunt down chancaca, a key flavor ingredient to the Arroz Zambito. Chancaca, also known as panela, raspadura or piloncillo, depending on which part of Latin America you come from, is basically what is left after the moisture is evaporated out of cane sugar. I had to go to a local supermercado to find any, but they had an entire shelf. It is a hard block and has to be grated before use. It doesn't just fall apart on its own, that's for sure. I got worn out after 3/4 cup or so, so my Arroz Zambito may be a little less sweet than it should have been. That's okay with me since I haven't been eating a lot of sugar lately! The raisins, as they cook in the arroz zambito, get dark and syrupy too, so every time you bite into one it is like a pulse of sweetness.
The picture at the top is a bit misleading, because I left the rest on low heat, and more of the liquid evaporated, meaning it was a little denser than as pictured. I think that's what you want - not soup, but a creamy mouthful. I have no problem admitting that I was home sick yesterday, and made this for breakfast. Can you have better comfort food than a warm, spicy, rice dish? This isn't just regular rice pudding. The spices and panela/chancaca make a big difference in flavor and dimension. I now have a half-block of panela left, and I may try this chancaca syrup.
Arroz Zambito (recipe from My Life in Peru)
- 1 quart (liter) of water
- 3/4 cup of rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves
- 1/2 cup of raisins
- 1 cup of chancaca (or panela, raspadura, piloncillo), grated
- 3 cans of evaporated milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- grated coconut and powdered cinnamon for garnish
- Boil the rice in the water with the cinnamon sticks and cloves.
- When the rice has absorbed all the water, remove the cinnamon and cloves.
- Add the raisins, the chancaca, and the three cans of evaporated milk. (make sure it’s evaporated, not sweetened condensed!)
- Let it simmer for about 15 minutes, then add the rest of the sugar. Continue cooking on low heat, stirring constantly, until the pudding is of a creamy consistency.