I was always under the impression that I hated rice pudding until I spent a month in Spain after I graduated from high school. My host mother was an incredibly sweet woman who was thrilled that I was interested in cooking. Even though she worked crazy hours as a nurse and was a devoted mother to three boys, she would take time out of her evenings to show me how to make different things. She never looked at recipes, she just cooked the way her mother had showed her.
One weekend when we were in her family’s village, which was where the entire extended family congregated on weekends to eat for hours, drink lots of red wine, and relax, she and her mother decided to show me how to make arroz con leche.
Nothing more than whole milk, cinnamon, rice, and sugar were transformed over the stove into a luscious, creamy dessert that I ate far too much of, even though we’d been eating virtually nonstop the whole weekend.
Because there are plenty of arroz con leche recipes out there, I wanted to do things a little differently. The spices that go into Masala Chai (a favorite drink whenever we go out for Indian food) seemed like they would work beautifully in arroz con leche. So, I simmered up a batch of that, then proceeded with the typical recipe.
The cloves and cardamom add a warm complexity to the standard cinnamon flavor, and the tea provides an almost smoky element. If you’re not a huge fan of black tea, I’m sure it would still be delicious with just the spices alone.
For masala chai:
(adapted from My Drink Obsession)
4 cinnamon sticks
4 green cardamom pods
2 tbsp sugar
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp loose leaf black tea
For arroz con leche:
1/2 cup short grain rice
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup whole milk
Start by preparing the masala chai:
Boil the water and milk, then add the spices and sugar. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let sit 10 minutes. Add the tea, bring to a boil, and then simmer 5 minutes.
Pour through a strainer and discard the solids, except for the cinnamon sticks.
To make the arroz con leche, put the tea mixture back into the pan with the cinnamon stic and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and rice, and turn the heat down so the mixture is just simmering. Stir occasionally for about 30 minutes, then stir in the whole milk. Continue simmering until the rice is very soft, about 15 minutes more. Serve warm or chilled.