Arroz con leche, or lemon-flavoured rice pudding (Portugal)

Neighboured by Spain, Portugal is the westernmost country in Europe. It has had a number of colonies in its history. Most people know that Portuguese is spoken in Brazil, but also in some African and Asian countries such as Angola and East Timor. Still, unlike most former colonial powers, Portugal remains rather homogenic religion and ethnicity-wise. It is also fairly liberal despite its Catholic roots (although officially it is a secular country, with complete separation of church and state).

Portugal’s colonial past shows up in the way they use more spices than most European cuisines. Their cuisine is also heavily Mediterranean, with plentiful use of seafood, garlic and olive oil. There’s a long tradition in production of wine and cheeses. Portuguese food also often contains potatoes, cabbage, onions, tomatoes, rice and beans. They also love desserts, especially of the pastry and custard/pudding type.

Wikipedia says “Portuguese cuisine is characterised by rich, filling and full-flavored dishes” which definitely goes for this dish. Most cultures probably have their own variations of rice pudding (Indian kheer is one of my favorite desserts, as is my own recipe with maple syrup, coconut milk and real vanilla). As a big fan of lemon zest I was particularly fond to try the Portuguese arroz con leche, also known as roz con leche.

Traditional arroz con leche contains egg yolks, as well as crazy amounts of sugar and sometimes butter, and quite a lot of lemon zest. Note that there are rice puddings with the same name in many Spanish-speaking countries, but they don’t usually contain lemon. (Technically I guess this is arroz sin leche, since there is no dairy involved.)

In this recipe I have replaced the eggs with some heavy cashew cream and a little corn flour and added some coconut milk for richness. If you have raw almond or cashew butter, you could thin it with a little water and use it instead of the nut mixture. For a nut free option you could leave it out and add e.g. oat cream, blended tofu or something similar instead. Orange blossom water (found in Middle-Eastern groceries) is definitely not a traditional addition, but tastes so good with everything that has lemon zest.

P.S. Normally I take all the pictures for Vegventures (often with my husband), but this picture is taken by Risto Mäki-Petäys. While traditionally it is decorated with cinnamon, I topped it with some strips of lemon peel (made with a julienne slicer) instead. In the background you can see tosca cupcakes and cashew rhubarb cookies.

Arroz con leche

Arroz con leche

9 oz/250 g long-grained rice
9 oz /250 g sugar (traditional amount; you may want to significantly reduce this!)
2 cups/4.8 dl soy or rice milk
1 cup/1.2 dl coconut milk
zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup/0.6 dl raw cashew nuts
1/4 cup water
(1 tbsp corn flour/cornmeal – not corn starch!)
1-2 tsp orange blossom water

Bring the rice, milks and sugar to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes, until it is pudding-like. Add lemon zest and salt and cook for a few more minutes. Blend the cashew nuts, water and corn flour into a smooth paste with a blender or food processor. Add the paste to the rice pudding. Serve hot or cold, decorated with cinnamon.

4 Responses to “Arroz con leche, or lemon-flavoured rice pudding (Portugal)”

  1. 1

    Delicious recipe. This is one of my favorites. My Mexican mother made this often and was usually eggless.

  2. 2

    This recipe looks fantastic. My mother-in-law makes this dish with eggs and heavy cream so I can never partake of the deliciousness. Your recipe looks even better and I love that it has orange blossom water in it :)

  3. 3

    This is a great comforting dessert. It is really popular in Portugal and as well as in Spain. The combination of your innovations (the coconut, orange blossom and the cashew paste) sound really good.
    Thanks for the post.

    PS: “Arroz con leche” is Spanish, the correct Portuguese name for the dessert is “arroz doce”, which translates as sweet rice.

  4. 4

    Thank you for the correction! I’m studying Spanish, but it’s still very early… Even websites that talked about this as a Portuguese recipe used the Spanish name (weird that no one else had corrected it earlier).

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