Seems like these days, you can practically put anything in a tortilla or wonton wrapper. And that’s what I love about Modern American cooking. There’s this playful celebration of those subtle similarities bridging the gaps between the plethora of cuisines in this giant mixing pot we call the US of A.
Sometimes it’s a style or technique, and sometimes it’s a flavor profile or series of ingredients. Whatever it is, I get a kick out of making the connections however obscure they might be.
On a recent trip halfway around the world I stumbled across another one of these epicurean phenomena- two dishes, like identical twins, separated at birth. Standing in front of a street vendor on KhaoSan Road in Bangkok I had a plate of coconut sticky rice with sweet mangos begging for me to gobble it up. The starchy rice was sweet and soaked in coconut milk with palm sugar and who knows what else. I took one bite and was immediately transported back to my childhood, growing up in San Diego on the board of Mexico where I used to eat the Mexican equivalent arroz con leche….rice with milk for those you of who didn’t pass remedial Spanish (like me).
Both dishes are rice based, and thick. The fresh mango in the Thai dish helps cut some of the sweetness sort of like lemon zest and raisins compliment the Mexican version.
So now, back in the land of the free, where the walls separating ingredients and cuisines are crumbling more and more, I’ve come up with the perfect Cinco de Mayo dessert, which thanks to folks at www.CookTasteEat.com and www.WholeFoodsMarket.com I’m planning for nearly three months in advance!
This is my recreation of the traditional arroz con leche, but with coconut milk. I call it:
Arroz con coco
*This is a revision to Arroz con Leche. The coconut milk in this dish makes for a richer and more creamy end product that’s perfect for breakfast or dessert.
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tblsp lemon zest (use of a microplane is preferred)
- 3 whole cloves
- 4 cups water
- 1 egg
- 3 cups Whole Foods Market 365 Everyday Value Coconut Milk
- 1 (12-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 tblsp vanilla extract
- pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup raisins (or dried cranberries, cherries, whatever you like)
- 2 tblsp unsweetened flaked coconut toasted (optional)
- ¼ cup of candied pecans (or your favorite nuts)
- ½ tsp ground cinnamom
Place the first five ingredients in a saucepan and let soak at room temperature for at least an hour.
After an hour, bring the contents of the pot to a boil without the cover, and then drop the heat to medium and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until almost all the water is gone (you shouldn’t see any water trailing behind a spoon if you drag it across the bottom of the pot).
While the mixture is cooking on medium heat, beat the egg with the coconut milk and set aside.
Add the vanilla, raisins, salt and condensed milk to the pot, and then the egg mixture, whisking constantly to make sure the egg doesn’t curdle and clump.
Turn the heat down to low and cook for about 20-25 minutes, stir consistently until it reaches your preferred consistency (traditionally thinner than typical tapioca or rice pudding and more like a thick butternut squash soup). Remove from heat and let it cool uncovered. The rice will thicken as it cools.
When ready to serve, garnish with ground cinnamon, pecans, flaked coconut and if in season, fresh mangos or bananas. Get creative! Serve this with lady fingers or pieces of chocolate. Now that we’re pushing the envelope of tradition, the world’s your oyster!….uhhhhh shellfish would not be good with this dish.