Coconut Rice Pudding for Epiphany

We are coming up on January 6th, which is the time where in the Spain, the Caribbean, and Latin America, they celebrate the Epiphany. This commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ and the visitation of the three Magi, or Wise Men from the east. These three royal wise men or kings were Melchior (representing Europe), Gaspar (Arabia) and Balthazar (Africa). They brought gifts, respectively, of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus. The day is Known as El Dia De Los Reyes (the Day of the Kings); and it is also sometimes called EL Dia De Los Reyes Magos (The Day of the Three Royal Magi).

Traditionally, just like at Christmas, children receive gifts to commemorate the day. In Puerto Rico, in the old days, it was customary for kids to fill a box with grass or hay and put it underneath the bed. This was for the camels that the magi rode to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, following the star that led them there. You left the grass or hay so that the Wise Kings would be generous with their gifts. The custom is similar to kids in the U.S. leaving out milk and cookies for Santa Claus.

In Louisiana, Epiphany is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season, with the revels and parades the citizens of New Orleans are so familiar with.

In our culture, a traditional dish for the holidays, inclusive of Epiphany, is Arroz con Dulce (also known as Arroz con Coco). It's a coconut based rice pudding. The normal way of preparing it involves using ripe coconuts, extracting the coconut milk, grating and using the coconut shreds to enhance the liquid used for cooking the dish. It's great but time consuming. If you don't have coconuts around, it perfectly alright to substitute coconut cream or milk which can be found in almost any supermarket these days. If you want the original recipe, check it out in my cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Perseus Books Group). Otherwise, just follow the condensed recipe given below.

ARROZ CON DULCE (Rice Pudding)

2 cups rice (either long grain or short grain)
2 cups coconut milk
1 5-ounce can evaporated milk
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup seedless black raisins
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon butter or margarine
1/2 cup cracker crumbs
1. Place rice in a saucepan with water to cover and let stand at room temperature for at least 5 hours or preferably overnight.
2. Drain rice, place in a pot or saucepan and add 1 cup of coconut milk, evaporated milk, cinnamon, cloves, salt, vanilla, raisins, 1 cup sugar, and butter. Cook on moderate heat, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, for 1/2 hour or until rice is tender.
3. Add second of coconut milk and remaining 1/2 cup sugar. Stir to blend. Cover and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes.
4. Spoon into a round serving platter or pie plate.
5. Sprinkle with cracker crumbs and allow to cool at room temperature before serving.
Yield: 10 servings or more.
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