New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Hispanic Heritage Month: Cinnamon, rice and everything nice

Arroz con leche, an authentic Hispanic dish, encapsulates all the ways I yearn for home in the city.
Quinn Sental
(Illustration by Quinn Sental)

There are a few moments that make me feel a deep connection to my roots — when I first visited Mexico at 12 years old, during birthday celebrations when Mariachi music plays and when my aunt makes tamales from scratch on Christmas. Yet no matter how many times I immerse myself in my heritage, I feel farther away from it than I should. It doesn’t help that I am now 2,430 miles away from home, with limited Hispanic restaurants that fall short in comparison to the loving embrace of a classic home-cooked meal.

I miss my parents, and I miss their cooking too. My mother and father are both skilled in the kitchen, having learned from their parents the love that grounds traditional cuisines. They each have their preferences — my father favors making his Mexican rice and my mother her cheese enchiladas — though I believe my mother excels with her specialty dish, arroz con leche, which always reminds me of my childhood.

Arroz con leche, commonly referred to as “rice pudding” in English, is one of my family’s favorite Mexican desserts. The earliest memory I have of eating arroz con leche is as a toothy 8-year-old who loved anything even remotely sweet. The moment I asked my mother to top my serving with too much cinnamon and tasted the sweetened rice, I knew the dish would forever hold a special place in my heart.

I would always know when my mother was making arroz con leche because the smell of cinnamon would fill our house. She would cook the dish in the early hours of the evening and have it ready just in time for our family movie nights. As my siblings and I got older, she would cook us the dish whenever we craved the nostalgia of our youth. Even now, I can vividly picture her stirring the rice over the stove and asking me to go sit down on the couch, as my hovering in the kitchen made her antsy.

I mourn the loss of these simpler times. The times when I could ask my parents to make me a meal, and they would go out of their way to cook it for me immediately. But I mourn the connection I felt to my heritage the most. My parents often tried to bridge the gap between our Mexican Spanish side and our American side when I lived at home, always reminding us that we can still be proud of our ancestry, even if it wasn’t through the traditional manner of celebrating holidays like Día de los Muertos or having pozole on the table for New Year’s. To be able to make dishes like arroz con leche is one of many ways I can feel closer to my family and appreciate the sacrifices they made to mold a better life.

Now, as I begin to hone my cooking abilities, I strive to make traditional Mexican and Spanish dishes when I have the time. Whenever I have time to spare, I’ll run to Trader Joe’s to pick up the ingredients to make arroz con leche and hope some supermarket in New York City has La Lechera. With my mom’s recipe in hand, I’m still able to indulge in a taste of home. Below is my mother’s guide to the perfect arroz con leche if you are ever in need of a warm and delicious treat.


Arroz con leche (rice pudding)

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25-28 minutes

Servings: 4



2 cups water
2 cinnamon sticks
1 cup white rice
1 (14 oz) can of La Lechera (sweetened condensed milk)
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon to garnish



Wash 1 cup of uncooked white rice.
Add 2 cups of water and 2 cinnamon sticks into a 2-quart saucepan over low heat.
Bring the water to a boil before reducing the heat and allowing the water to simmer until the cinnamon sticks release their color for about 5 minutes.
Pour the washed rice into the saucepan and slowly start to stir. Stir continuously in small intervals without letting the rice sit too long and bring up the flame to medium heat.
Add ½ of the can (7-8 oz) of La Lechera to the saucepan.
As the stirring continues, the mixture begins to thicken and the water slowly starts to become absorbed. This will continue for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the mixture is a desired consistency. (NOTE: Do not allow the rice to dry, but if it does happen then add approximately 4 oz of water to the saucepan)
Turn off the heat and allow the rice to cool before serving.
Top each serving of rice with ground cinnamon and enjoy!

Contact Sarah Perez at [email protected].

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