New Orleans Calas

“Belles calas, belles calas,” the street vendors of New Orleans used to hawk in the nineteenth century, selling the hot, spongy rice balls from colorful stands in the French Quarter. Today, anyone who visits the Crescent City stops by the Café du Monde for chicory coffee and the sugared squares of fried dough known as beignets, but just about the only place you might find the equally delectable calas is in African American homes on the first day of Mardi Gras and at special weekend breakfasts. Although nobody knows whether the soft balls can be traced back to African or French traditions, calas are one of the most distinctive of all Creole creations. They’re particularly delectable for breakfast, and I love them served with plenty of honey.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups boiled and cooled long-grain white rice
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 quart vegetable or peanut oil
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Method

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and lemon zest and stir till well blended. Into another bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt, add to the rice mixture, and stir till well blended, adding a little more flour if necessary to make a batter that is thick but loose enough to be dropped easily from a spoon.

Pour the oil into a large pot and heat to about 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Drop the batter by heaping tablespoons into the oil, fry till nicely browned, about 2 minutes, and drain on paper towels. Dust the calas with confectioners’ sugar and serve hot.

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