Just when I think I know a thing or two about New Orleans food culture, I dig up another layer, more nuance, and another story of culture, history, and humanity.
Really, it’s like turning the page on a love letter written long long ago between steady, passionate, and generous people growing roots in a new city together.
When I think of iconic New Orleans desserts, the first things that come to mind are Beignets (powdered sugar drenched, doughnut-y type pillows of dough), and pralines (butter + sugar + pecans + cream + sweet sweat and prayers and happiness).
What didn’t come immediately to mind is a fried rice fritter called Calas. Think: beignets and leftover rice fried to crisp and soft and golden, then drenched in powdered sugar (as most good things are).
Calas, like most things in New Orleans, are thick with history.
I learned about Calas here, from Poppy Tooker on The Splendid Table. Take a listen! It’s a really interesting history.
Essentially, Calas have their roots in African cuisine. In the years even before the Louisiana Purchase, when New Orleans was still under French rule, the city existed under a set of laws called the Code Noir, rules on how whites, slaves, and free people of color could live together in the city. Slaves were required to have one day off a week, very often a Sunday. On their days off, these slaves would often become street vendors, selling fresh fried calas at the markets.
Under Code Noir a slave could demand their price and buy their own freedom, and as complicated as that concept and history are, it’s thought that selling calas got some slaves closer to buying their freedom.
So. Here we are, living in and frying up a complicated, sincere, and delicious history. New Orleans teaches me, every dish.
Read even more about calas, here!
Pumpkin-spicing a traditional dessert… is that the ultimate eye-roll? Can we just let it happen because it’s delicious, because I had a can of pumpkin in my pantry, and because I don’t drink pumpkin spice lattes so I’m allowed to pumpkin spice on dessert a season?
Cala batter is pleasingly simple.
Seeing as we eat rice with just about every dish down here, these fried dough balls start with leftover rice.
If you have to make fresh rice to consider it leftover rice… that’s perfectly fine. Just, well… have some cooked rice.
To the rice I added extracurriculars: pumpkin puree and pumpkin pie spice.
You know those little jars of pumpkin pie spice you buy once a year? Forget those and make your own: Pumpkin Pie Spice or use King Arthur’s Pumpkin Pie Spice (it’s my favorite!).
Vanilla extract, too.
I like the extra bourbon-y sort: Homemade Vanilla Extract.
Eggs will work to bind out rice mixture. Two beaten eggs is the way to go.
And all of the wet ingredients + rice are stirred well to combine.
In with three heaping tablespoons of granulated sugar.
The dough won’t be too sweet at all. We’re drenching these beauties in powdered sugar which will be plenty.
Flour, baking powder, a good pinch of salt and we’re just about there!
The mixture is stirred to combine and the allowed to rest while the oil heats to hot.
The mixture will be wet and loose, but not soupy. As it rests, it will firm just slightly. Not to worry. With two big spoons and some hot oil, it will come together.
Fried in oil that registers a breezy 350 degrees F. Toppled in the oil until is well browned on all sides.
From the oil directly to a sheet pan of powdered sugar and more more more on top.
Bring the coffee. Bring loads of coffee and enjoy these hot. So hot that they’ll almost burn your mouth. Live on that edge.
These are cakey and light with the glorious texture of rice, crisp on the outside and tender on the insides.
Fritter, fried, with spice and rice. It’s a simple and beautiful thing, without the rise time or intimidation factor of yeast.
Here’s more in my New Orleans inspired kitchen adventures:
New Orleans Red Beans and Rice
Photos in this post with Jon MelendezPrint
Pumpkin Spice New Orleans Calas
- Prep Time: 1200
- Cook Time: 120
- Total Time: 22 hours
- 2 cups leftover white rice
- 1/3 cup pumpkin puree
- 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 3 heaping tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- canola or vegetable oil for frying
- loads of powdered sugar
- In a medium bowl, stir together rice, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract.
- Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir until no flour bits remain and the mixture is well combined. The mixture will be relatively loose but not soupy.
- Place oil in a medium, heavy-bottom skillet. Add enough oil to about 2-inches deep and place a fry or candy thermometer in the oil. Bring the oil to 350 degrees F.
- While the oil comes to temperature, cover the bottom of a rimmed baking sheet with powdered sugar. Place even more powdered sugar in a sifter.
- Use two large tablespoons to spoon batter into the hot oil, about five calas to the pan. Not too crowded.
- Fry for about 2 minutes, until golden on all sides and floating at the top of the oil.
- Immediately remove the fried calas to the prepared baking sheet covered in powdered sugar. Top immediately with more powdered sugar.
- Enjoy warm while the oil comes back up the temperature and fry the remaining cala batter. Enjoying warm. Calas are best fresh from the fryer or within an hour of frying.
Why does this make me think of fried rice pudding? In the most wonderful way possible!
I want to come to New Orleans please. Such a lot of lovely sounding food.
What an amazing and significant (and delicious!) history. Thank you for sharing!
I have to make these! Such a great story <3
Whaat!? They’re like, fried rice pudding, but not. They look amazing and I LOVE the historical context!
I think I love you.
Joy, thanks for the history lesson, as well as beautiful photos to inspire me in the kitchen!
Hey Joy! Long time fan. This may be my first comment. Loved this post- Recently I’ve realized how much love I have for food history (Did you see that NPR piece on Election Cake… It’s boozy!). This enriched my soul on this lovely Tuesday morning. Also, fitting that it’s Election Day, this recipe has civil rights lessons embedded in it, and deciding who to vote for seems to be a choice that would have civil rights repercussions! Thanks for a great post. More cooking and history lessons, please! :)
I love all things flavored with pumpkin and spice EXCEPT coffee drinks. I am with you, girl on this one….delicious!
They sound great! Lovely photos too :-)