With an ingredient as versatile as cashew milk, the avenues to explore for recipe creation are truly endless. Slip it seamlessly into any formula calling for milk, non-dairy or otherwise, and you’ll have a sure hit on your hands. Finding a vehicle to truly feature and fully honor this typically under-appreciated component, however, is a considerably more challenging task. Milkier than most treats, pudding seemed like a promising concept to start with, but quickly grew boring without additional flavors added to the mix, covering up the delicate essence of cashew and thereby missing the point entirely. It would take much more than a bowlful of plain pudding to satisfy my craving for adventure, but perhaps I was going about the dessert all wrong to begin with. The idea had been sitting right under my nose the whole time, hidden amongst old notes about inspiring desserts yet to grace my kitchen. Leche Frita, or “fried milk,” is essentially very firm cubes of pudding that are pan-fried to a crispy finish. Who knew how drastically the whole package could change with that final kiss of heat?
My rudimentary knowledge of Spanish from the 3rd grade doing me no favors, I took a brief interlude to look up the word “cashew” and that was all I needed to know. Anacardo Leche Frita it was!
Lightly sprinkled with a touch of cinnamon, the crisp exterior gives way to an impossibly soft, creamy center, packed with more vanilla bean flecks than you could count. Decadent in taste but stunningly simple in composition, it’s one of those rare desserts that is greater than the sum of its parts. If you have cashew milk, I’m willing to bet that you already have everything else you need to make this recipe right now. Forget about fussy preparations; it’s little more than a cooked custard allowed to set, and can be prepared well in advance right up to the frying stage. Eaten hot off the stove, still slightly chilled at the very core, the contrast in textures and temperatures turns humble cashew milk into an extraordinary treat.
Anacardo Leche Frita
1/2 Cup Cornstarch
2 3/4 Cups So Delicious Cashew Milk
1/3 Cup Light Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Bean Paste or Extract
1/2 Cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/4 – 1/3 Cup Olive Oil
Additional Cinnamon, Optional
In a medium-sized saucepan, vigorously whisk together the cornstarch, cashew milk, and agave, beating out any lumps of starch before setting the pan over the stove. Once smooth and homogenous, turn on the heat to medium, and stir periodically as the liquid cooks. Meanwhile, lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch square baking dish and set aside. Bring to a full boil, mix in the vanilla, and cook for just 30 longer, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir to prevent anything from sticking and burning, and being careful not to let the mixture boil over the sides. The pudding should have significantly thickened by this point. Turn off the heat, pour the hot pudding into your prepared baking dish, and smooth out the top with your spatula. Let cool to room temperature before transferring the pan to your fridge to thoroughly chill; at least 4 hours.
When the pudding is cold and firm, turn it out onto a cutting board and gently slice it into squares or triangles with a very sharp knife. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ginger, and gently toss one piece of the chilled pudding in at a time, making sure that all sides are completely covered.
Heat 3 – 4 tablespoons of the oil in a medium saute pan with high sides over medium heat. Once it begins to shimmer, gently lay the pieces of floured pudding in, leaving plenty of space around them for easier access. Cook for 3 – 6 minutes on each side, flipping when golden brown. Move the finished leche frita over to a paper towel-lined plate to drain off the excess oil, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon just before serving. Repeat with the remaining pudding squares or triangles, adding more oil to the pan as needed, until all pieces are cooked to a crispy perfection.
Makes 10 – 12 Servings