I think one of the treats I took the most for granted when I lived in El Salvador and, later, in Mexico was the paleta, the ultimate frozen treat. They are everywhere and anywhere. I grew up with the ding, ding of the bell hanging from the paletero’s cart as he walked in front of my house at the same time every afternoon. My favorites were the paletas de coco, de fresa, pistachio and horchata.
I still remember the time my father, who lives in Houston, went to visit me in Mexico City. He would make me take him to the corner paletería every single day to devour one or two paletas. I seriously thought it was a bit obsessive from his part. I could understand if he wanted something more típico, like quesadillas de huitlacoche, something he just couldn´t find in Texas.
Now that I don’t have paletas at every street corner, I get it and I crave them. You might think a popsicle is just a popsicle. How different can they be? If you´ve ever had a popsicle in a Latin country you know what I´m talking about. These paletas are thick, creamy, rich and totally natural. The typical Mexican ones have bits and chunks of the fruit frozen in them. Since diversity is what Mexican culture is all about you can find paletas in tons of flavors ranging from fruits, nuts, flowers, cucumbers and even chiles. Yes…have you ever tried a mango con chile paleta? Yum, yum.
I live in L.A. where I can find comparable-tasting paletas if I look and go out of my way. The paleteros in my hood don´t carry the real deal. Natural is so hard to come by these days. So, my best alternative is to make them myself for my paleta-obsessed 3 year old.
I recommend spending a couple of dollars in a basic paleta mold that you can reuse. I bought these some months ago and really like that I can pop out each one individually. Another option is to use paper cups and wooden popsicle sticks.
For any basic paleta de agua you will need fruit, water, probably some lime, and a blender. The idea is to make a chunky juice and then just pour it into the molds and freeze for 5 hours. The chunkier, the tastier. Try this site for a good variety of simple recipes.
If you want to get more fancy and prepare a heartier paleta, I´ve got a couple of tasty milk-based recipes that Toma Leche sent my way. Somehow, they convinced a bunch of the best paleterías in California to share their most popular recipes. And now, I’m sharing my favorite recipe with you. A paleta can’t get more real or nostalgic than this.
This is also a great summertime activity with your kid where you can tell them in Spanish all about arroz con leche, paletas and the memories they stir.
Paleta de Arroz con Leche (makes 12 paletas)
1 cup of rice
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup evaporated milk
1/2 cup condensed milk
Put the rice and cinnamon stick in a saucepan with enough water to cover the rice completely and a bit more. With the heat on low, let the water evaporate just to where it’s level with the top of the rice and add the whole milk. Continue simmering until the rice is “al dente.”
Add the sugar in the saucepan and mix together. After 5 minutes add the evaporated milk and mix. Once the rice is cooked through, transfer to a serving plate and then add the condensed milk. You can blend the rice and milk before pouring into the paleta molds. For an extra touch, add a pinch of cinnamon and/or raisins to taste. Put in the freezer for four hours.
When you’re ready to take the paleta out of the mold, pass it under warm running water and gently pull until it comes out.
Tell us, what’s your favorite sabor de paleta?
Disclosure: I was invited by the lovely ladies of Toma Leche to learn about their new campaign and was treated to a tasty paleta. All the words I wrote about my paleta obsession are completely mine, mine.