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Nitza Villapol, La Cocina Criolla & Arroz con Leche or a Rice Pudding Recipe



I used to think people that collect cookbooks have nothing better to do. Please, friends, take no offense to that gross assumption. It was me. I didn’t know better. I didn’t get it. I thought that owning cookbooks meant lack of creativity, thus the need to flip through pages of other people’s work. Even with our childhood cupboards taking up plenty of space with cookbooks covering every imaginable cuisine, theme and style, I didn’t get into them. Except for the one kids’ book that had a glossy and very inviting picture of none other than a peanut butter and banana sandwich. I remember that single page as if it were only recently that twin friends of mine and I were running around the  kitchen in angst, gathering our ingredients to make what was going to be our biggest culinary project.

Among all of the books Mami collected, the one deemed untouchable was Nitza Villapol‘s Cocina Criolla, (1954) or the Cuban Food Bible. Nitza was the Julia Child of Cuban cuisine; the one that popularized our food, and made cooking fun and approachable. Her debut book is considered the holy grail for those of us that cook. I seldom saw Mami flip through her original copy, but when she did, she’d be seated at the dinner table, taking her time (as in hours), and studying it like a culinary school book. She’d take notes, bend page tips, and underline sentences. Finally, she’d close the book and store it in its safe place. No one was allowed to touch it.



I never saw her use the book for our everyday and staple dinners. Not even for special recipes only made during holidays or important fetes. I’m not really sure (to this day) why she referred to the classic book.

I own a copy of the cookbook. One that she gifted me. I now understand Mami’s approach to using it. It was a mystery, but I get it. It’s a requisite for any Cuban home. Without it, your kitchen and skill set isn’t complete.  I seldom use mine, truthfully, but when I do, I sit with it and flip through the eggshell pages stained with black ink and illustrated with elementary outlined graphics, and read Ms. Villapol’s writing. She doesn’t tell a story with her recipes. She flat out tells you how to make a wonderful, tried and true dish with a lot of basic information. Most of the recipes are classic, not necessarily indigenous — another story for another day — and simple enough for the home cook. She even has multiple versions of the same dish; like 5 or so different flans. There are exceptions. One that stands out is her instruction for making an aromatic béchamel which you thicken and then fold until you have a soft and gooey dough for croquetas.

I recently found my Mami’s copy from 1972, before I was even thought of.  She brought it from Cuba and has never let it go. It’s torn, tattered, missing its binding and cover, solely  kept in tact with Scotch tape. The pages are now stained an unattractive yellow with liquid marks throughout. The book looks like it’s been passed down through 3 generations; not owned by only one person. Clearly, she used the book far more than I ever saw. And, hers tells a very distinct and delicious story. You can impinge how it goes.



While I’ve not deferred to Cocina Criolla for recipes or inspiration, I have found a lot of use in method. Things were done a bit different back then considering the time and lack of appliances and tools. It makes for great practice using minimal artillery! No fancy garlic presses or high wattage processors.

One of my favorite recipes in the book is arroz con leche. Simple, lovely, delicious and modifiable in so many ways. The dessert pictured here isn’t exactly her recipe which is the prototype and very basic. It’s my fusion recipe, though I’ve shared a more classic recipe before. And, this picture is about 3 years old — taken when I was working on my proposal for my own cookbook — which is on hold. It’s completely ironic that the styling of my arroz con leche has vintage effects, mirroring the age of Mami’s book.

Some things just fall right into poetic place. I’ve learned to appreciate, love and collect cookbooks. There are stories to be told in them. Even I have one to tell.

For now, I’ll continue to peruse the amazing collections of pages, black and white or color, illustrated or graphically designed with digitized images, and find inspiration from around the world in all the of the cookbooks I have. All 80 of them.

And, I’ll keep my copy of Cocina Criolla until it ages like the one that was {is} part of our kitchen resources.



Try Nitza’s recipe for arroz con leche depicted above (email me for translation)! Let me know what you think and if it’s anything like the one you’ve had or made yourself!

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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114 thoughts on “Nitza Villapol, La Cocina Criolla & Arroz con Leche or a Rice Pudding Recipe

  1. by far one of my favorite comfort foods My favorite is my nana’s version til this day I don’t know what she added to make it so special and yummy Thanks for reminding me of this sweet treat and memory!

  2. Sweety you had me at arroz con leche…..marry me.

    Or at least let keep feeding me whilst slipping in shave date drugs….

  3. I photocopied it before I left Cuba in 2006. I cook cuban food from time to time (right now I have a pork pernil in the oven, marinated overnight in mojo :p) as I like to try other kinds of cuisines now that I’m not subject to the rationing card and soy picadillo but when I do, I refer to this cookbook. I recently made capuchinos and cabezotes and after looking everywhere online for the recipe I found it in this book and it works great.
    That being said, I’m not a fan of arroz con leche but it brings memories of my abuela making it for me. My favourite dessert, though? majarete!!!!! with cinnamon sprinkled on top 🙂

  4. Arroz con leche is the ultimate when it comes to comforting Latino desserts. And the story you just shared behind this one I’m sure makes it extra delicioso.

  5. I love vintage cookbooks! They are so much fun to look through and cook from. I make it a point to search them out when I go to flea markets and antique stores.

  6. Wow, that book has been used! Vintage cookbooks are awesome. A wonderful rice pudding.



  7. Easily one of my favorite snacks to chill with. That and elotes. I could eat them both every day. ♥ I’ve been thinking about trying a new recipe, so thanks for sharing! I want to make something unique that my daughter can look back on when she’s older and think of our special moments. 🙂

    And I LOVE the old school cookbook. Both my mom and hubby’s mom are cookbook lovers and they’ve had theirs for generations.

  8. Boy oh boy! Favorite article (so dang cool) and recipe thus far! Yum! Pinned too … *drooling*

  9. I absolutely LOVE old cookbooks. My mom had a book she bought from her church years and years ago. The first recipe I ever made was from that book. It has that old school white plastic ring binding and yellowish brown pages. She still has it, and I still flip through it when I go home. I’m glad you found the answer to the mystery.

  10. Hello! I must be missing something because I do not see the recipe written out. Just the picture from the cookbook. Do you have the recipe in English so I can make this DELICIOUS looking treat? Thank you

  11. Bren, that cookbook is ART!!!

    My husband’s cookbooks always look like that and it shames me…now, I will see it differently!

  12. One of your best posts B! I love how your threaded the cookbook, your own attempt, your mother’s story, your own, and how Nitza’s cookbook is the bechamel sauce that binds the generations and incarnations of a love of food. Then the photos that capture a worn and splattered-with-love cookbook!

  13. Titi that book is oooooold! wow. I don’t think that i ever see Mama use that book either. I like that you have your own copy.

  14. I think the features of this cookbook, such as the old pages, stains and tape around the binder, gives it some character. It’s obvious Mami uses it constantly. If the book could talk, it would probably have tons of stories to tell about Mami performing her “magic” en la cocina.

  15. I learned how to cook using Nilza Villapols cookbook. I still refer to it to this day. My favorites are her arroz con leche, pudin diplomatico, flan de coco, boniatillo, and arroz con pollo. I wish they had this book in english so I could pass it down to the younger generation.

  16. Anyone know where I can buy Cocina Criolla by Nitza in decent condition without spending $300 dollars?

  17. My mom used Cocina al Minuto. As she got older, and I guess she did not trust her memory, she consulted it more often than she did when I was younger. It was kept in a safe place and not until I was an adult was I allowed to touch it. I remember watching her on TV when I was a child in Cuba. When I started cooking, and was away from home, I bought myself a paperback copy to use as a reference (mami cooked by eye and mine never turned out as well as hers.). It has about half of the recipes from my childhood. I found a bilingual copy and gave to my daughter when she left home. My mom died 2 years ago, at 90 (still cooking until the end) and I now have her original hardback copy, with smudges, tape, comments, etc. I will save it for my granddaughter. Cubanfoodmarket.com sells it. Amazon has the first one for $95.00.
    BTW, mami’s only other cookbook was La Cocina y el Hogar by Dolores Alfonso Rodriguez. It has the other half of my childhood recipes.

  18. Nitza Villapol was a teacher at the boarding school of the sacred heart in cuba were I studied for years. I distinctly remember the incredible smell of cooked food coming out of her class We would die on envy when these delicious dishes, just finished, made their way into the school cafeteria in the hands of her lucky students who were the only ones allowed to eat them. Me and many of my friends from back then who didn’t even know how to boil water, got the book when we all got married and we are now great cooks thanks to her creativity and knowledge of cooking. I recommend that every woman should have this unique cook book no matter the price they have to pay. Great investment!!!

  19. Arroz con leche que rico uno de mis postres favoritos. Gracias Bren for the great article. And for the great memories of cocina al minuto. Despite I was too young when Nitza had her TV show en Cuba I remember her and todas las mujeres cubanas que no se Perdian el programa de Nitza . Gracias great article 🙂

  20. Hello! Would you mind if I share your blog with my facebook group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really appreciate your content.
    Please let me know. Many thanks

  21. I have the same book that I have bought for second time, my favorite recipes are fried rice and camarones enchilados

  22. Hey there! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!|

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