OPINION | FRONT BURNER: Fried rice balls delicious, no matter their name

Jalapeno-Cheddar Fried Rice Balls (Arancini) (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)
Jalapeno-Cheddar Fried Rice Balls (Arancini) (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)

It's a little late (and perhaps wholly inappropriate) to suggest you serve these for Cinco de Mayo, but if you're a fan of arancini and jalapeno poppers, you're going to want to make these.

I came across the recipe by Marcella DiLonardo on Kitchn's Instagram feed.

Arancini (sometimes/also arancino or arancina), for the unfamiliar, are a Sicilian street food made of rice, meat and cheese shaped into balls, coated with breadcrumbs and then fried until golden brown. The exact origin is a bit mysterious, some sources say arancini were created in the 10th century during the Kalbid rule of Sicily. The Muslim Arab dynasty ruled Sicily from the mid 900s to the mid 1000s and similar dishes exist in Middle Eastern cuisine. But recipes for the fried rice balls didn't appear in Italian cookbooks until several hundred years later. According to visitsicily.info the different spellings can be a clue to where a particular rice ball hails — in Northern Italy they are called arancini, which is also the spelling adopted by Oxford Dictionary when the word was inducted in 2019; arancina is the spelling used in western Sicily; and in eastern Sicily you'll find arancino.

In this version the meat is replaced with cheddar cheese and fresh jalapenos resulting in a mashup of two favorite appetizers.

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Jalapeno-Cheddar Fried Rice Balls (Arancini)

  • 2 ounces regular cream cheese
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 medium jalapenos, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • About 2 cups cooked white rice, preferably Arborio or sushi rice
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups coarse breadcrumbs such as panko (see note)
  • Vegetable oil, for deep frying
  • Desired dipping sauce such as salsa or cilantro ranch for serving (optional)

Place the cream cheese in a large bowl and let sit at room temperature until softened.

Meanwhile, cut 12 (½-inch) cubes from 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese. Grate the remaining cheese on the large holes of a box grater.

When the cream cheese is softened, add the grated cheese, jalapeno, garlic, 2 cups cooked white rice and season to taste with salt (I used 1 teaspoon), ground black pepper and cumin. Mix well using a wooden spoon or your hands. Taste the mixture to add more salt, black pepper or cumin.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the mixture into 12 portions (about 3 tablespoons each). Stuff each portion with a cheese cube and shape into balls that completely enclose the cheese cube. Place on the baking sheet.

Lightly beat 2 eggs in a shallow bowl.

Place the breadcrumbs in a second bowl.

Dip and coat each ball completely in the eggs, then coat completely in the breadcrumbs. Return to the baking sheet.

Pour enough vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or heavy saucepan to fill to a depth of about 1 ½ inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat to about 375 degrees. Fry the balls in batches of four, turning as needed for even browning, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate or wire rack. Serve immediately with desired sauce.

Makes 12 balls.

Note: To make your own panko-style breadcrumbs, tear 3 to 5 slices white bread into pieces and then process in a food processor to medium-fine crumbs. Spread the crumbs on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 300-degree oven until dry and crisp, 5 to 10 minutes.

Recipe adapted from thekitchn.com

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