When Slow Food USA asked a New Orleans hotel to make calas – traditional sweet fried rice fritters – for their national conference, the kitchen had to learn the recipe from scratch. Once a popular street food, over the past two generations calas has almost disappeared from the city. “After World War II, for you to know about calas, you would have to have this as a tradition in your family,” says Poppy Tooker of Slow Food New Orleans, one of the chef’s driving the revival of this dish that grew out of resourcefulness, using leftover rice.
The history of Calas is very similar to many other traditional New Orleans foods, coming from both African and European heritage. The name is said to have come from the African Nupe word “kara”, meaning fried cake. For more than a century Creole street vendors sold the fresh hot calas in the city’s French Quarter, with the familiar cry, “Calas, bels calas tout chauds!” (Calas, beautiful calas, still hot”). The street vendors were often called “calas women.” These women would sell their pastries in covered baskets or bowls during the early morning in the French Quarter.
2 cups cooked rice
6 tablespoons flour
3 heaping tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dash of nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vegetable oil (for deep-frying)
In a bowl, combine rice, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg; mix well. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
Heat vegetable oil for deep-frying to 360 degrees. Carefully drop spoonfuls of the rice mixture into hot oil and fry until golden brown. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Serve hot.
Prefer a Savory option? Simply omit the sugar and vanilla and add up to 1/2 cup of whatever savory ingredients you may have on hand, such as thinly sliced green onions and a teaspoon or two of hot sauce or boiled, chopped shrimp or crawfish tails.
Watch a video of Poppy preparing calas here.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons