New Orleans Calas (Rice Fritters)

A sweet twist on brunch

Photo: Beatriz da Costa

According to New Orleans food expert Poppy Tooker, African women would carry baskets of calas on their heads through the French Quarter on Sundays after church, calling “Calas, calas, belles calas! Toutes chaudes!” (“Beautiful calas! Very hot!”) Selling calas, Tooker postulates, allowed some enslaved women to raise enough money to buy their freedom. Those street vendors gradually disappeared, and calas are now served as a sweet or savory breakfast or snack in many New Orleans restaurants and home kitchens. It’s said that the name calas comes from an African word meaning “fried cake.” —JJ Johnson, from his new cookbook, The Simple Art of Rice

Read our interview with Johnson here.


  • Calas (Yield: 18 to 24 dumplings)

    • 6 tbsp. all-purpose flour

    • ¼ cup granulated sugar

    • 2 tsp. baking powder

    • 1 tsp. Creole seasoning

    • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon

    • ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

    • 2 cups cooked long grain white rice, at room temperature

    • 2 large eggs

    • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

    • Vegetable oil for deep-frying

    • Confectioners’ sugar for dusting


  1. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, Creole seasoning, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl and whisk together to blend. Add the rice, using your hands or a large spoon to break up any clumps. Mix well to thoroughly coat the rice with the seasoned flour. 

  2. Beat the eggs and vanilla together in a small bowl, then pour into the rice mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon to make a slightly wet batter.

  3. Line a sheet pan with paper towels. Pour 1½ to 2 inches of vegetable oil into a deep 12-inch cast-iron skillet or a Dutch oven and heat over medium heat until it registers 350°F. It should be hot enough to bubble and sizzle around a bit of batter dropped in as a test.

  4. Working in batches to avoid crowding, use two soup spoons to shape heaping tablespoons of batter into ovals and carefully drop them into the hot oil. Fry the dumplings until they are golden brown and cooked through, 4 to 5 minutes. Use a long-handled slotted spoon or spider to separate the dumplings as they cook, and flip them in the oil to cook on all sides. Once the dumplings are done, transfer them to the paper towels to drain. 

  5. Sprinkle the dumplings with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately.

From The Simple Art of Rice by JJ Johnson with Danica Novgorodoff, Flatiron Books 2023.