Chef’s Corner: Naranjillo Spanish Appetizer [Recipe]

Today is Chef Cholly’s birthday, and to  celebrate we’re sharing the recipe for his Naranjillos (or “Little Oranges.”)

Guests get a hand at making these small golden delights each week in Chef Cholly’s Friday afternoon cooking class. They are then served as an appetizer before the Friday-night meal – a continuation of our Spanish-themed Friday lunch. (Think: aromatic paella, cool and zesty gazpacho, nutty chickpea salad…)

These are a twist on the Italian arancini (also meaning “little orange.”) They get their name from their size, shape, and the deep golden hue they acquire in the frying process. In Chef Cholly’s Spanish version, the saffron-infused paella-style rice imparts an extra hit of gold. Breaded, fried, and filled with a tangy Spanish sheep cheese, these “little oranges” are a real treat!

Perfect as an appetizer, these “little oranges” always snatched up and enjoyed thoroughly. The best part? They’re easy to make! Kids are great at shaping the rice balls, making them a great family cooking activity. (Just watch those small hands near the hot oil!)

Start with Chef Cholly’s recipe below. If you’re feeling adventurous, try using different ingredients. Pair chorizo or olives with the Manchego to punch-up the Spanish theme. Ground meat, mozzarella, marinara, and peas will give you an Italian classic. You might even try a curried version with potatoes and peas to capture the flavors of India. (You can skip the saffron with these.) The possibilities are endless!

Recipe: Naranjillo (Little Oranges) – makes 20


½  pound semi-soft Manchego cheese – diced into 1 /2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups bomba rice 
5 cups chicken or vegetable broth, simmering
15 threads of saffron
½ cup olive oil
  • Salt
  • Flour for dusting
4 eggs
  • Fine panko bread crumbs (or fine regular bread crumbs)
    (Make regular breadcrumbs fine by pulsing them in a food processor
  • Oil for frying (Canola, peanut, or other high-temp oil)


  1. Heat a skillet on medium-high on the stove and add olive oil, then add rice and “toast” the rice in the skillet until it is almost translucent (10Mins.). Add the saffron, let the oils run and then add the stock (or water), salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Cook the rice until all the water is absorbed and the rice is over-cooked but still maintains its shape (mostly). Transfer to a flat pan to cool.
  3. In the meantime, gather your flour, bread crumbs and eggs (crack and beat the eggs), and place each in its own pan, bowl or container.
  4. Go back to the cheese and rice, take a piece of cheese and “wrap” rice around it to form a rice ball (with Manchego cheese in the middle). The rice should be sticky from over cooking and shape into a ball nicely.
  5. When all balls have been formed, dust the rice balls in seasoned flour, then dip in egg and finally into bread crumbs. Make sure rice balls are evenly coated.
  6. Cover and refrigerate the Naranjillo until cool and ready to use.
  7. Heat oil in a tall-sided pan (or use a fry daddy!) to 350 degrees F/(177 degrees C). Drop the Naranjillo into the oil for 1 -2 minutes until golden and heated through.
  8. Drain over paper towel and let cool a few minutes before eating so as not to burn the roof of your mouth!  Enjoy!