Jan 112010

Slide a spoon into the softly yielding white mass and put it in your mouth. You’ll taste rose-flavored sweetness and a light, creamy texture that keeps you dipping your spoon back in till the Malabi’s all gone.

Here in Israel we call it Malabi – in Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt, people call it Muhallibieh. The Greeks know it as well, and make an elaborate, panna-cotta-like dish based on it. And it’s only milk pudding, made in ten minutes. Sounds like a dessert for children, and children naturally do love it, but I’ve eaten Malabi in restaurants and at dinner parties.

The old-fashioned way is to use rice flour as the thickener. Easy enough to make in the food processor – just whirl rice around in it till it’s fine, floury particles. Health food stores carry rice flour, if you’re not in the mood to powder rice. I confess I yielded to laziness the other day and bought some. When made with rice flour,  Malabi has more body and a slightly gritty texture. Cornstarch-based Malabi is silky and very light.

Recipes vary a little.  Some call for a combination of milk and cream. One requires ground almonds. Some people flavor their Malabi with rosewater, some with orange flower water. Very old recipes call for mastic, a resin from a shrub belonging to the pistachio family. I saw one recipe that requires flavoring the pudding with two leaves of a bitter orange tree, or the flowers.

I’d like to try that sometime. In fact, orange trees are blooming all around my neighborhood now – maybe I’ll remember to pluck a few blooms for Malabi. Up till now, I’ve favored vanilla and rosewater. There is something so Oriental and heady, and at the same time so soothing, about the perfume of roses.

Toppings vary too. I like to top Malabi with chopped pine nuts and walnuts, or with chopped pistachios. Some dust a little cinnamon over the top, or sprinkle shredded coconut and peanuts. A little syrup over everything – it can be silan, or date honey, which I favor, or a home-made sugar syrup flavored with lemon, or even maple syrup. Israelis sometimes use “pettel,” a cheap raspberry-flavored syrup used to flavor water, which I don’t recommend.

The photo above shows a rice-based Malabi with pistachios and silan.

And by the way, you can make Malabi pareve (non-dairy) as well. Just substitute water, or better yet, half water, half coconut milk. Or use all rice milk.  I use water and a can of coconut milk, and everyone loves it.

Here are two basic Malabi recipes.

Rice-Flour Malabi

6 servings


1 liter (4 – 1/2 cups) milk

1/2 cup rice flour

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons rose water

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

chopped nuts


1. Put the rice flour in a small bowl. Slowly, add 100 ml. (1/2 cup) from the milk to it, stirring well to dissolve. Use a whisk, if you have one – lumps in Malabi are not nice.

2. Bring the rest of the milk, plus the sugar, to the boil. Stir in the rice flour/milk. Stir well to distribute the rice flour, but don’t scrape up the thickened layer that will form at the bottom of the pot – it will simply form lumps.

3. Lower the heat to medium and cook the pudding for 5 minutes, stirring.

4. Add the vanilla and the rosewater; stir.

5. Pour the Malabi into a big bowl, or ladle it into 6 dessert-sized bowls. Cool it completely, then refrigerate it.

6. Garnish the tops with chopped pistachios and a drizzle of your favorite sweet syrup.

Cornstarch Malabi

8 servings – can be halved


4 cups milk

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch, diluted in 1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons rose water or orange flower water

4 oz. chopped nuts

silan or other syrup


1. Put the milk and the sugar in a pan and bring the mixture to a boil.

2. Always stirring, add the cornstarch and water mixture.

3. Cook over medium heat till the pudding thickens – up to 5 minutes.

4. Add the rose water; stir.

5. Ladle into small bowls. Cool the pudding and then refrigerate it till cold.

5. Garnish the servings with chopped nuts and a swirl of syrup.

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