Malabi–the creamy, milk-based pudding perfumed with rose water–is one of the most popular desserts across the Middle East. In Israel, the sweet treat has become a beloved and ubiquitously available street food and is increasingly offered in upscale restaurants.According to Janna Gur’s The New Book of Israeli Food (Shocken, 2007), the recipe originally hails from Turkey. (The dessert is alternatively called sutlach from the Turkish word sut, which means milk.) In some Sephardic homes malabi is traditionally served to break the fast on Yom Kippur. It is also an offering at Turkish Jewish weddings, to symbolize the couple’s sweet life ahead, and during Shavuot–and not simply because it is milk-based. “Rose water…is a popular flavoring on Shavuot among Sephardim, who call the holiday ‘the Feast of Roses,'” writes chef and historian Rabbi Gil Marks in The World of Jewish Cooking (Simon & Schuster, 1999).
Rose water, which is made by steeping and distilling fresh rose petals in water, is featured in many Sephardic and Mizrahi desserts–just one example of the great influence Arabic cuisine and ingredients have had in shaping these diets. It can be purchased at most Middle Eastern and specialty food stores, and increasingly at many supermarkets.
The traditional recipe relies on rice flour (made from rice crushed with a mortar and pestle) to thicken the milk. Today, however, many cooks substitute cornstarch, which yields a silky texture without any trace of graininess. Doused in sweet raspberry syrup, or topped with chopped pistachios, malabi makes the perfect ending to a Mediterranean-inspired meal.
Chopped pistachios for garnish
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups milk
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 Tablespoon rose water
Raspberry syrup (optional)
In a medium bowl, mix one cup of milk with the cornstarch, rose water, and vanilla until the cornstarch dissolves; set aside. Bring remaining milk and sugar to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Lower the heat, pour in the dissolved cornstarch mixture and cook 8-10 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken.
Remove from the stove and pour into serving dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to cool to room temperature; then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve topped with the chopped pistachios and raspberry syrup, if desired.
Pronounced: meez-RAH-khee, Origin: Hebrew for Eastern, used to describe Jews of Middle Eastern descent, such as Jews from Iraq and Syria.
Pronounced: seh-FAR-dik, Origin: Hebrew, describing Jews descending from the Jews of Spain.
Pronounced: shah-voo-OTE (oo as in boot), also shah-VOO-us, Origin: Hebrew, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, falls in the Hebrew month Sivan, which usually coincides with May or June.