Arabic style milk pudding infused with a touch of rose and orange blossom waters, adorned with rose syrup topping and garnished with caramelized pistachios. Talk about eye candy! Plus…recipe VIDEO included!
Today we’re not inventing the wheel here. We’re taking a Middle Eastern classic as old as time, and making it really well.
But we’re not stopping there. We’re kicking it up a couple notches by splashing it with gorgeous colors and varying textures, to please your eyes and spoil your tastebuds.
So let’s take good ol’ Mehalabeya, save it from the shadow of boredom and give it the spa treatment it deserves.
Mehalabya is a traditional Arabic milk pudding, with similar variations in Greece and Turkey. It is typically made with just milk, sugar and thickened with rice flour or cornstarch for a characteristically creamy and slightly jiggly texture. It is served cold and takes on different flavors like vanilla, mastic, cardamom, rose and orange blossom water, to name a few.
In Egypt, Mehalabeya might just be the most common dessert there is. It’s ease, simplicity and humble ingredients makes it a staple at every household. Big restaurant chains would serve it on the house after a big meal of seafood or kebab and kafta. But you’ll also find it sold at every hole in the wall food joint and coffee shops alike.
It even trespassed its popularity as a food, and has become an adjective used to describe a beautiful woman with a voluptuous figure lol!
What I love most about Mehalabeya is it’s lightness that won’t weigh you down; making it the perfect sweet after a heavy meal or a late night pick me up. What I don’t like about it though, is how “blah” and one dimensional it can be.
Mainstream mehalabeya in Egypt is usually served plain with a shy sprinkling of cost-conscious garnishes like shredded coconut, raisins and if you’re lucky, a couple shavings of walnuts. The pudding itself is often left unflavored, depending on the milk for taste, but is sometimes infused with a whiff of vanilla. The texture is more often than not, too lean and jiggly, bordering on jello jiggly, making the whole experience an unexciting one.
As great as it is for a budget-friendly dessert, today… as an upgrade, let’s do it better.
This mehalabeya has just the right ratios of everything. A little bit of heavy cream is added to the milk for a much needed boost of richness and body. A slightly increased amount of cornstarch is added for stability and a little less jiggle and a lot more creaminess. The sweetness is on point; not too mild, not too sweet, and the pudding is flavored wth aromatic rose and orange blossom water for subtle floral notes.
Mind you, the mehalabeya base is perfect on its own, so feel free to flavor it with whatever your heart desires. Omit the rose and orange blossom water if you’re not into them, and use vanilla or mastic instead. But I’d wear that stuff as perfume if I could, which is why I made them the star of today’s recipe.
For a spark of color, play in textures and boost of mild rose flavor, I decided to top the mehalabeya with a very thin layer of rose syrup topping. The flavor is very subtle and not overpowering at all, but adds a welcomed depth to the otherwise plain mehalabeya. The rose topping is made from rose syrup concentrate, known as sharbat ward in Arabic, which is used to make a traditional drink served at Egyptian weddings and happy occasions. Rose syrup drink is associated with joy and it’s vibrantly pink color has become a symbol of celebration, so I’m love with it’s addition here. I thin out the rose concentrate with water for a less potent taste and thicken it up with cornstarch so it could sit nicely atop the mehalabeya surface without seeping down the sides.
I then top all that with orange blossom water kissed caramelized pistachios from a lovely crunch and a nutty flavor. This thing is addictive and I could just eat it with a spoon.
For presentation, you can either serve it family-style in a bowl, or in individual cups as big or is small you like…I clearly went with tiny.
Here’s a quick of how easily it comes together.
After cooking the mehalabeya mixture over the stove, which is a 5-minute process, no kidding, you pour into the serving vessel of your choice, then refrigerate as you prepare the rose syrup topping.
Which is another 3-minute job! Pour a tiny bit of it over the surface of the slightly set mehalabeya. Then refrigerate once again until fully set.
At which point can be topped with the caramelized pistachios…
A food-safe dried rose leaf if you like…
And dig in with a spoon!
Will you look at all these layers.
Any food with vibrant colors has my heart…and I hope will win yours too.
- For the Mehalabya (Milk Pudding):
- 3¼ cups whole milk
- ¾ cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125g) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (56g) cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons orange blossom water, more or less according to taste
- 1 teaspoon rose water, more or less according to taste
- For the Rose Syrup Topping:
- 2 tablespoons rose syrup concentrate (sharbat ward)
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons (5g) cornstarch
- For the Pistachio Topping:
- 2 teaspoons (10g) unsalted butter
- 100g (about 1 cup) unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon orange blossom water
- In a medium saucepan, off the heat, whisk together the milk, heavy whippingcream, sugar and cornstarch until well combined and the cornstarch has dissolved completely without any visible lumps.
- Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a full boil, whisking constantly. Continue to boil for a few more seconds until the mixture thickens and large bubbles form around the surface.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in the orange blossom and rose waters.
- Pour into cups and refrigerate uncovered until the surface has begun to set; about 20 minutes. Meanwhile prepare the Rose Syrup Topping.
- In a very small saucepan, off the heat, whisk together the rose syrup concentrate, water and cornstarch until well combined.
- Set the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a full boil, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and large bubbles form around the surface.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and spoon a thin layer of the rose topping over the surface of each mehalabya cup, tilting the cup to cover evenly.
- Refrigerate until set and cold; about 2 hours or up to overnight.
- In a medium skillet, over medium-high heat, melt the butter then add in the pistachios. Sauté the pistachios in the butter, stirring frequently, until just beginning to toast. Add in the sugar and stir until melted and lightly caramelized around the pistachios. Off the heat, then add in the orange blossom water. Transfer to another bowl, and allow to cool completely.
- Spoon the pistachio topping evenly over the cooled mehalabeya cups. Serve right away or keep refrigerated until its time to serve. Enjoy the Rose Mehalabeya cold and at cool room temperature.
* Feel free to serve the mehalabeya, family-style in one big bowl or dish instead of individual servings.
* This recipe can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled or even cut in half or quartered.