Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Malabi (Recipe)

Malabi by Ayala Moriel
Malabi, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
Malabi is a Middle Eastern dessert, a milk pudding thickened by rice flour, which is usually served cold like Panna Cotta. Unfortunately, most of the malabi recipes, as well as what you'll find on street corners and even in restaurants are made with the inferior cornstarch, giving it (what I think is) an unpleasant aftertaste and a rubbery texture.

The dessert is made simply by cooking milk and starch as if to make a pudding. It is only minimally sweetened, if at all, and always must be flavoured with rosewater and orange flower water, which is the only thing that really sets it apart from the old fashioned baby-food that was served in the 1950's (when mothers were convinced that fattening a baby with modified starches is the way to prove that their kid is not malnourished). You may serve it warm; but the traditional recipe is for chilled malabi, which gives you room for many creative serving suggestions (i.e.: using moulds, fancy cups, garnishes, syrups and toppings).

This recipe is adapted from May S. Bsisu's excellent book "The Arab Table" (p. 322) and from Israeli Kitchen. Please note that malabi has many other names and spellings (i.e.: Mohalabia, Malabia, Muhallibieh, etc.). She also offers several regional variations on this dessert (for instance: whole green cardamoms and saffron strands are cooked with the pudding in Saudia Arabia), including the explanation about the Syrian and Lebanese version using rice flour instead of corn starch, which is my personal preference. Note: if you want a more gooey, jelly like consistency, use Sweet Rice flour, aka glutinous rice, which is easily obtained in Asian grocery stores. For a more wholesome variation (which is great especially if served warm) use brown rice flour. Note regarding the mastic: this resin adds to both the flavour and the texture of the dessert, making it more gooey, but also making the flavour a bit different (and it is an acquired taste). 

8 Tablespoons Rice Flour, whisk and dissolve in 1/3 cup of water.
4 tsp sugar
1 L whole milk
1 Tbs rosewater
1 Tbs orange flower water
Pinch of mastic resin (optional).

For the garnish:
Date honey (also called molasses), Pomegranate molasses, grenadine, rose syrup or rose petal jam.
Toasted, crushed, unshelled and blanched pistachios or almonds; OR fresh pomegranate seeds; OR ground cinnamon and cardamom plus crushed nuts. 

 - In a small saucepan, begin heating the milk and sugar.
- Gradually add the rice flour and water and rice mixture, and cook over medium heat and simmer, stirring continuously in order to prevent lumps from forming.
- Add the mastic, if desired. 
- Once the mixture had thickened into a custard-like consistency (in about 5 minutes), add the rosewater and orange flower water. 
- Pour into small ramekins or dessert bowls, a bring to room temperature. Cover with a plastic warp and refrigerate for 2 hours. Serve with a garnish of nuts and your favourite syrup.
- Please note: These do not invert well (like panna cotta), but will have to be eaten out of the ramekins, similarly to a custard or a Crème brûlée. 

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