The iconic Israeli dessert, known as malabi, has its roots in centuries-old recipes for puddings made of rice flour and almond or cow's milk - which can be found throughout the Middle East, Turkey, and Mediterranean Europe. A close cousin of muhallabia, as the spoon sweet is known in the Arab world, today's Israeli malabi is often made with cornstarch instead of rice flour. Silky textured and light, the flower-scented pudding is topped with sweet syrup and nuts or shredded coconut.
Not only is malabi a perfect fit for Middle Eastern menus, but its flavors are a natural complement to Indian cuisine as well. Plus, the allergy-friendly recipe is gluten- and egg-free, and can be made with dairy milk substitutes like soy, coconut, or almond milk, so it's easily adapted to special dietary needs.
- For the Pudding:
- 3 cups whole milk ( 2% milk is also fine; divided)
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- For the Raspberry Rose Syrup (Optional):
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- Optional garnishes: slivered almonds, chopped pistachios or walnuts, shredded coconut
In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the milk with the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of rose water. Mix well with a fork or clean fingers, until the mixture is smooth and lump free. (The cornstarch may be hard to stir at first, but will loosen as you mix.) Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 2 1/2 cups of milk with the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. When bubbles begin to break the surface, reduce the heat to low. Give the cornstarch mixture a stir, and add it to the simmering milk, stirring constantly.
Cook the pudding at a gentle simmer, stirring very frequently, until it thickens enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 5 to 7 minutes. (If you're not stirring constantly, try not to scrape the bottom of the pan, or you may end up with lumps in your pudding.)
Pour or spoon the malabi into 6 to 8 serving dishes. Allow to cool slightly, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (the pudding will firm up as it cools).
While the pudding chills, make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, water, and jam. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar and incorporate the jam. When the mixture is smooth, remove from the heat, and stir in the rose water. Transfer to a dish and refrigerate until ready to serve.
To serve the malabi, spoon a little syrup over the top, and garnish with slivered or chopped nuts or coconut if desired.
Though cornstarch-based malabi is most popular today, the original recipe used rice flour. You can substitute packaged rice flour, or make your own by grinding white rice in a food processor. The resulting pudding won't be as silky or light as cornstarch malabi, but some prefer the flavor and texture of the rice-based version.
To make malabi dairy-free, simply substitute a dairy-free milk alternative. Almond milk -- especially homemade -- is a very traditional option, though modern cooks may opt for soy or even coconut milk.
Rose water isn't the only flavoring option; orange flower water is also lovely.
In Persian Jewish cuisine, cardamom is a common addition to malabi-style pudding. A little ground cardamom goes a long way, so start with a pinch, and adjust to taste. Or, add a few cardamom pods to the milk to infuse the pudding with flavor as it simmers.
More Ways to Serve Malabi
Instead of raspberry rose syrup, try a drizzle of silan, aka date honey, and chopped pistachios or almonds.
Or, make the malabi with orange flower water, and top with good-quality orange marmalade and chopped crystallized ginger.
For a sweet-tart dessert, top with a swirl of pomegranate molasses and some pomegranate arils (seeds).