Mahalabia is a popular dessert in the Middle East that is famous for being quick & easy to make.
The creamy Middle Eastern milk pudding is popular in many Arab countries, typically served in small cups or glasses. The chilled dessert is often flavoured with rose water or orange blossom water.
Our traditional Mahalabia recipe is prepared with affordable and easy to find ingredients like milk, cornstarch, rose water, white sugar, cardamom syrup, rose petals and pistachio nuts.
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What is Mahalabia?
Mahalabia, also known as Muhallebi, Muhalabia, Mahalebi, Mohallabiah, or Muhallabiyeh,is a traditional milk pudding from the Middle East.
Legend has it that mahalabia was introduced into Arab cuisine in the late 7th-century by a Persian cook who served it to an Arab general by the name of Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra. It seems he liked it so much, he named it after himself!
The earliest recipes, dating to the 10th-century, featured three versions: milk thickened with ground rice, milk with rice grains and chicken, and an egg custard without rice.
In some Sephardi homes,Mahalabia made of milk, cream, starch and sugar and flavoured with either rose water or orange water, is served to break the fast on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is also eaten at Turkish Jewish weddings to symbolize the sweet life that lies ahead. Sephardim serve it on the festival of Shavuot when it is customary to eat dishes made of dairy, but according to food historian Gil Marks, the real reason is that the holiday is known in this community as the “feast of roses” and the dessert has a distinct rosy aroma.
Thanks to the sweet rose aroma and garnish of dried rosebuds, this is one of our favourite desserts to prepare for Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day.
Travel to the Middle East by CookingMahalabia at Home
I love traveling to the Middle East and North Africa.
As a professional food and travel journalist, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy amazing meals in the Middle East, from authentic markets to award winning restaurants.
For over ten years, I’ve been on the hunt for the bestMahalabia via adventures that had me zig-zagging through Morocco, Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Dubai. You guessed it! Some of my fondest food memories while traveling in the Middle East include feasts that finish with a few spoonfuls of creamy chilledMahalabia.
I ate regional versions ofMahalabia at a traditional Moroccan riad, on food tours of Istanbul and Bodrum, accompanied by Egyptian tea on a Nile Cruise and in bustling market in Cairo, late night snack in Amman, al fresco market lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and accompanied by pot of hot tea during a massive Middle Eastern barbecue in the Dubai desert while belly dancers twirled under the night sky.
Where To Eat Mahalabia
Haven’t traveled to the Middle East before? It may be helpful to first sampleMahalabia at a local restaurant to better understand how the dessert is served. You’ll get an idea for the desired portion size, intensity of rose or orange flavour and the best eye-catching garnishes.
My Family Loves This Easy Mahalabia Recipe
When my family moved to Oakville the first restaurant we visited was a local Egyptian and Lebanese restaurant called Agabi. Ranked as one of the best restaurants in Oakville, Agabi, became our family’s go-to Middle Eastern take out joint.
After falling in love with Middle Eastern food at home, we enjoyed vacations to the region, feasting on endless bowls of hummus and falafel. It was on holiday when we were introduced to the local love for chilled milk pudding, a refreshing and light dessert to enjoy at the end of a busy day.
This easy Mahalabia recipe is one of our favourite desserts to prepare at dinner parties as we can prepare it in advance and simply take the glasses out of the fridge when ready to serve. Guests love the romantic floral rose and cardamom aromas. If you’re hosting a large feastMahalabia offers the perfectfinish as it’s not filling like a cake, pie or cookies.
Our homemadeMahalabia recipe is packed full of healthy ingredients!
Consuming dairy products (such as milk and cheese) provides health benefits — especially improved bone health. Dairy foods provide nutrients that are vital for health and maintenance of your body. These nutrients include calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.
Rich in monounsaturated fats and potassium, pistachios help reduce levels of bad cholesterol and reduce high blood pressure. The copper in pistachios supports healthy bones and blood, while antioxidant phytochemicals protect your eye health.
Cardamom contains phytochemicals that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Rose Petals contain polyphenols, antioxidants that work to protect your body from cell damage. The polyphenols in rose water have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cognitive diseases.
If it’s your first time makingMahalabia at home be sure to review our detailed step-by-step recipe below. Here are some helpful tips and tricks to get you started.
- If you’re going to be busy hosting a dinner party why not prepare the Middle Eastern milk pudding advance? Just store it in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. It takes just 2 minutes to decorate each glass with cardamom syrup, chopped pistachio and rose buds.
- We’ve used cornstarch in this recipe but you can also thicken the milk pudding the tapioca starch or rice flour.
- We like to use whole milk when preparing this dessert to give the custard a rich and creamy mouth feel. You can also use nonfat, 1% or 2% milk.
- If you’re living a dairy free or vegan diet feel free to substitute for soy milk, almond milk or oat milk.
- We’ve used roasted pistachio nuts to garnish the chilled dessert but you could also use toasted almonds, pine nuts or walnuts.
- Be sure to keep a close eye on the mild pudding as it is cooking into a custard over the stove. Vigorously beat the mixture with a whisk and remove from the heat as soon as it thickens. This prevents the milk from burning at the bottom of the pot and discolouring the mixture.
What To Serve with Mahalabia
If you’re hosting a large Middle Eastern themed dinner party a cool glass ofMahalabia is the perfect sweet finish.
Before serving our creamy chilled milk pudding dessert we suggest offering popular Middle Eastern appetizers and entrees like chicken shawarma, kebab, toum, kibbeh, chicken musakhan, eggplant fatteh and spiced pea fritters.
We love serving this rose and pistachio flavoured pudding alongside a cup of Moroccan Mint Tea or Turkish Coffee.
Storing Middle Eastern Milk Pudding
If you have leftover glasses ofMahalabia you can store them in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap for 2-3 days.
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Best Rose Pistachio Mahalabia Recipe
Rose & Pistachio Mahalabia
- measuring cup
- measuring spoons
- Glasses or Small Bowls
- 4 cups Milk
- 0.5 cups White Sugar
- 7 tbsp Cornstarch
- 1 tbsp Rose Water
- 3/4 cup Roasted Pistachios chopped
- 2 tbsp Cardamom Syrup
- Rose Petals garnish
- Set aside ¼ cup of the milk for the cornstarch. Combine the rest of the milk and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Heat on medium-high until milk begins to boil.
- Whisk the cornstarch and remaining milk together until there are no clumps remaining. Slowly whisk the mixture into the simmering milk and lower heat to medium.
- Continue whisking the milk mixture until thickened, approximately 12-15 minutes.
- Turn off the heat, and stir in the rose water.
- Pour into a large serving bowl or into 4 individual serving bowls. Set aside to cool at room temperature, 3 hours.
- Garnish chilled Mahalabia dessert cups with chopped pistachio and rose petals.
- Serve the pudding cold drizzled with cardamom syrup.
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