A slightly updated version of the traditional Egyptian mastic mehalabia.
By Sarah Khanna
If there’s one thing Egyptians love, it’s dessert – the creamier, the better. From Konafa – vermicilli-like pastry, stuffed with gooey cheese or soft thick cream, baked then doused with enough sugar syrup to keep a child running in circles for days – to Roz Be Laban, a rice pudding, with scents of mastic and the enveloping flavor of sweetened milk.
Egypt is not a place for the lactose-intolerant.
As a kid, I never liked Roz Be Laban. I didn’t like the stickiness of the rice stuck to the jelly/jello-like milk surrounding it. Eating slower then than I do now, I could not stand keeping this strange sweet gluey concoction in my mouth. Instead, I would choose to have Mehalabia – a plain and simple milk pudding, similar to Roz Be Laban minus the rice.
Today, I eat both. Passionately.
The recipe below is not a traditional Mehalabia recipe in the sense that it includes lemon zest and a crackling brûlée crust. I could not resist adding a little bit of naughtiness to this old Egyptian favorite.
- 3 cups (710 ml) of cold full cream milk
- 3 tablespoons (28 grams) of cornstarch
- ¾ cup (150 grams) of sugar
- ½ teaspoon of mastic grains
- 1½ teaspoons (5 grams) of freshly grated lemon zest
- Extra caster sugar for the brûlée
- Dissolve the sugar and cornstarch in the cold milk.
- Place on medium to low heat.
- Add the mastic and lemon zest and stir continuously to melt the mastic, combine and to prevent from burning.
- Continue stirring until it thickens and thickly coats the back of a spoon. This should take around 25-20 minutes.
- Separate into serving bowls and cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours. It should have a consistency between jelly and pudding.
- When you're ready to serve, sprinkle a generous, even layer of sugar on top.
- You can either use a propane torch to caramelize the top or you could place it under a hot grill for up to 5 minutes at the most. Make sure to watch it carefully.
- Allow it to rest for a few minutes to allow to crust to harden and serve.
Sarah Khanna is the half-Egyptian, half-Indian author behind Buttered-up.com who quit her Cairene career in advertising to become a full time cook, writer and photographer in Kuala Lumpur. She is also a weekly food columnist for the Daily News Egypt where she critiques Arab food culture. Raised as a hotel brat, Sarah has moved frequently but considers Egypt to be her real home. She loves butter and knives and shudders at the sight of canned tuna.