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  • Writer's pictureNava

Mahalabi a Mediterranean milk pudding

I have such wonderful memories of the short time I spent growing up in Israel. I will never forget going to Bat Yam Beach in the summer time. During those hot days of summer, my mum would take my two sisters and I on an epic outing while granny, who lived with us, looked after my baby brother. In preparation for this expedition, Mum would pack two large bags filled to the rim with food. There was a variety of Pita sandwiches filled with hummus, pastrami and pickles, pita with hummus and pickles, pitta with hummus and olives, pita with baba ganouj, pita with omelette and avocado which was our substitute for butter. They were so overflowing with fodder for us fillies that there was no room for towels and we had to shlep them ourselves. That mother of ours, what a slave driver!

We had no buckets, no spades, no sun block, and no sun shirts, but we had energy to spare, boundless imagination and fun games to play.

Equipped with all the essentials we would clamber onto the midmorning bus, with no concerns about the midday sun. The beach was near where we lived, but to an eager eight year old the ride on that old rattler felt like forever.

I remember as we were walking along the beach looking for a spot to camp for the day, mum would ask all the people coming out of the water, “Nu, is the water wet?” I laughed out loud, I thought she was so hilarious, “is the water wet?” Move over Groucho Marx, make way Oscar Wilde, my mum owns that spotlight!

We finally found a spot that Mum was happy with and after getting changed as quickly as I could I cartwheeled my way to the clear blue, Mediterranean warm water where I practiced my under water summersaults. Life was GOOD, my mum was a comedy genius, I had the best sisters ever, I could do perfect cartwheels and excellent underwater summer salts, what more could anyone want… Mahlabi, that’s what.

Whenever we went to the beach, Mum would let us choose one treat after lunch. And for me it was a no brainer. Unlike most of the other children who wanted Ice-cream, I wanted Mahlabi!

I waited eagerly for the tall, tanned, barefoot, shirtless Turkish man to follow his belly up the beach. His skin was brown and tough as leather from years of being in the sun and I looked forward to his arrival as one does the coming of a celebrity. Eventually he would arrive, carrying a large Eski which contained the precious cargo. The combination of the cold, refreshing milky pudding, swimming in bright red rose water and sugary syrup, garnished with crushed peanuts and desiccated coconut was a pure delight. And the scent of rosewater was a divine accompaniment to the tantalising sensations dancing on my taste buds.

I cherished every bite of soothing chilled pudding that slid down my little rosebud gob, it was both soothing and satisfying. I didn’t want it to end, there would be no seconds, nor was there an extra large size, so I savoured every mouthful.

I have yet to taste a mahlabi like those I devoured on the beach in my childhood. For years I have explored and experimented with mahlabi recipes but none is as good to the one I had as a child (though I do love the one I am posting today.) And as I write this post, I have finally figured out why! The mahlabi I ate at Bat Yam Beach was so much more than just a dessert, it was the taste of childhood, a cherished relic of sunny hot summer days spent at the beach. It was not just composed of pudding and rosewater, it tasted of salt air, and me and my sisters playing in the water, eating pita sandwiches and getting burnt to a crisp. My mother making silly jokes. Nothing can ever taste as good as the nostalgic past.

However, if you are a fan of milk pudding or are curious to taste this jelly-like, cold and refreshing sweet delight, then I am sure you will enjoy this cool summer treat. You can have fun exploring a variety of ingredients. You can use regular full-fat milk, low-fat milk or plant-based milk. You can make it creamy by adding cream or you can make it the way I make it: half water half milk. You can use any combination your taste buds desire. You can garnish with pistachios or peanuts or any nut you like.

Sachtan people (that’s bon appetit in Arabic)



60g corn flour

1 tbs sugar

2 cups milk (500mls)

2 cups water (500mls)

1 tablespoon rose water



1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1 tbsp rosewater

1 tsp food colouring

1 tsp cornflour

1 tsp water



desiccated coconut

crushed pistachio or any nut you like

Pour syrup on top of pudding garnish with pistachios and coconut



Measure 1 1/2 cups milk, (plant or regular milk) (375mls) and in a separate cup, measure 1/2 cup milk and set it aside.

Add 1 1/2 cups milk, 2 cups water and sugar to a pot over medium heat, whisk until sugar dissolves and bring to a simmer.

Reduce heat, mix cornflour with the 1/2 cup milk you set aside, whisk in cornflour and reduce heat. continue whisking for a few more minutes until mixture has thickened to a pudding consistency. .

Turn the heat off and stir in rose water.

Let it cool down a little and transfer to serving dishes, allow to come to room temperature then put in the fridge for several hours.

While pudding is in the fridge make the syrup



Place sugar and water in a pot over high heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add food colouring and rosewater, and bring the water to the boil. Reduce heat, mix corn flour and water until cornflour has dissolved completely. Reduce heat to low and let it simmer for 5 min.

Transfer syrup into a clear jar and keep in a cool place in the kitchen sealed with a lid.

Here are some options for you

4 cups plant based milk

4 cups full fat milk

4 cups low fat milk

3 cups milk, 1 cup cream

You can replace water or cream with the milk, you can change the ratio to 3:1, ( 3 cups milk 1 cup water) or make the ratio equal….

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