Stovetop rice pudding, also known as roz bel haleeb, is just one of those foods that instantly transports me to childhood. My most distinct memory is having a big warm bowl at my family's farm in Syria during winter, made with super fresh milk, cooked rice, and a dash of cinnamon on top. My grandma would make huge batches, and everyone would just be waiting to have it as soon as it was out of the pot. It just feels like a warm hug, which is just what everyone needs during these cold months. Stovetop rice pudding is made with the simplest ingredients, but has that special flavor that always keeps me coming back for more.
This recipe is just how my grandma used to make it. Simple, easy, and absolutely delicious. One thing I love about grandma's stovetop rice pudding is that it can be made in less than half an hour. This is perfect for when you're having guests over, or if you just want a quick comforting dessert without a big hassle in the kitchen. I cook the rice separately, unlike traditional recipes that cook the rice in the milk. This makes it almost foolproof, making sure you have the most delicious and perfectly creamy rice pudding every time.
Ingredients You'll Need:
- Rice: The best rice to use is a medium-short-grain rice (Egyptian rice). This will give you perfectly soft and chewy rice without becoming mushy or overcooked.
- Milk: I've used full fat, skimmed, half and half, and 2%> It really depends on your preference and what you usually have on hand. Keep in mind that you'll be thickening it up with cornstarch anyways so you don't really need milk with high-fat content.
- Sugar: Use more/less depending on how sweet you like it. I sometimes go for less because my family likes to drizzle some honey on top. The ultimate comfort food.
- Cornstarch: Traditional rice pudding uses the starches in the rice to thicken up. My family's super easy hack is using cornstarch instead. Yet gives it this perfect custard-like consistency that's just perfect.
- Mastic: Also known as mesteka. A little bit goes a really long way, and it can make your pudding bitter if you add too much. But it adds that distinct flavor to rice pudding which is what makes grandma's recipe so special. This ingredient can be omitted if you don't have any.
- Orange Blossom Water: This ingredient is super common in Palestinian, Syrian, and Lebanese desserts. It adds this perfume-like quality that goes so well with anything sweet.
- Rosewater: Another staple when it comes to Middle Eastern desserts. The combination of rosewater and orange blossom water is just out of this world.
- Nuts: Adding some nuts on top is optional. My family usually serves grandma's rice pudding plain, with some pistachios, pine nuts, and almonds on the side. This way each person can choose how they like their rice pudding.
- Cinnamon: Personally, I prefer my rice pudding with a sprinkle of cinnamon and some crushed pistachios on top. The cinnamon goes perfectly with a big warm bowl of this creamy goodness. But this part is optional.
You will also need:
- A whisk
- A medium-sized pot
Tips & Tricks
- Crush the mastic with a teaspoon of sugar. I was taught to crush mastic like this because it help it crush into a powder instead of a gummy mess. You can crush it in a mortar and pestle or just place the mastic and sugar in a ziplock bag and smash with something heavy until you get a fine powder.
- Dissolve the cornstarch in cold milk first. Cornstarch doesn't dissolve in hot liquid. If you don't want lumpy pudding, use cold milk. The sugar will dissolve as the pudding heats up anyways, so you don't have to stress about that too much.
- Start on your milk pudding just as the rice finishes cooking. The milk and cornstarch mixture doesn't really take much time to thicken. Put it on the heat as soon as the rice has cooked.
- Stir constantly. Once your milk pudding mixture is on the stove, use your whisk to stir it constantly until it boils, then until it thickens. If you leave it for too long, you'll end up with lump pudding instead of a perfect silky smooth one. This will also make sure that no rice sticks to the bottom after you add it in.
- Pour into individual bowls. This pudding thickens as it cools. My favorite way to serve it is in individual-sized bowls. It just looks so cute. As soon as it's off the stove, pour into your serving bowls before it thickens. Do the same if you prefer to use a large serving bowl.
What Kind of Rice to Use?
The best rice to use for this recipe is Egyptian rice. It's a starchy medium to short-grain rice and is what my family always uses for this pudding. You can also use Calrose or Arborio rice. The point is that you want a starchy medium to short-grain rice that won't get soft and mushy, because the best part about this rice pudding is that the rice actually maintains its texture. As I mentioned, I also like to cook my rice separately instead of in the milk in order to make sure it maintains its texture.
So you end up with a thick, creamy milk base and slightly chewy rice that pair together perfectly.
Is Rice Pudding Gluten-Free?
Yes, it is. Rice doesn't contain any gluten since it does not come from wheat or any of its derivatives. If you are gluten-free, though, just make sure your rice isn't contaminated (this can happen if it comes from a factory that also produces wheat products).
How to Store and Reheat
You can store this pudding in a jar or airtight container for up to 4 days. You can eat it either cold or warm, so you don't really have to reheat it. I definitely prefer it warm.
To reheat it, place it back into a pot on the stove on medium-high heat. Add a splash of milk just to loosen it up, and stir until it warms up evenly. And there you have it!
Some Other Middle Eastern Dessert Recipes
- Basbousa Semolina Cake -Namoura
- Date Filled Cookies -Ka'ak Asawer
- Baklava Recipe with Pistachios
- Easy Syrian Recipe for Turkish Delight -Raha
- Qatayef -Deep Fried Stuffed Pancakes
- Sweet Semolina Pudding -Mamouniyeh