Rosewater rice pudding, aka riz bi haleeb in the Middle East, is a creamy rice pudding made without eggs on the stovetop. This simple rice pudding recipe is made with cooked rice, milk, cornstarch, and sugar, and flavored with rose water and orange blossom water.
A Connection To Memories
Riz bi 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.
What I Love About This Recipe
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 milk. This makes it almost foolproof, making sure you have the most delicious and perfectly creamy rice pudding every time.
- Rice: The best rice to use is a medium-short-grain rice (Calrose 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
How To Make Riz Bi Haleeb
Wash the rice and drain. Add boiling water to the rice on the stovetop. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook the rice until tender.
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.
Add the sugar and crushed mastic to the milk mixture. Once your milk pudding mixture is on the stove, use your whisk to stir it constantly until it boils, then until it thickens (about 10 minutes).
The milk pudding mixture is finished simmering once the pudding is thick and creamy like runny custard.
Add the cooked rice, orange blossom water, and rosewater. Continue to cook for about another 10 minutes stirring continuously. This will also make sure that no rice sticks to the bottom after you add it in.
Remove from the stovetop once the rice pudding, or riz bi haleeb, has the same consistency as a bechamel sauce.
Hint: Rice pudding thickens up more as it cools. Let the pudding cool for an hour at room temperature and check the consistency. If wanting a thicker rice pudding, add the pudding to the fridge to thicken it up more.
Tips & Tricks
- Pour the rice pudding into individual bowls. This rice 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 it into your serving bowls before it thickens. Do the same if you prefer to use a large serving bowl.
- 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.
Best Rice For Rice Pudding
The best rice to use for riz bi haleeb is Calrose rice. It's a starchy medium to short-grain rice and is what my family always uses for this pudding. You can also use Arborio rice. The point is that you want a starchy medium to short-grain rice that won't get soft and mushy. The best part about this riz bi haleeb recipe 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 pairs together perfectly.
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).
Not all rice pudding recipes are the same. This rice pudding uses regular fat milk, sugar, rice, and cornstarch to thicken, so it's a lightened-up version.
Yes. Rinsing or washing prior to cooking rice pudding removes excess starch which helps the rice not to clump together.
You can eat rice pudding both ways. Some recipes serve rice pudding straight off the stove, whereas others, allow the rice to cool and get thicker before consumption.
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.
Middle Eastern Dessert Recipes
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Stovetop Rice Pudding (Riz Bi Haleeb)
- ½ cup dry Calrose rice will be about double in size once cooked
- ½ cup water to cook the rice
- 4 cups milk cold
- ½ cup sugar
- 3 tablespoon cornstarch
- 5-6 beads mastic
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
- optional: nuts cinnamon, or honey for topping
- Start by washing the rice. In a small or medium-sized pot, add the rice and boiling water (or enough to submerge the rice). Bring to a boil, then cover and lower the heat until the rice is fully cooked. Set aside.
- Crush the mastic beads until they turn into a fine powder. Add the mastic powder into a pot with the cornstarch, sugar, and milk.
- Whisk until fully incorporated or until the cornstarch has dissolved. Make sure everything has fully dissolved.
- Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil while continuing to whisk, then lower the heat to medium and simmer while still whisking until it starts to thicken up (about 10 minutes).
- Once thick and creamy like a runny custard (or bechamel), add in the cooked rice, rosewater, and orange blossom water and cook for another 10 minutes. Remove the rice pudding from the stovetop once it's thickened up.
- Transfer immediately to your serving bowl(s) and garnish with nuts or cinnamon. Or, allow to cool down for 30 minutes and thicken up a bit more.
- Don't worry if your rice is slightly sticky, just make sure it's fully cooked.
- Monitor and frequently stir the rice pudding on the stovetop because it can easily stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
- If you don't have mastic, rose water, or orange blossom water, you can add vanilla instead.
- The rice pudding thickens up over time and may seem a little runny at first.