history of mahalabia and muhallebi
It’s said that muhallebi gained prominence when a Persian cook served it to the Arab general by the name of al Muhallab bin Abi Sufra in the 7th century. The general loved it so much, he ever so humbly named it after himself. (No one knows the name of the cook.)
On the other hand, halib is also the Arabic word for milk, so perhaps we should take that story with a pinch of salt (or sugar).
The earliest recorded recipes date back around a thousand years. Since the beginning, there have been multiple ways of making this delicious milk pudding or custard. The main ingredient is always fresh milk, but the thickener varies.
All that being said, milk puddings are common across the world. Muhallebi is certainly not specifically Turkish, just like mahalabia isn’t specific to the Arab world. For example, the dish is also linked to Sephardi Jewish culture, where it’s associated with the Yom Kippur holiday and weddings.
How to make mahalabia
Mahalabia is a very simple milk based pudding, thickened with rice or starch. It takes only a few minutes to make, then needs a few hours to set.
Traditionally, a thick rice paste made from broken rice grains known as sübye is used to thicken the dessert. This being a laborious and lengthy process, however, most home cooks opt for simpler options such as rice flour or corn starch.
1 litre (4 cups) best quality whole milk
80 g (⅓ cup) sugar
70 g corn starch
2 tsp rosewater
40 g pistachios (unsalted) finely chopped.
1 small rose blossom