Tag Archives: pudding

Celebrating Shavuot with Syrian Rice Pudding from Aleppo

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Shavuot (meaning “weeks” in Hebrew) is both an ancient agricultural festival celebrating the wheat harvest in Israel, as well as a holiday commemorating the time when God gave the Torah to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

Shavuot takes place on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which is exactly 7 weeks plus one day from the eve of the second night of Passover. This 50-day period (known as the Counting of the Omer) connects the moment of salvation — when God brought the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt — to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai — when the Israelites pledged their loyalty and devotion to God.

There are a few theories as to why culturally we eat dairy products for this holiday. But the most common explanation is that sweet dairy foods recall the biblical line in Exodus 3:8:

“So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.” 1

Because of the reference to milk and honey, many Jewish communities will make a point of preparing such dairy foods as cheesecake and cheese blintzes in the Ashkenazic world, or milk puddings known as Sütlaç/Sutlach in the Sephardic world or Mulhallabeya/Mahalabia in the Middle East.

You may also find more savory non-meat dishes prepared for Shavuot that don’t necessarily emphasize or even include dairy at all such as Marcoude (a North African potato-egg tortilla), fish with tahini sauce (in Lebanon and Syria), fish croquettes (in Greece) and couscous with vegetables (in Morocco).

The following is my family’s Syrian version of a honey-rice pudding from Aleppo. Interestingly enough Halab (the Arabic word for Aleppo) derives from the Arabic/Hebrew word meaning “milk.” The legend is that Aleppo, once the ancient capital of Syria, was where Abraham once milked his sheep to feed travelers and the poor. 2

Riz b’Haleb
(Syrian Rice Pudding with Honey and Rose Water)

Yield: Serves 5 to 7 (Makes about seven 1/2-cup servings)

Ingredients:

For Rice Pudding:
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons long-grain white rice
2 cups cold water
3 cups whole milk
1/2 cup mild tasting honey (such as clover)
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons rose water

For Serving:
Ground cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg
Ground pistachios

1. Place the rice and water in medium-size saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer over medium-low heat, uncovered, until most of the water has evaporated and the rice is soft (the water should be level with the rice), about 15 minutes.

2. Add the milk, mix well, and cook over low heat, uncovered, until the mixture starts to thicken, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

3. Mix in the honey, vanilla, and rose water, and stir well over low heat for 5 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature sprinkled with ground cinnamon, ground cardamom or ground nutmeg (you may also refrigerate and serve chilled; it will keep up to 2 days).


1 Exodus 3:8: New American Standard Bible. Biblehub.com.

2 Dan Ben Amos (2011). Folktales of the Jews, V. 3 (Tales from Arab Lands). Jewish Publication Society. p. 283. ISBN 978-0-8276-0871-9.

Libyan Butternut Squash Pudding: The trick to this treat.

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If you’ve always liked the idea of traditional American pumpkin pie, but simply never became much of a fan, this Eastern version might be for you. The trick is to use fresh butternut squash instead of pumpkin for a richer texture as well as a more natural sweetness (with a little spice from the ginger), and because it’s dairy- and gluten-free, the overall texture is lighter. It’s a nice way to end a heavy meal, and if you really miss the richness from the dairy, you can always serve it with some fresh whipped cream on top!

Helwat al Yaktin 
(Libyan Butternut Squash “Pudding” with Cinnamon,
Ginger, and Vanilla)

Yield: SERVES 8 / Makes eight 1/2-Cup servings

For Preparing Pan or Ramekins:
8-inch square or round baking or pie pan
(non-stick, glass, or ceramic preferable over metal)

2 to 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

For Pudding:
2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds fresh butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes,
(already peeled and cut cubes okay,
but please don’t substitute with frozen or canned purée)

1/2 cup vanilla or regular almond milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Baking and Serving:
1 to 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil (for greasing the bowls or pan)
1/2 cup reserved cooked butternut squash cubes
(you will need about 8 small cooked cubes so that each serving
gets a piece on top)

Ground cinnamon

STEPS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; Grease pan generously with oil and set aside.

2. Warm oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce to a medium-low heat and mix in the butternut squash cubes. Cover, and cook until very soft and slightly browned, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.

3. While the squash is cooking, whisk the milk, egg yolks, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.

4. Pour squash cubes into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Scrape the puree into the bowl with the liquid mixture and gently mix to combine.

5. Scrape mixture into your prepared baking pan, spreading it out with the spatula to make it even. Place pan onto the middle rack of your oven and bake 1 hour until center is slightly firm and edges are pulling away from the pan. (Note: Mixture will still be a bit soft to the touch — but not liquidy, and overall top color will turn a deep orangey-brown.) Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight.

6. Serve cold sprinkled with cinnamon.

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