Eating Jewish: Sutlach (Aromatic Milk Pudding)
It was a busy weekend here for me in Montreal. I participated in the first LeMood event held in the city (related to the Jewish learning Limmud events held all over the world) at which I gave a workshop about Sephardic Shavuot foods. I also got to meet Gil Marks whom I often quote in my blog posts and whose Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and other cookbooks I am constantly referencing. It was an exciting and engaging weekend but one that left me little time in my own kitchen. So as I started thinking about a Shavuot recipe that I wanted to feature here, one of the main requirements was something that was easy to prepare.
I found just that in a recipe for an aromatic milk pudding that is popular among many Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish communities known as sutlach or also muhallabeya. A common way to flavor this dessert is with orange blossom or rose water, along with a garnish of chopped almonds or pistachios. A version from Turkey is flavored with vanilla (using a vanilla pod or vanilla extract) or the zest of ½ a lemon along with a sprinkling of cinnamon. However, the flavoring I chose to use was rose water and ground cardamom, which is popular among Indian, Iraqi and Iranian Jews. Interestingly, in choosing to flavor this dessert with rose water, I was also emulating a Middle Eastern Shavuot custom of flavoring dishes with rose water on this holiday. Among Jewish communities in the Middle East, synagogues were decorated with rose petals during Shavuot and in turn the holiday came to be known as “the Festival of Roses,” thus giving way to the aforementioned food practice.
This dessert is made on the stovetop and comes together in about thirty minutes. The only requirement being that the pudding should constantly be stirred while it’s cooking so that it cooks evenly and no lumps begin to form. This turned out to be a relaxing experience for me, although you could also enlist a stirring partner if more than a few minutes of stirring would drive you crazy rather than relax you. Once it’s cooked, the pudding can be eaten warm but the more popular way is to chill it, during which time it will firm up, and eat the dessert cold. This has come to be one of my favorite pudding recipes (and something I will definitely be making long after Shavuot is over) because not only does it happen to be gluten free but the final result is a light, smooth pudding that is a perfect summer dessert in which the cardamom and rose water add a wonderfully subtle flavoring to this dish. The flavor of the rose water will mellow as it is mixed with the pudding and won’t taste as strong as it smells in the bottle.
This pudding is the perfect way to try something new on your Shavuot table and looks beautiful served in a clear bowl, adorned with a few cardamom pods or perhaps even a few rose petals.
Sutlage – Muhallabeya (Aromatic Milk Pudding)
Adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food
¾ cup brown rice flour (you can also use white rice flour)
5 ½ cups milk (2% or whole milk and for those that are lactose intolerant coconut milk can also be used))
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ tablespoon rose water
In a small bowl, mix the rice flour and a cup of cold milk. Add the milk gradually, stirring the mixture thoroughly after each addition, in order to avoid lumps, set aside.
Bring the rest of the milk to a boil in a pot, over medium-high heat. Add the rice flour and milk mixture to the boiling milk, making sure to stir vigorously in order to incorporate it. It is best to use a wooden spoon to stir the pudding while being careful not scrape the bottom of the pan where the milk sticks (you want to leave that untouched).
Reduce the heat to low, and cook the pudding for about 15 to 20 minutes until it thickens. It is important to stir constantly while the pudding is cooking so that the milk thickens evenly and lumps do not form.
Stir in the sugar and cook until it has dissolved. Add the cardamom and the rose water, stirring to incorporate both ingredients.
Pour the pudding into a large or individual serving bowls and chill. Serve the pudding cold.