|Place of origin||Sassanid Persia |
|Main ingredients||Rice flour, milk or almond milk, sugar|
Muhallebi (Arabic: مهلبية, Mahalabia) is a milk pudding that has legendary origins dating to Sassanid Persia (224-651). The basic ingredients are rice, sugar, rice flour and milk. The dessert is popular in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and other Middle Eastern countries.
Legend has it that muhallebi was introduced into Arab cuisine in the late seventh century by a Persian cook who served it to an Arab general by the name of Al-Muhallab ibn Abi Sufra. He liked it so much, he named it after himself. The earliest recipes, dating to the 10th century, featured three versions: milk thickened with ground rice, milk with rice grains and chicken, and an egg custard without rice. The earliest recipe for muhallabiyya is attributed to Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq of Baghdad. Two 13th-century Arab cookbooks, one by al-Baghdadi and another from Andalusia, have a spiced pudding variation made with mutton instead of chicken. The account of the pudding's Persian origins comes from the Andalusian cookbook.
There are records from the Ottoman Empire for two versions of muhallebi: a version with shredded chicken (tavuk göğsü) served during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror, and a later recipe dating to 1530 for a meatless version flavored with rose water.
One 19th-century English cookbook that gives a recipe for muhallebi calls it "Ramazan cakes". The recipe calls for boiling milk together with rice flour and sugar until the mixture reduces. The pudding is flavored with rose or jasmine extract, and allowed to cool before it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.
In the modern era the traditional tavuk göğsü is no longer widely available, except in Turkey. This pudding does not taste like chicken but the shredded meat gives it a distinctive texture. George Coleman De Kay said the pudding "owes its peculiar excellent flavour to the presence of the breasts of very young chickens, which are by some means so intimately blended and incorporated with the custard as to be scarcely distinguishable". Kazandibi is a variation of the classic tavuk göğsü where a thin layer of pudding is caramelized before the custard is poured over it and allowed to set. The finished pudding is served upside down with the caramelized side on top.
Mastic can be used as a flavoring for muhallebis—this is called sakızlı muhallebi. Rice flour is used to thicken the pudding, but this can be combined or replaced with corn starch or wheat starch depending on the cook's preference.
In Cyprus, muhallebi is called μαχαλλεπί (IPA: [maxalːe'pi] in Cypriot Greek) and it can also be found in a non-dairy version along side the version that contains milk (μαχαλλεπίν του γαλάτου; IPA: [maxalːe'pin du ɣa'latu]). The Cypriot non-dairy muhallebi is made from water, sugar, nishaste (νισιαστέ; IPA: [niʃa'ste]), i.e. starch including corn starch, and rose water, which is optional. When the muhallebi is set, the Cypriots add rose squash/cordial/syrup called triantafyllo (τριαντάφυλλο) on top of it.
In some Sephardi homes, malabi is served to break the fast on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. It is also eaten at Turkish Jewish weddings to symbolize the sweet life that lies ahead. Sephardim serve it on the festival of Shavuot when it is customary to eat dairy food, but according to food historian Gil Marks, the real reason is that the holiday is known in this community as the "feast of roses, "and malabi is traditionally topped with rosewater.
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