I always love a really good Lebanese rice pudding. It is so easy to make and a blend of some of my favorite flavors. This one in particular has one I don’t get to use so often; mastic gum. Mastic gum reminds me of the Lebanese milk & mastic ice cream we used to have all the time growing up. It was and still is one of my favorites. I love how the ice cream gains a very light stretchy pull, as a result of the mastic gum. You can imagine how entertaining that is when you’re a child. Or maybe I was just easily entertained?
Mastic is a gum or resin that is cultivated from the bark of the mastic tree: An evergreen tree growing in the Mediterranean. It’s been used for centuries as a natural gum, hence where the word mastication was derived.
Rice pudding is so simple and cheap to make because it uses all the ingredients found in your pantry. I believe many around the world now enjoy the delicate, sweet fragrance of orange flower blossom and may have it in stock, while, on the other hand mastic might still be one of those exotic ingredients to some.
It can be found in any Middle Eastern store and I really do think it’s worth the hassle to find some. Its got a very exquisite aroma and just exudes a lush, lemony, decadent flavor to this dessert.
Rice pudding was first made in Asia and brought to Europe from the Middle East. In the Roman times, it was used as a medicine and in many places it is still used to sustain the sick and malnourished.
Beirut was once regarded as the pearl of the Middle East. Lebanon was known for its sun-drenched beaches, snow-capped mountains, cultured people, true art of hospitality, rich and wholesome cuisine, world-class museums and universities, and exciting nightlife. Then the civil war began in 1975 and Lebanon suffered this reality of war for fifteen years. People quickly forgot its natural beauty and vibrancy. It made the news but for all the wrong reasons. The name Beirut decayed as its use began to denote death, chaos, war, suffering, and destruction.
Since, Beirut has slowly made its way back onto the world map revealing its deep fervor and appreciation for life no matter what its history tells. The Lebanese take great delight in demonstrating this. Days are spent soaking up the warm rays of the Mediterranean sun; the afternoons lazing around a lavishly spread table of the finest and most gratifying fare; before dancing it all away into the wee hours of the morning, tirelessly exhibiting all the glamour notorious to Hollywood. But, there is still much of its old charm left to explore as well. Like many Beirutis, all one must do is escape to the outskirts or picturesque mountainside for a change of pace and atmosphere.
Lebanon is for those that have an appetite for the unknown and a yearning to arouse their palates along the way. It is an entertainment, culinary and cultural haven. It’s one of the world’s best-kept secrets. But, don’t take my word for it…
Downtown Beirut, Saifi Village
Church & Mosque stand side by side in Downtown Beirut- Solidere
Solidere Clock Tower
Cafes and shops in downtown Beirut.
- 700ml milk
- 250ml water
- 100g short grain white rice
- 100g sugar
- (15ml) 1 tablespoon of orange blossom water
- 70g unsalted pistachios, half ground- half whole
- ¼ teaspoon mastic powder
- Pour milk into a heavy bottomed pan.
- Add the sugar.
- And bring to a boil on a medium to low flame. Stir often.
- Once the milk and sugar mixture has come to a boil, add the rice and water. Regarding the rice-there are two arguments. The first is that rinsing rice removes the starch which is what makes it creamy, in the case of risotto or rice pudding. In rice-centric countries like the Middle East and Asia the rice is always washed. This is because of cleanliness as well as removing talcon powder and drying agents. When it comes to risotto (arborio rice), I never wash my rice. But, in all other cases I do. If I don’t, then I start hearing my grandmother’s voice and she was adamant on washing rice.
- Stir well. Let the mixture reach another boil and then lower the flame.
- Stir very often making sure rice is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. It will take about 45 minutes from the second boil for the rice to absorb all the liquid and become creamy.
- In the mean time, pound the mastic into powder.
- Once 30 minutes have passed, add the orange blossom water and the mastic powder
- Stir often and cook for a further 15 minutes.
- The rice pudding should be ready. Let sit for about 15 minutes to cool before spooning into a bowl or single serving size dishes.
- Place in the fridge for 1-2 hours. Serve chilled decorated with slivered almonds, toasted pine nuts or pistachios.