Today I decided to try out a recipe that I’ve been meaning to make for over 6 years since I discovered it in one of mom’s Arabic cookbooks. I wonder why I waited that long to finally give in to a sugar and dairy craving. This rarely happens, but I guess I was intimidated by the number of dirty pots and pans that will be piled up when the masterpiece is done. One would hardly call a pudding a masterpiece, but who wouldn’t admire the contrast of white creaminess and bright orange “syrupiness” layered beautifully in an elegant glass serving cup?
The Balluza is a classic mhalabiyé (mahalabiyah, sweet milk pudding) dessert with an additional layer of orange juice thickened with cornstarch over heat. I’ve read that this sweet has Syrian roots but I remember my grandmother (who was purely Lebanese) and aunt making it for many years. I also remember my grandma’s open fridge (and cupboard and drawer) policy and how comforting her food was. I wanted to revive some of my childhood and adolescence memories of grandma today through this walk down culinary Memory Lane. I must admit that I will never come close to her talent. She, like many women of her time, was illiterate and couldn’t decipher a single letter of any cookbook you might hand her, yet her skill was matchless. Her love for the kitchen could be felt in every bite and sip.
Grandma was the barakah (blessing) of the family, the soul that united us all, first and second and third generations, every Saturday over breakfast and every Eid (holiday) feast. When we lost her 12 years ago, little did we know that we had lost more than just a remarkable pious kind old woman. We had lost the very heart of the family. I’ve missed her wisdom, serenity and patience. I’ve missed her touching bedtime stories, her humor and giggles. I’ve missed her delicious extra-large kibbé (fried meat and bulgur balls stuffed with minced meat), the largest I’ve ever seen yet. I’ve missed the way she used to call my name and how she would take my side when mom and I quarrel. She loved her grandchildren very dearly and took pride in their achievements. She died a happy woman, I’m sure. She had all of her daughters and son by her side when she took her last breath. In days like these, you’re very lucky if you’re Lebanese and all your children live in this country with their children. It’s very unlikely that I’ll live to 87 like granny, but I do wish to die her peaceful death having lived a fulfilling peaceful life, such as hers.
Going back to the balluza recipe, you might want to give it a try too. You could start off with a regular rice pudding instead of a milk pudding. It’s totally up to your preference. I garnished my set pudding with ground pistachios and sliced almonds.
Here are the ingredients:
For the mhalabiyé (milk pudding):
4 cups whole milk
3 TBSP cornstarch
1 cup sugar
1 tsp orange blossom water
1 tsp rose water
For the orange layer:
3 cups orange juice
3 TBSP cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
Mix 1 cup milk with 3 TBSP cornstarch, add to rest of milk and bring pot to boil over medium-low. Add sugar. Continue to whisk throughout cooking time. When milk thickens, add rose and orange blossom waters. Pour pudding into serving bowls or glasses, filling only half-way through.
2- As the milk pudding cools, prepare the orange syrup by adding 3 TBSP of cornstarch to 3 cups of freshly squeezed orange juice. Add sugar and whisk thoroughly until mixture thickens as it comes to a boil.
3- Pour orange syrup over mhalabiyé and place all bowls in fridge till they set.
4- Serve garnished with ground pistachios or chopped almonds, if you prefer.
I hope you make this comforting, tangy/creamy dessert soon. Let me know if you do and if you have any pudding recipes you’d like to share in the comments below.
Have a warm evening, everyone!