Kamal Mouzawak was describing a dessert his grandmother used to make, a sort of pudding made of rice and covered with walnuts and syrup. He was getting so lyrical about it, I was fascinated. I was picturing a grandma, wearing a bun and an apron, stirring and stirring rice in a big pot until it was thick; letting it cool outside in the terrace, ladling it out to her grandchildren, with the walnuts and syrup on top for a special treat.
I wanted to find that recipe.
In our world, where every food item under the sun is available at our neighborhood supermarket, from Italian cold cuts to Hungarian spices to Thai curries, I can’t help but be drawn to those recipes devised by people who had little at their disposal. A little rice, some nuts from the trees nearby, a bit of sugar.
I found a recipe in Nada Saleh New Flavours of the Lebanese Table, in which she describes an old-time dessert, made with rice mashed into a cream and a top layer of nuts and rose water jelly; probably not Kamal’s grandmother’s, but it will do. I have adapted the recipe to simplify its execution.
- 1 cup of short-grain rice, such as sushi rice or risotto rice
- 2 1/2 cups of water (to cook the rice in)
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 1/4 cup (or so) of cream (can use a can of ashta, reduce the amount of milk accordingly)
- a few pebbles of mastic ( freeze the mastic for one hour, then place in a plastic bag and grind up with a rolling pin till powdery)
- 1 (or more) tablespoon of rose water
- a handful of nuts, soaked in water (I also used some candied walnuts)
- 2 tablespoons of cornstarch (can use wheat starch instead)
- 1/2 cup (or more, to taste) of sugar
- Soak the nuts in water.
- Cook the rice in about 2 1/2 cups of boiling water until the rice is tender, about 15 minutes, and has absorbed most of the water; if there is still a lot of water left in the pot, drain most of it and replace it with milk and cream. Add a few tablespoons of sugar (to taste) and cook the rice some more, until the mixture is a moist and gooey mass. Add the mastic and stir to distribute the flavor evenly.
- Cool the rice mixture a bit and pour into the food processor in batches. Puree until the mixture is smooth and velvety, adding more milk if needed. Cool in a serving platter or ramequins.
- Sprinkle the nuts over the rice cream.
- Make the rose water jelly; dilute 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in 1/4 cup of water. Heat 1 3/4 cups of water in a saucepan; add about 3 (or more, to taste) tablespoons of sugar, stir to dissolve; when the water starts to steam, add the cornstarch mixture and stir constantly until it bubbles and thickens; add the rose water and stir.
- Pour onto the rice cream through a strainer. Cool and serve. (If the mixture does not thicken, it is fine to repeat the operation adding a bit more cornstarch and diluting it in water, then mixing it in)
NOTE: Mastic is imported from Greece and is used extensively in Lebanese sweets and even savory dishes; it is available online or at Greek or Middle-Eastern grocers; it comes in very small jars or pouches and consists of clear pebbles that come from the resin of a specific bush. Freeze the pebbles and grind them (they will not dissolve easily otherwise) or mash them with a bit of sugar in a mortar.