Pudding is a homey dessert made to satisfy not impress. It may not have the sophistication of airy soufflés or sculpted meringues but it is the very best of soul and comfort food.
Despite today’s reputation, pudding had an illustrious past and even decorated the caliph’s table. The Baghdad Cookery Book of medieval times gives us a glimpse of the wonderful variations of this humble dish. These puddings, known as akhbisa, were rich and aromatic; scented with sesame seed oil and rosewater and filled with luscious pistachios, sweet dates, poppy seeds and honey. Bread, flour and ground almonds were often used as a base as well as more unusual ingredients of carrots and gourds. This Middle Eastern dessert was extravagant enough to serve royalty.
A few hundred years later, rosewater scented malabi (mahalabiya) is still a favorite in the Levant. During the heat of the summer it is especially common to see to makeshift malabi stands on roads leading to the sea. Thrifty vendors sell them out of pickup trucks in disposable cups and sometimes add extra grated coconut, bright red syrup and ground peanuts. Eaten with flimsy plastic spoons, it isn’t the best version I have eaten but in the hot sun it certainly is the most refreshing.
Malabi might be more traditional, but it seems that chocolate trumps as the favorite pudding flavor in Israel, with endless commercial variations lining the supermarket shelves (for some reason this flavor is never offered at roadside stands). Both are not very hard to prepare at home. All you need is a steady hand for stirring and a couple of pantry items.
Today, gluten-free thickening agents such as cornstarch, tapioca, potato, rice and arrow root flour, are commonly used in addition to the wheat based starches. For those who are vegan or lactose intolerant, soy, almond and rice milk can be used in place of cream or milk in many recipes. Take note that these nondairy alternatives cannot always be substituted directly; you may need more or less to get the desired consistency.
Simple Chocolate Pudding
This recipe was taken from allrecipes.com and was submitted by Kelly Powers. I won’t say this is the best recipe after several of my readers declared a previous “best” recipe a complete flop but it works fine for me and hope it will for you.
1/2 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small pot combine all the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla and milk. Cook on low while constantly stirring so lumps do not form. A whisk is useful for this. The mixture will combine and thicken. Continue to cook until it is thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat and add the butter, mixing well. Serve warm or cold. Let cool and cover with plastic wrap so a film does not form on the surface.