Orange & Cardamom Coconut Milk Pudding (Middle Eastern Malabi)

While we visited Israel we stayed in a hotel that was part of a functioning kibbutz. It was Paradise by the Sea of Galilee, but the food was really bad. No different than any other industrialized country, processed foods are regular there too. Almost everything Maagan Eden served was some sort of packaged food. They did have really great bananas, dates and olives, but the rest? Well it was not that super. The milk pudding I tried there tasted like plastic and perfume, it had the consistency and appearance of bodily fluids. I happen to have a distaste for vanilla pudding, mayonnaise, or many other mucus-like foods so maybe I was looking to hate it? Then again comparing boxed pudding to a proper custard is just silly. To sell out a traditional dish based upon one bad experience seemed foolish.
So I set out to find a recipe I liked. I have seen milk pudding referenced throughout many cultures, Chinese steamed milk custard comes to mind first. Malabi however is very low maintenance. It takes just minutes to make. A very traditional Israeli and middle eastern dessert its a basic milk pudding that is subtly sweet, and thickened with rice flour or corn starch. (In this case arrowroot) Typically a very simple dish that is not heavily flavored, I added some orange zest and cardamom to mine. As best as I can tell there are different kinds of traditional malabi, some of it looks like milk jello that can be prepared in special molds, some of it is the consistency of regular pudding. Most often this dessert is served with an artificially colored pink rose syrup, maybe garnished with coconut or pistachios. It’s sold in plastic cups on the street, it’s in the supermarkets, and of course its made at home too. I went with a homestyle recipe because I wasn’t quite ready to mess with gelatin and homemade pudding is a smile in a cup.
This recipe is free of dairy because I typically have only raw dairy in my home, although cooking raw dairy is still better than buying milk with artificial vitamins added, I really don’t like cooking raw milk if I don’t have to. Cardamom is a favorite of mine and it goes perfectly with coconut. This version of Malabi is maybe an Asian-Middle Eastern fusion. Use plain, whole fat milk or see my notes on this coconut milk recipe.
Orange & Cardamom Coconut Milk Pudding
Homestyle Malabi, Middle Eastern Milk Pudding
To garnish this delightful pudding I used homemade pomegranate molasses, pistachio’s and some pomegranate seeds. In Jerusalem (the cookbook) there is a recipe for malabi with a bay syrup, most people seem to rose water or rose syrup. I opted to make my pudding floral and aromatic, my garnish crunchy and vibrant. Without the crunch on top this pudding is kind of bizarre but still delicious. Use whatever milk you would like, and omit the cardamom and orange zest for a hard core traditionally simple recipe.
Adapted From a variety of Traditional recipes including these two from Food Bridge
Serves 4
  • 2 3/4 cups of milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
+zest of one orange & a pinch of sea salt
Combine milk, sugar and arrowroot in a sauce pot. Whisk to combine and turn the heat to medium low. Whisk until gently thickened, be sure not to burn! Once thickened add vanilla, cardamom, orange zest and a pinch of salt. Carefully pour into four ramekins or tea cups (about four ounces each) and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until it is set.
Note on Milk: I used 1 can of coconut milk with water added to equal 2 full cups. I used 2/3 of a cup of almond milk. This resulted in a pourable pudding. Use regular milk or raw milk as you would like, substitute heavy cream for a richer texture.