From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Mouhalabieh – or the illusion of authenticity

IMG_8484I am realising as I write this blog how so many of the dishes we have in Lebanon are repetitions and variations on a theme shared across the Middle East.  That’s especially true of our puddings.  You could probably trace the history and foreign influences on Lebanon by methodically making your way through them. One of the puddings I mentioned earlier when intabli fountain oldI was writing about Layali Lubnan and Moughli was Mouhalabiyeh.  My father used to eat it while I scoffed Moughli in the old souks by the Intabli fountain.  I didn’t like it much then, because I had an aversion to milk.  But I used to make it for my brother when he was very little and my mother was trying to wean him gently on to more solid food.  I was reminded of it the other day when a Syrian friend here in London made me a Damascus speciality that she said was a very big deal there.  It’s called Balouza — and it’s basically a twist on Mouhalabiyeh.  And I know you can find many other versions in other Arab countries.  Just like the language we all share, each country and each region within it has evolved its own.  You only need to add a different topping to the milky flan-like base.  We could if we wanted to, I guess, argue that ours is the original or the best.  But there really wouldn’t be any point.  It’s very hard to track down the origins of a dish in a region that has seen so much invasion and upheaval.  I could make a facile comparison to the way that religion — Islam in particular — is perceived, with people claiming that their interpretation is the most authentic or indeed the only one permissible.  But I won’t.  The old souk where I used to go with my father was destroyed during the war.  IMG_4289A glossy, but to me still soulless, replacement has been going for some years now.  It’s for the well off, not a real souk at all.  It’s full of brightly lit shops with top brands — there’s none of the energy and disorder that there used to be and that you will still find in a souk in Marrakesh or even Riyadh.  But it’s not for me to say that one is more real than the other.  For later generations in Beirut who never knew the old souk, this is the one they will remember as they grow older and perhaps look back on as being more authentic than whatever comes after.  IMG_4595


700 ml of organic semi skimmed milk
3 large spoons cornstarch, 50g
75g of granulated sugar
1 small spoon rosewater
1 small spoon orange blossom water
For toppings
1 orange/ 100 ml of freshly squeezed orange juice
1 large spoon of lemon juice, 10ml
1 tea spoon of sugar, 5g
1 tea spoon of cornstarch 5g
for decoration to add flavor
50g of unsalted ground pistachios
1 tea spoon of cinnamon
1 large spoon of rose petal jam
1 large spoon of melted chocolateIMG_8492

Put the milk in a small non stick pan, add cornstarch and sugar

Mix well until the sugar is dissolved

Place on the hob on a very low heat and stir constantly until the milk starts to bubble

This will take between 10 or 20 minutes 

Add the rosewater and blossom water to the milk and stir for couple of minutes

Remove the pan from the hob and pour the mouhalabieh while it is hot, in small serving bowls

Once the pudding cools down, leave in the fridge for few hours IMG_8461

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce 

Put the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar and starch in a small pan and stir well

Put on the hob on a low heat and stir until the sauce becomes like jelly

Pour on top of the muhalabieh while hot

Decorate each bowl with a different flavor

Leave in the fridge and eat cold

This recipe will make 6 large bowls or 12 small onesB-QB8RbIYAA2_wR_002

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