A classic Lebanese rice pudding, riz bi haleeb is creamy, comforting and so simple to make. Rice pudding with rose water is a very common Middle Eastern dessert, and this is my foolproof method on how to make it with only 15 minutes of active prep time and a handful of ingredients.
What is Lebanese rice pudding?
A simple, comforting rose water rice pudding that’s lightly sweetened and infused with Middle Eastern flavors. The rice is cooked in milk to give a creamy and comforting dessert.
Rice pudding is also common in Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Egypt. It’s commonly served for a light dessert, or even a breakfast or snack.
Rice pudding in Arabic is referred to as “riz bi haleeb” which translates literally into rice with milk.
Why should I make Middle Eastern rice pudding?
It’s such a simple easy dessert to throw together. You just need a handful of ingredients and about 15 minutes of active prep time. Rice pudding on the stove is one of the simplest desserts you could make!
The fragrant additions of rose water and orange blossom water really up the flavor of what would otherwise be a simple rice pudding. Exotic but still comforting!
It’s kid friendly, and easy to swallow for younger kiddos.
My version isn’t overly sweet, but just sweet enough as well as utterly comforting.
You can use leftover rice to make this, so it’s a great way to use up a big batch of cooked rice.
Rice pudding can be easily customized to include any toppings or mix-ins you like, and I’ve included some suggestions below.
Ingredients you need for riz bi haleeb:
Egyptian Rice (calrose rice): a short grain rice that will give the rice pudding the ultimate soft texture throughout. I have a recipe post on how you’d typically cook Egyptian rice here, if making it as a side dish to any Middle Eastern dish.
Short grain rice is the best rice to use for rice pudding, so you can also substitute Arborio rice and use it the same way.
Water: to cook the rice
Whole Milk: full fat milk will give you the creamiest result. You don’t even need to use heavy cream, the combination of the starches from the rice and milk give the perfect texture.
Cornstarch (cornflour): to thicken the rice pudding
Sugar: I add just a little for a touch of sweetness, feel free to adjust and add more if you’d like a sweeter rice pudding.
Rose water and orange blossom water: two commonly used flavoring agents in Middle Eastern desserts, you’ll find these in any Middle Eastern supermarket or online. Alternately, you can leave these out and just add vanilla extract.
Mastic Gum or mistika: a plant resin with a really distinct flavor (what Arabic gum is made of). It really gives the rice pudding such a lovely Arabic flavor. You’d find this in Middle Eastern supermarkets or online. If you can’t find it, you can leave it out.
How to make Riz bi Haleeb:
- Soak the rice for 10-15 minutes, then rinse until water runs clear.
- Add this drained rice to a saucepan along with water. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 10-15 minutes or until all the water has been absorbed and rice is tender and cooked.
- Add most of the milk, then to the remaining bit of milk add the cornstarch, and stir to mix. Add this cornstarch slurry too, as well as the sugar and mastic gum. Stir.
- Bring to a slow boil, and continue to cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until mixture is the thickness of a thick soup, and coats the back of a wooden spoon.
- Off the heat, add the rose water and orange blossom water and stir. Let the mixture cool for 5 minutes, then place in individual serving bowls. Garnish with pistachios and dried rose petals if you like. Let the rice pudding cool completely, then refrigerate for at least a few hours. It’ll thicken as it cools.
Watch how to make it in the video in the recipe card!
What to top Lebanese rice pudding with:
For a Middle Eastern style of rice pudding, we usually top ours with pistachios, either slivers or crushed pistachios.
You can also add cinnamon powder, cardamom powder, dried rose petals for visual appeal, and maybe even desiccated coconut and golden raisins.
For extra sweetness, you can drizzle with honey, rose water sugar syrup, or even a caramel sauce like honey caramel or orange blossom salted caramel. You could absolutely dollop on some jam, like fig jam, rose petal jam, or berry jam.
For an extra indulgent dessert, try topping with poached plums or pears. Delicious!
How to prevent rice pudding from getting a skin:
I really don’t mind the skin that forms on top of rice pudding as it cools, I find it satisfying to break through it and get to the creamy inside.
If you do prefer your pudding without a skin, the easy way to prevent that from happening is putting a small circle of parchment paper (less sticky) or some plastic wrap (will stick more) directly on the surface of each rice pudding as they cool at room temperature.
Recipe tips and tricks:
- Make sure rice is tender and cooked through before adding the milk. Soft, tender rice will give this rice pudding its signature creamy texture.
- Don’t add rose water and orange blossom water until the pan is off the heat, otherwise the heat will make the flavors and aroma evaporate.
- If the rice pudding is too thick, add some more milk. If it’s too runny, add a little more cornstarch and cook for another minute or so.
Yes! Substitute the whole milk with a full fat non dairy milk, like coconut milk.
Yes! Since it is thickened with cornstarch (make sure you’re using a brand with no cross contamination), and rice is naturally gluten free this is a great dessert to enjoy if you are avoiding gluten.
Some people prefer not soaking the rice, for a thicker starchier pudding. I prefer soaking it and making sure there isn’t any debris and then rinsing until clear. This gets rid of any extra starch so that the rice pudding isn’t too rubbery and starchy. The added cornstarch gives the perfect thickness.
Definitely! Just portion it in a large pyrex bowl or trifle bowl and serve it family style.
Although I prefer cooking the rice and directly using it in the recipe, you can in fact use leftover cooked rice in rice pudding. Add the cooked rice to the milk along with the other ingredients, and cook and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until thickened.
Related Middle Eastern Dessert Recipes:
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Lebanese Rice Pudding
- 1/2 cup Egyptian (calrose) rice
- 1.5 cups water
- 2 cups full fat milk
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup white sugar 50g
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed mastic gum (optional) mistika
- 1 tablespoon rosewater
- 1 tablespoon orange blossom water
- If you have time, soak the rice for 15 minutes, then rinse until the water runs clear.
- In a medium saucepan, add the 1.5 cups of water and rice. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until rice is tender and cooked through.
- Add most of the milk, then to the remaining bit of milk add the cornstarch and whisk with a fork to form a slurry. Add this remaining milk/cornstarch mixture to the pan, along with the sugar and mastic gum if using.
- Bring to a slow boil, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture thickens into something like a thick soup texture and coats the back of the spoon, around 5 minutes or so.
- Take the pan off the heat. and add the rosewater and orange blossom water. Stir to combine. Let the rice mixture cool for 5 minutes before placing into serving bowls. Garnish with slivered pistachios, and dried rose petals if you like. Allow the pudding to cool completely before storing in the fridge.
- Refrigerate for at least 3 hours, and preferably overnight. It'll thicken the longer it cools. Enjoy!