Mahalabia, also known as Mahalabi and Muhalabia is a Middle Eastern dessert of slightly sweetened cooked milk that is flavoured with rose or orange water. Very much like Blanc Mange, it is extremely easy to make, takes only a few minutes, then placed in the fridge to cool.
One of the most popular recipes on this site is my old, traditional Mahalabia recipe. It regularly gets picked up or featured on Middle Eastern and North African websites and publications, especially during Ramadan. For a long, long time now, I’ve wanted to do variations of it, and this Mango Mahalabia with a touch of Sumac, is the first of a few that I have in mind.
Why Sumac? When I first settled on mango for this mahalabia, I started thinking of spices and other flavours that would go with it. Cardamom is traditional but I decided to leave that out as I wanted to deviate a little from the traditional flavour. Sumac came to mind as it’s one of my favourite spices and I figured that its spicy, lemony aroma would certainly go well with the mango.
Sumac is usually a spice used in savoury dishes. Click here to read more about it and its substitute. On this site, there are many, many recipes that use sumac, like Musakhan (Palestinian Chicken and Bread recipe), Turkish Shepherd Salad and the Lavender and Sumac Roast Chicken.
I don’t think I’ve come across it being used in sweet recipes, other than in my kitchen. But I’m sure when this recipe hits the stands, it’s going to start a trend! But you know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
The first time I made this, I held off on the sumac, until the end, just to see if the recipe needed it. While the mango mahalabia was delicious, there was definitely something missing from it. So, in went the sumac, a pinch at a time, until I was satisfied.
You can’t taste the tang from the sumac but what you do get is a more well rounded creamy, fruity flavour. If you can’t get sumac, just substitute it with 1 Tbsp of fresh lemon juice, mixed into the cornflour (cornstarch) paste.
And as I tasted the final chilled product, I was reminded of an old forgotten but favourite childhood dessert by an aunt in Singapore. She used to make custard with evaporated milk and peaches, and this definitely shared similar notes, especially the evaporated milk.
That’s Auntie Rehana, in the picture below, second from the left, with her siblings, cousin and mum (my granny). My mum is to the extreme right. This picture was taken sometime around 1960, give or take, judging by my youngest aunt’s age (the baby). Incidentally, my granny made all those dresses worn by the young ladies.
This Mango Mahalabia is super easy to make, we start off with some pureed mango, then almost everything goes into the saucepan to heat up, then we dish up and chill. Both the dessert and cook! If you love creamy desserts like panna cotta (click for recipe), you’ll love this!
And if you are interested in my traditional mahalabia recipe, here it is:
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Mango Mahalabia with a touch of Sumac
- 2 ripe mangoes
- 250 ml (1 cup) fresh milk, full fat
- 250 ml (1 cup) evaporated milk
- 2 Tbsp cornflour (cornstarch in the US)
- 3 Tbsp white sugar
- ¼ tsp sumac (or 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Crushed pistachios or nuts of your choice
- Slices of mango
- Other fruit like strawberries raspberries, chopped up dates, etc
- Peel and chop the mangoes up roughly and place them in a blender along with half the fresh milk. Blend to a smooth paste.
- Make a paste with the cornflour and about 3 Tbsp of the fresh milk.
- Combine this cornflour paste, the mango puree, both types of milk and the sugar in a heavy based saucepan or milk pan and stir to mix.
- Bring to boil on medium heat, stirring it occasionally.
- After about 5 minutes, you’ll notice the milk mixture begin to thicken slowly.
- Lower the heat down slightly to medium-low and continue cooking and stirring for another 5 minutes until the mahalabia resembles thick custard. Now you need to be careful here as the milk can catch if your heat is not low enough, or if the pan doesn’t have a thick enough base. You don’t want burnt milk or bits in your mahalabia! Just in case, do not scrape the bottom of the pan as you are stirring and a non stick pan is also always best, mainly for cleaning!
- When the mahalabia is as thick as custard, turn the heat off and sprinkle the sumac all over and stir for about 5 seconds to disperse it thoroughly.
- Pour into serving dishes/cups and place in the fridge to cool for at least 3 hours. It will thicken when cold. If you are going to chill it overnight, cover the cups/dishes with cling film or saucers to prevent the Mahalabia from absorbing any smells but also to stop the surface from becoming dry.
- Just before serving top with your garnish of choice, whether nuts or slices of mango or other fruit.