Dairy-Free Muhalabiya | Bahraini Rice Pudding

For someone who is known for her desserts, I post surprisingly few dessert recipes here on Sand Kitchen. I think it’s mostly because I love making them, but don’t have an enormous sweet tooth myself.

This muhalabiya (Arabic: مهلبيه) was my grandfather’s favourite. It’s a dish we had over and over again growing up, and my mum’s was my favourite. Even after I was diagnosed as lactose intolerant at 13, I’d still eat muhalabiya. How could I not?

I decided to make a dairy-free version for all my fellow intolerants (and vegans) out there.


You will need:
(Serves 6, GF, vegan)

  • 1 can coconut milk (approx 2 cups)*
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 tbsp rice flour**
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 2 tbsp rose water
  • A few strands of saffron

* – if you are not dairy-free, use 4 cups of regular milk and skip the water
** – you can substitute rice flour for cornstarch, which we occasionally do, but it’s not as authentic


First thing you do is soak your saffron in a tablespoon or two of boiling water. Set that aside so that it picks up colour and flavour. The earlier you do this, the better, and we sometimes do this hours beforehand. All you really need, though, is about 15-20 minutes that the pudding will take to make.


Mix your rice flour with some water to create a slurry.


In a pot, add your coconut milk, water, rose water, and cracked cardamom pods and wait until it begins to boil.


Once you start to see bubbles form, add your rice flour slurry and your sugar. Keep it on a low-medium heat and let it simmer until it begins to bubble again.


When you’re satisfied that the flavours are incorporated and it has begun to bubble again, fish the cardamom pods out and pour them into little bowls or ramekins.


Take your saffron water mixture and pour a little bit on top of each one. Alternatively, you could have poured into your milk mix before portioning it out, if you want the saffron flavour and colour throughout.


Put your muhalabiyas in the fridge to set, a minimum of ~2 hours, up to 4 hours.


Then take them out, and enjoy! They obviously will have the edge of coconut to them, but they’re just as creamy as those made with regular milk and I love the fact that I’m able to have my favourite dessert again.

As always, bilafiya
(well wishes and wellbeing)

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