Orange Blossom Rice Pudding; it’s going to calm you down, too
Get the recipe for Lebanese rice pudding on my site here! Continue below for my story.
The Abood Law firm, in the early days, was located in the heart of downtown Lansing, Michigan on Allegan Street. In the summers as a teenager, I worked there doing all sorts of odd jobs, running documents around and filing down in the lower level. That was really just the sideline to the real work at hand, which was finding reasons to leave the office to go around the corner to Washington Square for sugar and salt at The Peanut Shop and lunch at Dimitri’s. Of all the times my father called me to his office, he was most often summonsing me to run a very special errand. I’d stand in the doorway of his office, and even if he was on the phone he would look up and draw me closer by signaling with his finger to come over here, to the side of his massive desk. Which I promptly did. He opened the drawer and pointed to a nearly empty, long, narrow white paper bag. I understood immediately: go get gumdrops. Or jellybeans. A few nuts would be good too. Implicit in this directive was the understanding that lunch would be had along the way.
While I was out at the peanut shop, I’d realize just how hungry I was. The irresistible scent of roasting nuts and popcorn was the shop’s greatest marketing tool, wafting out the door and infusing Washington Square with hunger and desire. I knew the nuts and candy would be no match for what I needed, which was a serious lunch. Easy, right across the street was Dimitri’s, a Greek diner of sorts specializing in chili dogs, French fries, Greek salads, and the sleeper of the line-up…creamy rice pudding. Dimitri himself was always behind the counter welcoming everyone with his charming Greek accent, ready to make your hot dog exactly to your specifications. His wife was at the other end of the cafeteria-style counter ringing customers up. As I passed by the rice pudding with my chili dog and fries on the tray in front of me, I would try to have some small measure of restraint at least for the pudding, knowing that my afternoon would consist of bags of chewy red licorice and gumdrops in between my Xeroxing assignments (or rather, the Xeroxing took place between my candy-eating assignments).
Dimitri never let our lunches in his restaurant end without visiting our booth for a quick hello. I felt like a kind of celebrity or something talking to the cook at my table, and this was when chef celebrity was just a glimmer in our culinary mind’s eye. That Dimitri often came to our booth with a cup of his rice pudding in hand made the moment an even bigger thrill. You shouldn’t have, I protested! But I’m so glad you did! His rice pudding went down easy, and reminded me of my mother’s ultra-creamy rice pudding, which she makes with raisins or dried apricots, scents with vanilla or orange blossom water, and loves to eat warm with a big spoon right from the pan. Dimitri always had such a tranquil smile, and such an easy way about him, that I figure he must have eaten his daily share of rice pudding to help keep him in such a state. He was going to need all of the calm rice pudding could muster in the coming years as he faced cancer, and closed down the restaurant on Washington Square. But as families like ours tend to do, across town his son reopened and keeps the tradition alive.
Back in those days the sweets for the afternoon at “work” could not, would not, end with the rice pudding. I still went after my licorice and Dad’s gumdrops, heading home no doubt with a crazed sugar high by the end of the day. Now that I’m all grows up, when I need something to both assuage my sweet tooth and calm me down—real comfort food—it’s roz bi haleeb, Lebanese rice pudding that satisfies. This version is enriched with egg and whole milk; many Lebanese recipes leave out the egg and use cornstarch on its own as a thickener. I have made it both ways and always come back to my mom’s recipe for its remarkable creaminess, so that’s the one I’m sharing with you today. You will like the calm every spoonful brings to your spirit.
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I'm so glad you're here! You'll find among these pages the fresh and classic Lebanese recipes we can't get enough of! My mission is to share my tried + true recipes -- and to help our Lebanese food-loving community keep these culinary traditions alive and on the table. What recipes are you looking for? Let me know!
Maureen, You brought back some fond memories of your dad and uncles at the law firm dowtown, but especially the Peanut Shop and the smells that waifed out the front door. Greg
Thank you Greg–it was a special place, all of it, wasn’t it.
All we need is a rabid dog and Boo Radely to transfer us to the town in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. Really enjoyed your writing, and it reminded me of reading Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factor as a child, and smelling the myriad smells, without ever having been near a Chocolate Factory.
Very enjoyable recipe and article.
My mother made rice pudding when I was growing up and your post reminded of those wonderful days when, after the pudding was cooked and poured into a large bowl to cool, my mom would hand me a large spoon to “clean up” what was left sticking to the pot. That was the creamiest part! In Cuba, the rice pudding is flavored with cinnamon and lime peel – your photo took me back to those days of comfort.
Your version sounds just delicious, Maria! And what a great memory…thanks for sharing it with us.
Your fond recollections are mine as well at the Abood Law firm and its surrounds in downtown Lansing. I also remember that pretty little helper at the Xerox machine — your dad always beamed with pride while you were on the premises. Thanks for the memories, and the rice pudding recipe.
Now that just makes me tear right up Gena. Thank you. You were always such a graceful and kind presence at the law firm.
I love what you wrote about Demitri. You described him to a “T.” I’ll have to give your version of rice pudding a try and then compare it to the way Demitri makes his.
Wonderful, and thank you Pam…let me know when you make it!
I too am lucky enough to have a mom who makes rice pudding, except hers is the Spanish arroz con leche, atop which she sprinkles a healthy dose of cinnamon. It’s still comfort food to this day. Aren’t we lucky to have such wonderful moms…
So very luck SP. The cinnamon is so good, and my mom loves to make it that way too.
Reminds me of my childhood!
Rice pudding with raisins floated through our Italian-Swiss childhood. Mom made it on her O’Keeffe & Merritt 6-burner and served it chilled in little glasses. I can still hear the sound of metal against glass as my sisters and I worked our spoons to pull up the last of the creamy rice.
Maureen I went to Dimitris tonight with my friends and told Dimitri about your wonderful blog and story
about him. I explained to him how he could get onto your blog. I love reading your stories every day. The great part is Geralyn is making your recipes and it is a treat for me. much love virginia
Just love the whole idea of it! Beautiful story Maureen.
Thank you Bridget!
If I were to make this without eggs, does this change the quantity of the cornstarch?
Hello, and thanks for that question. I imagine that you will need quite a bit of cornstarch if that is the only thickener you’re using. Try tripling the amount, and be sure to use whole milk for it’s thickening qualities too. I’d love to hear how it goes if you try it!
There are two favorites sweets (from your recipes) that everyone craves for in my household. First one is the Baklawa sweet and the second one is this one here, Riz Bil Haleeb. I have made these two recipes countless number of times and every time I make them, they are gone in no time…
I remember when I was in Lebanon, several decades ago, my Mom always made Sahlab with Croissants for breakfast. We used to dip the Croissants in the Sahlab and eat it that way.
Do you happen to have the Lebanese Sahlab recipe? I you do, I appreciate sharing it with me.
Thank you Anis! I will have to look into Sahlab recipes!
I was hunting for a rice pudding recipe made with orange water or rose water. I had some like this in a Lebanese restaurant in Pennsylvania years ago and hadn’t had any since. Plus your story was an added bonus. Thank you. This is similar to the rice pudding my mom made but with a twist. Can’t wait to make it.
How special! Thank you Sandi–enjoy this deliciousness!