Sephardic Recipes With A Modern Twist

Sephardic Spice Girls

We share Rachel’s Arroz con Leche recipe, but encourage you to make it your own. This dessert lends itself to many and any add ins.


With its thick creaminess and special spice-infused sweetness, rice pudding is a wonderful comfort food. Served warm or cold, it is common throughout the Middle East and in the Sephardic kitchen as an everyday dessert. Sutlac in Turkish, Arroz con Leche in Spanish, Roz bi Hal’eb in Arabic, each culture has it’s own unique spin of spices and flavorings for their version of rice and milk.

The Judeo-Spanish Jews flavored their pudding with scraped vanilla bean or vanilla extract.

The Jews of Aleppo created Riz b’asal, a honey-sweetened rice pudding cooked with water to be served after meat meals.

The Persians Jews make an exquisitely bright and delightfully sinful saffron and rosewater infused basmati rice pudding called Sholeh Zard, which literally means “wobbly yellow”in Farsi.

Iraqi Jews flavored rice pudding with cardamom and rose water. It was a mainstay on Shabbat mornings and Shavuot, when dairy meals reign, as well as to break the fast after Yom Kippur. Sharon’s absolute favorite memory is when her grandmother Nana Aziza would take a quick break from her work in the kitchen and would serve a warm bowl of salty, creamy, milky Roz bi Hal’eb.

Rachel’s Turn: For my Moroccan family, Arroz con Leche flavored with cinnamon and lemon rind was beloved for many generations going back. My grandparents grew up with it, my parents grew up with it and my brothers and I grew up with it. It was not so much a dessert as a warm treat served in the mornings or afternoons. When I married into Neil’s Rhodesli family, I soon discovered the joy of Sutlach, the cold rice flour pudding so popular with Turkish and Greek Jews. We would serve it on Shabbat after a dairy meal of cheese and burekas and olives. And my kids learned to love it too.

Sutlach rice flour pudding (Photo by Alexandra Gomperts)

Recently, I was overcome with nostalgia for Arroz con Leche, so I made it again. It was so delicious and I’m not ashamed to admit that I ate most of it.

We share Rachel’s Arroz con Leche recipe, but encourage you to make it your own. This dessert lends itself to many and any add ins. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom. Nuts like walnuts and pecans. Fruity flavors like orange and lemon rind, rose water and orange blossom water, as well as raisins, figs, dried apricots and cranberries.

Enjoy this sweet indulgence.

Arroz con leche recipe

1 cup Aborio or other short grain rice

1 cup water

2-4 slices of lemon rind

2 star anise or 1 cinnamon stick

4 cups whole milk

1/4 cup sugar (or more for sweeter pudding)

Pinch of salt

Cinnamon for Sprinkling

In a medium saucepan, cook the rice over medium high heat, until all the water evaporates.

Add the lemon rind and star anise or the cinnamon stick.

Add the milk, 1 cup at a time, stirring well until the rice mixture becomes thick and creamy. Then repeat with the second cup , third cup and fourth cup.

Add the sugar and salt, stirring to mix completely, remove from heat.

Let cool for 10 minutes and remove lemon rind, star anise or cinnamon stick.

Pour into a large serving bowl or individual ramekins.

Serve warm or refrigerate if serving chilled.

Top with ground cinnamon or other garnishes of choice.

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