Fragrant Rice Flour and Milk Pudding

Stella Cohen
Recipe by
Stella Cohen

Called sutlach by the Sephardic communities of Turkey and Greece, this is a light but nourishing rice pudding. Traditionally it is served on Friday night, after Saturday Sabbath morning services, as part of the meal breaking the fast on Yom Kippur, and for the Jewish festival of Shavuot. My mother would make individual bowls of sutlach and sprinkle my sister’s and my initials on the top using ground cinnamon, a practice my children and grandchildren also love.

In this recipe from Rhodes, ground rice flour is used, which gives the dessert a gloriously creamy texture. It is infused with rose water and sprinkled with ground cinnamon. Though easy to make, this pudding requires a little patience as it takes about 15 minutes of constant stirring over very low heat to thicken. There is a quicker alternative using cornstarch, which I describe below. I prefer sutlach chilled alongside fresh berries.

4 heaping tablespoons ground rice flour
1/2 cup water
4 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons caster (superfine) sugar, or to taste
1 tablespoon rose water or vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon
Blanched almonds, toasted
Pistachios, coarsely chopped
Coconut, desiccated
Grenadine syrup
Rose petal preserve

Equipment:  4 small, shallow heatproof bowls or 6 ramekins.

  • Blend the rice flour and water in a small bowl and stir until smooth.
  • Combine the milk and sugar in a large, deep, heavy-based pan and set over a medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently using a balloon whisk. When the milk comes to a boil, remove from the heat. Stir the rice flour mixture into the milk. Return the pan to the heat, stirring continuously for 2 minutes, and then reduce to a medium heat. Continue stirring in the same direction for about 15 minutes or until the pudding thickens and heavily coats the back of a spoon. Be sure to stir constantly and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as this prevents the pudding from forming lumps and catching to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the rose water or vanilla extract.
  • Strain the pudding into a jug and pour immediately into individual serving bowls or ramekins. Seal each bowl with plastic wrap to prevent a skin forming.
  • Serve at room temperature or chilled, sprinkled with ground cinnamon.

    Reprinted with permission from Stella’s Sephardic Table: Jewish family recipes from the Mediterranean island of Rhodes © 2012 by Stella Cohen, The Gerald & Marc Hoberman Collection. Photography by Marc Hoberman.

    Sephardic cuisine expert, artist, textile designer, and cookery writer, Stella Cohen is a passionate ambassador for the Jewish community, dedicating her life to the celebration, preservation, and education of Sephardic values and traditions. Stella’s heart lies in Southern Africa as well as in the Mediterranean, as she was born and raised in Zimbabwe and has a family tree entrenched in Sephardic history. Her parents originate from Rhodes, Greece, and Marmaris, Turkey and she is the great-granddaughter of Yaacov Capouya, the Rabbi of Rhodes.

Additional Notes

Stella's Twists on Tradition

  • You can use 3 tablespoons cornstarch in place of the rice flour. This takes no more than about 5 minutes to cook.
  • For a piney flavor, crush 1 mastic crystal to a powder with 1 teasooon caster sugar and stir in very quickly when the heat is turned off.
  • Toppings: Substitute the cinnamon with toasted blanched almonds, coarsely chopped pistachios or desiccated coconut, and a little grenadine syrup poured on the top for a splash of deep pink colour. Rose petal preserve, found at Greek or Middle Eastern stores, is heavenly swirled in the pudding.