Mouhallabieh: New Year Food Traditions from Lebanon and Italy

Here we are in London preparing to end 2011 in a hotel bar overlooking the South Bank where we will await Big Ben’s midnight chimes and watch the fireworks across the river. With long hours of drinking and talking ahead of us, I prepared a tray of assorted Lebanese pastries -Fatayer, Lahm bi Ajeen as well as pumpkin Kibbe to snack on before setting out.

Tomorrow however, the tradition wants us to cook something white; savoury kibbe labanieh or  laban immo and puddings such as mouhallabieh or riz bi haleeb. Another popular treat is sahlab a sweet milky drink sometimes flavoured with miske or orange blossom and dusted with cinnamon.  Made with salep or saloop - the powder of a rare orchid, Orchis mascula which acts as a thickening agent.  

My friends from Aleppo in Syria, eat Moubatane on New Year's day. Literally meaning 'lined', Moubatane is creamy blancmange covered with a thin pink layer of starch and sugar and garnished with silver dragées, forestalling a prosperous new year lined with peace. 

In another part of the world, in the Dolomites, where Maria is away skiing, families will celebrate the new year with cotechino e lenticchie.   A tasty and rich sausage, cotechino is cut into rounds and served on a bed of braised lentils. Representing coins, the round sausage slices and the multitude of grains  augur affluence and fortune. Another wish for prosperity is Modena's Zampone or filled pig’s trotters which look like purses and are also served with lentils. To ensure a 'sweet' year, what better way than to eat Chiacchiere,  fried rounded shapes of dough, which are dusted with icing sugar.

There are many different food symbolisms all over the world which represent a culture and belief. Spaniards eat 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight, a custom which they took to South America resulting in the addition of a 13th grape in Peru,  just for good measure.

Below is the recipe of the traditional mouhallabieh.

Cotechino e lenticchie


Fragrant milk pudding

100 ml single cream
4 tablespoon corn flour
1 Litre whole milk
150 g caster sugar
3 to 4 grains of miske, crushed with a little sugar
1 tablespoon orange blossom water
1 tablespoon rose water
20 g pine nuts, washed and soaked in water
20 g almonds, washed and soaked
20 pistachios, crushed

Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Serves 6

  1. Reserve some of the milk and pour the rest in a pot and place over medium heat.
  2. Meanwhile, mix cornflower with the remaining milk. 
  3. Add cornflower and cream to milk while stirring with a balloon whisk. Keep stirring until it starts to boil,
  4. Reduce to low heat, add sugar and stir to dissolve.
  5. At this stage you have to make sure to keep the stove at its lowest settings to prevent milk and sugar from sticking and burning.  
  6. When the mixture thickens, transfer it to a serving dish.
  7. Leave to cool and refrigerate. 
  8. Garnish with the mixture of nuts and serve. 
Alternatively you can garnish mouhallabieh with blue berries and raspberries sprinkled with icing sugar.

Happy New Year!

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