Turkish rice pudding
FoodA new take on an old favorite

Turkish rice pudding

A simple recipe that can be made two ways

Sutlach (Photo by Jessica Grann)
Sutlach (Photo by Jessica Grann)

I think of myself as a rice pudding aficionado. Every culture has a version, and I’ve tried them all.

The Turkish version, sutlach (pronounced soot-lahsh), which is very common among Turkish Jews, is my absolute favorite.

Rice pudding is a comforting food that brings back lovely childhood memories. My recipe is simple to follow, and it will give you two serving options. You can serve it as “soft” rice pudding, which is how people generally think of rice pudding. You can also take the cooked pudding, put some of it in small ramekins and bake it longer for the “firm” version.

I often divide my cooked batch in half, keeping part in the fridge for those who prefer it soft, and baking the rest for those who appreciate a firm rice pudding. When baked, the top of the pudding turns a beautiful brown color.

The recipe is flexible, so if you’re not sure what you’d prefer, bake one or two ramekins of pudding to compare.

Don’t use regular white rice in this recipe. Choose basmati or jasmine rice, or use baldo or arborio rice, which are plump and short-grained.

This recipe calls for rosewater, which is the secret ingredient in most Sephardic-style desserts. Nobody will really taste 1 tablespoon of rosewater, but it will add to the overall flavor. If you love rosewater, you can add more so that the flavor permeates the pudding.

I usually serve rice pudding for Shabbat breakfast, after-school snacks and also as a mild dish to eat after a fast.

Makes 8-10 servings


1 cup rice
2½ cups water, to cook the rice
4½ cups whole milk, divided
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons rice flour or cornstarch
1-2 tablespoons rosewater
Cinnamon to garnish (for the soft pudding version)

While rice should generally be rinsed and soaked before cooking, that isn’t the case when making rice pudding because the starch in the rice is necessary to help thicken the pudding. Old-school recipes usually call for cooking the rice in milk from the start, but this process takes much longer and the result is not very different. I use water instead to save time.

Choose a pot that is large enough to hold all of the milk and that will allow the rice to expand, so you only have one pot to clean.

Measure the milk and place it on the counter an hour before cooking. If you start with cold milk, it will take a little longer to come to a boil.

Bring 2½ cups of water with 1 cup of rice to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat to simmer and cook the rice for about 15 minutes. The rice will look slightly creamy even though it was cooked only with water. If you taste the rice and the center of the grain is still firm, that’s OK because the rice will be cooked more with the milk.

Stir 4 cups of whole milk and 1 cup of sugar into the pot of rice, bring it to a soft boil again over medium heat, stirring constantly, and then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. You want to see soft bubbles. It’s important to stay close to the stove and to keep stirring so that the milk does not scald or burn.

Make a slurry with the remaining half-cup of milk. A slurry is a mix of flour or starch and liquid that is used to thicken puddings and sauces. Add the rice flour or cornstarch to a bowl with the milk and whisk it well until combined.

When the rice and milk have simmered for 15 minutes, slowly mix the slurry into the pot. Give the slurry a good stir right before you drizzle it into the pot because the starch will settle to the bottom of the milk. Use a silicone spatula to scrape any remaining bit from the slurry bowl. Stir well and simmer for an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring regularly to avoid a burned bottom. Take the pot off the heat and stir in the rosewater.

This is a finished rice pudding. Allow it to cool and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve it.

If you serve it soft, a sprinkle of cinnamon over the top adds to the flavor.

If you want to make this recipe pareve, coconut and oat milk have more fat content and will cook better than almond milk. It won’t taste the same as the dairy version; keep in mind that you may need to add another tablespoon or two of rice flour or cornstarch to the slurry to help thicken the pudding.

If making the firm baked version, ladle some pudding into small ramekins, leaving about half an inch of space between the pudding and the rim of the ramekin.

Sprinkle a tiny amount of sugar over the top and bake it at 500 F for about 20 minutes until the tops are golden brown. It’s OK if you see some really dark brown spots on the pudding. This should be firm but still creamy in the middle. If you overbake it, it will dry out and be hard to enjoy.

As with all recipes, you have to experiment and make it to your preference.

I hope that this recipe brings smiles to those who eat it.

Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC

Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.

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