It is very interesting to note that, since ancient Roman times, a simple mixture made of rice and milk, which was used to settle upset stomachs has gradually evolved as an omnipresent dish that is enjoyed throughout the world. Each country has its own version and the recipe that we are going to discuss is from the Balkan region.
Influence of the Ottoman (Turkish) cuisine on Balkans
Out of the many settlements that shaped the Balkan gastronomic culture, the conquest by the Ottomans in the Middle Ages played a significant role. Since the 14th century, the Ottomans ruled over the Balkan region and it became an integral part of the Ottoman Empire. Due to the long reign (around 5 centuries), it is imminent that food and diet habits pass on to each other. Hence the Balkan cuisine/culture is heavily influenced by the Ottoman cuisine and vice versa, it was more like cuisine sharing.
What is the origin of sutlijaš?
Sutlijaš is derived from the Turkish rice pudding sutlaç. This word is derived from the Turkish compound term sütlü aş. Sütlü means milky and aş means soup. Sutlaç is literally translated as “milky food” or refers to food cooked with milk. Sutlaç traveled from Central Asia to the Royal Ottoman kitchens.
It became a favorite dessert in the kitchen palaces and was often served when notables visited the Emperors. Through the Ottoman expansion, this dish reached the Balkans and in due course, it came to be known as sutlijaš (also known as sutlija or sutlijash) in the Balkan region with the same etymology as sutlaç.
The traditional Turkish sutlaç, especially the one that was made in the palace kitchens was flavored with rose water and petals. Since rose water was quite expensive during the olden days, the commoners gradually replaced it with vanilla essence. The Balkan rice pudding in addition to cinnamon and vanilla, includes lemon zest and butter in it.
When it comes to the classical stove top rice pudding, there is not much baby sitting required while cooking. Just stir the rice and milk mixture regularly to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. The only thing to keep in mind is to simmer the rice and milk to get the perfect creamy texture. The slower you cook more creamier and richer pudding you will get.
Sutlijaš is mainly served cold or you can also serve it at room temperature.
Rice pudding variations
Rice pudding is one of the undemanding and simple recipes that exist throughout the world in numerous varieties. Wherever you go, the base recipe remains the same; rice cooked in milk and sugar. The regional recipes evolve and vary depending on the cooking techniques, addition of local spices, toppings and flavoring medium.
For example, Turkish sutlaç can be prepared in two different ways: one similar to the recipe mentioned below and the second type is called fırın sutlaç. The fırın sutlaç is oven baked with sugar crystals sprinkled and grilled until it forms a golden crust on top.
Sutlijas is also very similar to the South Indian rice pudding pal payasam where the rice is completely cooked and simmered in milk until it thickens, flavored with cardamom powder and then garnished with ghee roasted nuts. This Indian rice pudding is made mainly during Hindu religious festive occasions. The same dish goes with different names such as kheer, payesh or doodhpaak across the country.
The Balkan rice pudding stays true to the roots and is not deviated much from the classical old style rice pudding. The classical rice pudding also goes by various names across the world like arroz con leche, milchreis, risgrynsgröt, risengrød or roz bil hleeb.
- ¾ cup round rice
- 4 cups milk
- ¾ cup caster sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Zest of a lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cups water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar
- Cinnamon powder for garnishing
- Mix the milk, caster sugar, butter, vanilla sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium to high heat.
- Heat until small bubbles appear on the edges of the pan, then remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in another large non-stick pan, bring water to a boil. Add the rice and salt and lower the heat.
- Cook over low heat for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice is tender.
- Drain the rice.
- Place the saucepan containing the milk mixture over medium heat and simmer. Add the rice and, stirring very regularly, simmer uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.
- Remove the cinnamon stick.
- Divide the hot milk rice into bowls and serve sprinkled with cinnamon.