Summer Reads: ‘Rice Pudding for Two’

This summer, we will run select pieces from summer issues of ArabLit Quarterly. This piece, by blogger, writer, and teacher Rehab Bassam originally appeared in the summer 2021 KITCHEN issue of the magazine in Fatima El-Kalay’s translation.

By Rehab Bassam

Translated by Fatima El-Kalay

rice and milk on tray
Photo by Juanjo Menta on

For a bowl of rice pudding for two, you’ll need: 

A quarter cup of rice—but first take the milk out of the fridge. 

Arrange the grains of rice on a big white plate; pick out any impurities. 

Put everything aside—your bitterness, your grief, your anger, your disappointment, and any negative thoughts.

Prepare plenty of patience and spontaneous smiles. Take your time with the steps; never trust a recipe that claims you can rush the process.

For best results, make sure you are alone in the kitchen, or better still, the whole house. Shut off all mobile phones; slip into something comfortable.

Wash the rice more than once, until its water runs clear, then soak it in two cups of warm (not boiling) water for thirty minutes.

In the meantime, pour five cups of milk into a clear glass jug. Relax. With utmost tenderness, hold the jug between your palms, allowing your palms to hug it. This hug will warm up the milk. Think happy thoughts, hum a dreamy song: 

I belong to my love, and my love belongs to me
hey, little white bird
no more sadness or reproach
I belong to my love, and my love belongs to me 

Remember that all your steps will become part of the rice pudding, and that everyone who eats it will sense this. Even the song becomes part of it.

Especially the song.

In a medium-sized pot, pour the milk.  Drain the rice and add it.  Stir gently in one direction for fifteen minutes.

My love calls out to me
he says: winter has gone
the wood pigeon has returned
and the apple blossoms

Now think of a beautiful word, or a long kiss, or a warm smile across a crowded room, or a satisfying hug.  

Hum, yes. And smile too. 

Yes, yes. Let your eyes twinkle; it befits the rice pudding. 

The morning’s at my doorstep
and the dew
and in your eyes
my spring blossomed into beauty 

Take a pinch of cinnamon with one hand and a pinch of vanilla with the other; delicately sprinkle both into the mixture. Now rub your hands together and bring your attention to your neck, patting your palms against it. This detail is essential for a good rice pudding.

On low heat, continue to stir the pudding for fifteen more minutes until the rice is tender. Whisper a secret close to the pot. Choose your secret wisely. Add half a cup of sugar and continue to stir, until dissolved, completely, completely. The sugar always comes last, after a long wait. The lower the heat, the sweeter the dish.  


My love calls me
I come without question
to the one who stole sleep from me
and my peace of mind

Serve warm in a pink glass dish, topped with a sprinkling of cinnamon.

With partially opened lips, place your special imprint on its surface.

Eat slowly with your fingers, with someone you love. 

I am on his path
his path is beauty
hey, lovers’ sun
weave our story


All italicized words are from the song I Belong to My Love by the Lebanese singer Fairuz.

Rehab Bassam is a lover of books and baked goods and is obsessed with cats. She studied English literature, worked in market research, advertising, editing, and translation. Spent almost ten delightful years working in publishing as an editor, translator, and publishing manager, with a passion for children’s books. Currently living in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, where she’s raising two kids, runs an Arabic school, and is working on her first novel, and (maybe) a couple of children’s books. Rehab was among the first Egyptian bloggers and one of the few who used her blog to publish her short stories. Selections of her blog posts were compiled in a book called Rice Pudding for Two (Dar El Shorouk, 2008), which became an instant bestseller.

Fatima El-Kalay was born in England to Egyptian parents, but grew up in Scotland. She has a Master’s degree in creative writing and writes poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in Passionfruit, Rowayat, Anomalous Press and Poetry Birmingham Literary Review.  She was shortlisted for the London Independent Story Prize ( LISP),  and in ArabLit Quarterly for their first short story in translation competition. Fatima teaches fiction and poetry writing. She has a poetry book in progress and a collaborative short story collection that is due for publication. She is based in Cairo.