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Ramadan Recipes ~ What’s Cooking This Month

July 16th, 2013 4 comments

Qatayef 'Ataif

It’s not Ramadan without ‘Atief, our go-to Ramadan indulgence. There are endless ways to fill and prepare these little pancakes. My method is to stuff them with walnuts and bake them. I serve them as dessert or a sweet suhoor snack. I prepare ‘atar scented syrup to pour over top.

As for iftar, every night we sit down to this easy Lentil Soup. This has been a tradition at our house for years, and it’s one of the most popular recipes on my website.

Arabic Lentil Soup for Ramadan

Meanwhile, another flavorful soup to try during Ramadan is Moroccan-style Lentil Soup with Chickpeas. This is a good soup if you are looking for something hearty.

Moroccan Soup for Ramadan

As for main courses, our favorite family iftar is the Palestinian dish Maqluba, which means “upside down” in Arabic. It’s prepared in a layered pot—chicken, rice and cauliflower simmered on the stove. We traditionally eat this dish on the first day of Ramadan, as we did this year. I plan to prepare it several more times before the month is over. On the side, I serve a Simple Arab Salad and Yogurt Cucumber Salad.

Maqluba Palestinian Rice Dish

Aonther terrific side dish during Ramadan is Fattoush, a hearty peasant salad from the Levant. It’s super-healthy, as it’s loaded with various greens and veggies and prepared with an olive oil dressing. The salad is topped with toasted Arabic bread pieces, which is what makes it fattoush.

Fattoush Salad for Ramadan

As for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal during Ramadan, one popular dish is Foul, a Egyptian fava bean breakfast, which is filling and nutritious. Also, I can’t forget Hummus, which can be made in advance and served for both iftar and suhoor.

Egyptian Ful for Ramadan Suhoor

Finally, I’d like to wish you all Ramadan Kareem.

Question: What are your favorite Ramadan foods?

Pistachio Ice Cream with Rose Water ~ Homemade & Heavenly

June 18th, 2013 3 comments

Arabian Ice Cream ~ Pistachio with Rose Waters

As the heat in Dubai soars, I crave ice cream.

Actually, I crave ice cream in all weather conditions, and as I lover of ice cream, one of my greatest food pleasures is making ice cream at home. In fact, my Cuisinart ice cream maker is my most-loved kitchen appliance.

And after much reflection, I’ve decided that my favorite flavor is Pistachio—greenish and nutty, exotic and subtle, crunchy yet silky. What could be more heavenly?

Pistachio Ice Cream w- Rose Water

According to David Lebovitz, there are two basic styles of ice cream:  (1) French-style, which is custard-based and made with egg yolks—smooth and creamy, but fussy to prepare, and (2) Philadelphia-style, a simple combination of milk, cream, and sugar, but no eggs—easier, but freezes a bit hard.

After going back and forth between those two styles, I’ve recently discovered a third, which is my new preferred way to make ice cream. This style requires no eggs, yet its texture is still creamy and smooth. Jeni Britton Bauer is the creator of this new technique, explained in her book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream at Home.

Pistachio Ice Cream & Rose Water

Basically her method is this: Add a little cream cheese, cornstarch, and light corn syrup, and you can achieve wonderful creamy ice cream without having to mess around with an egg-yolk custard.

Below is my recipe, using Jeni Britton Bauer’s technique.

Pistachio Ice Cream with Rose WaterPistachio Ice Cream ~ Ingredients

          Makes about 1 quart

1 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

3 Tablespoons cream cheese, softened

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon cornstarch

2¼ cup whole milk

1 cup (200 ml) cream

2/3 cup sugar

2 Tablespoons light corn syrup

1 Tablespoon rose water

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F / 175°C. Spread HALF of the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 4-5 minutes until fragrant, turning once—don’t over-toast or the pistachios will lose their green hue. Remove from oven and pulverize in a blender until pistachios form a coarse paste. Add a few drops of water if necessary. Transfer to medium bowl and whisk with cream cheese and salt until smooth.

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Pistachio Paste

2. In tiny bowl, mix cornstarch with 2 Tablespoons milk until smooth. Set aside.

3. Prepare a large bowl of ice cubes and water to use later for cooling the ice cream base.

4. In a medium saucepan, combine remaining milk, cream, sugar and corn syrup. Bring to rolling boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 4 minutes. Remove from heat and gradually mix in the cornstarch/milk mixture. Bring back to boil and cook, stirring constantly until slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat.

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Making the base

5. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into the pistachio paste. Whisk until smooth.

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Mixing the base

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Whisking the milk in

Pour into a clean glass pitcher or large Ziploc bag and submerge (seal Ziplock first) into the ice bath. Let stand, adding more ice if necessary, until cold, about 30 minutes.Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Cooling the base

6. Transfer ice cream base to refrigerator and chill completely—for about 6 hours or overnight.

7. To freeze the ice cream, be sure to start with the machine’s base that is completely frozen. (Keep in freezer for at least 24 hours.) Turn on the ice cream machine and gradually pour in the ice cream base through the top of the machine. Leave to spin until thick and creamy, about 25 minutes.

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Pour into Machine

8. While the ice cream is freezing, get the following ready: the rose water, the remaining ½ cup pistachio nuts (chopped), and a storage container with airtight lid, which can be pre-chilled in the freezer.

9. Just before the ice cream is ready, add the rose water to the machine.

Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Cuisinart Machine

10. Pack the ice cream into the container, layering it with the pistachio nuts. Seal and freeze in the back of your freezer for at least 4 hours. Pistachio Ice Cream ~ Container

11. Garnish with more pistachios and an extra sprinkle of rose water, if desired. Enjoy.

Pistachio Ice Cream with Rose Water

What is your favorite homemade ice cream or pistachio treat?

Visit to the Baklava Factory ~ Al Samadi Sweets

June 1st, 2013 23 comments

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

Who can resist baklava?

Not me. Nor could I resist this “Baklava Factory Tour” put on by Arva Ahmed of Frying Pan Adventures and the American Women’s Association of Dubai.

We visited Al Samadi Sweets, a bakery from Lebanon which dates back to 1872. Their Dubai factory (located in Qusais) didn’t actually feel like a factory. All the individual pastries are made by hand (with a little industrial help as you shall see).

Al Samadi Sweets

These pastries supply Dubai’s hotels and restaurants. So, if you live in Dubai, you may have eaten pastries from Al Samadi.

The Baklava Room

The Baklava Room is the heart of Al Samadi factory.

In case you have yet to experience this Middle Eastern/Mediterranean pastry, baklava is a delicate pastry made from layers of filo dough, a filling of nuts, lots of clarified butter and a generous dousing of scented simple syrup. It’s a flaky, nutty, lick-your-fingers type of sweet.  

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava

The pastry has a long, complicated history. Long story, short (and some will disagree): the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul is credited for creating the original baklava, handmade with its distinctive countless layers.

Al Samadi Sweets  Baklava_

The Baklava at Al Samadi is baked in enormous trays. This should give you an idea of the size of the trays and the size of the operation.

Al Samadi Sweets trays

In case you’re wondering, the baklava at Al Samadi is baked with 18 layers of filo dough. This machine flattens the filo pastry dough into very thin layers, and it rolls many layers at once.

Filo Dough

Al Samadi Sweets  Filo dough machine_

When the baklava comes out of the oven, it’s drenched with scented simple syrup from this enormous watering can.

Al Samadi Sweets  Simple Syrup can_

The Ma’amoul Room

Ma’amoul is a festive little pastry stuffed with either dates or nuts and served on Easter and Eid throughout the Middle East. In the Ma’amoul Room, men were busy stuffing and shaping little pastries with dates.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul makers

These tiny ma’amoul were formed by hand. Here they are after after baking.

Al Samadi Sweets Mini Ma'amoul

Naturally, we got to sample these pastries along the way.

Al Samadi Sweets  Ma'amoul samples_

However, usually ma’amoul is made with various wooden molds. The type of filling—either walnuts, pistachios, or dates—will determine the shape of the mold. These ma’amoul are ready to go in the oven.

Al Samadi Sweets Tray of Ma'amoul_

The ma’amoul makers at Al Samadi use the same type of hand-carved wooden molds that I use at home.

Ma'amoul Molds_

The Kunafe Room

Truth be told, my favorite room was the kunafe room. This is because Kunafe Nabulsia is my favorite of Arab sweets. I can’t resist the gooey sweet cheese between the shredded soft-yet-crispy pastry, all saturated in scented simple syrup. Here’s a photo of my own homemade Kunafe Nabulsia.

A slice of kunafe nablusia

We got to see the kunafe pastry being made in very long very thin threads. First, the batter is poured down a funnel.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough funnel_

Then the batter comes out in threads and cooked on a large hot surface.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough machine_

Then it’s gathered and folded and ready for assembly into various kunafe pastries.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe dough wheel_Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough maker_

Al Samadi Sweets  Kunafe dough making_

There are little “bird nests” filled with pistachios and made with kunafe pastry.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe birdnests_

We watched as one of the kunafe chefs assembled kunafe with the crumbled akkawi cheese, the sweet cheese used in many Arab sweets.

Al Samadi Sweets Konafe assembly_

Lebanese Breakfast

As a final touch, Salim, the factory manager, offered us a special Lebanese breakfast—something I’ve never had before. It was a slab of kunafe pastry shoved into an Arab bread and doused with simple syrup. What a way to start your day!

Al Samadi Sweets Lebanese breakfast_

Last Stop: Al Samadi Sweet Shop

Our final stop on our tour was the actual Al Samadi Sweet Shop, located on Muraqqabat Street, where all the pastries are beautifully arranged and presented.

Al Samadi Sweets shop_

Al Samadi Sweets Yum_

Bake it yourself!

Rest assured, it is possible to bake these sweets in your own home kitchen. Please check out my step-by-step recipes for some of the pastries presented here.

Recipe: Kunafe Nabulsia ~ The Queen of Arab Sweets

Recipe: Ma’amoul ~ Date-filled Eid Pastries

Recipe: Nut-filled Ma’amoul ~ Easier than you think

Take a Tour

If you live in Dubai or are visiting, consider taking your own food tour with Frying Pan Adventures. I can’t say enough good things about Arva’s “food walks” featuring foods from the Middle East, North Africa and India. She is planning evening iftar tours in Dubai during the month of Ramadan. Meanwhile, read about my last tour with Frying Pan Adventures: Dubai Food Tour ~ North African Food Safari!

Questions: What is your favorite Arab Pastry? Have you taken a Frying Pan Tour?