Years ago, while in architecture school, I had a roommate named Mimi. Well, actually her name was Omelmominin, but we called her Mimi. She was from Oman, and I have her to thank for introducing me to Middle Eastern desserts. Mimi didn’t cook much, but her mom did. And when her mom decided to spend a summer with us, I was ecstatic. I can still remember clearly the day I came home from work and started grinning ear to ear when I opened the door and smelled deliciousness being made in the kitchen. I almost lost it when I actually got into the kitchen in time to see Mimi’s mom pulling a pan of steaming hot baklava out of the oven. Having only ever seen it in restaurants and grocery stores, it never occurred to me that an actual person could make it for themselves (I was so young then…).
The real surprise though, came next. Because after she sat down the baklava, she pulled out a pan of what looked to me like cooked noodles. It was called konafa, and this my friends, is what I am here to talk about. That dessert stuck with me. It’s a rare one to find outside of the middle east, and even rarer to find one that tastes good. When done right, it is pure creamy bliss. Unfortunately there’s not much of a Middle Eastern population in Seattle, making it even harder to find than in San Francisco. It is meant to be eaten fresh from the oven, so really, I just had to make it for myself.
I started with the pastry, called konafa or kadaif. It can be hard to come by, you’ll probably have to get it from a Middle Eastern grocery store. Since it’s sold frozen, it will require some advance preparation so it can defrost in the fridge for 24 hours beforehand. The first step is to spread it out and unstick the strands that are all mashed together. I found this part to be particularly fun. Afterwards, I set the pastry back in the fridge.
Then I made the cream filling and the syrup that would be poured over the baked konafa. For the filling I cooked milk with rice flour and sugar, straining it afterwards to remove the lumps. The only change I made from the recipe from Claudia Roden was to use rose water in place of the orange blossom water. This was what Mimi’s mom used and I was going straight for nostalgia.
Then I spread half of the pastry (that I had tossed in melted butter) in the bottom of 2 pie pans.
On top of that I spread the chilled cream filling. I topped it with the other half of the pastry.
And then I baked the konafa until golden brown. I poured the cold syrup all over it and sprinkled on some pistachios.
And me and my friends dug in. It’s an odd flavor at first, but after a few bites something happens to the taste. I found that it got sweeter (though not too sweet) and the rosewater started to mellow. It was exactly how I remembered it. Mimi has been back in Oman for several years now, but I like to think that she and her mom would be proud.
KONAFA RECIPE (Claudia Roden):
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
2 TBSP lemon juice
2 TBSP rosewater or orange blossom water
– Bring the sugar, water and lemon juice to a boil for about 8 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the rosewater. Leave to cool, then chill in the fridge.
2/3 cup rice flour
5 cups milk
1/4 cup sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
– Mix the rice flour with some of the milk to make a smooth paste. Bring the rest of the milk to a boil, then add the rice flour paste, whisking the milk as you do so to minimize clumping. Immediately turn the heat to very low and let the mixture thicken for about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir occasionally without scraping the bottom of the pan so as not to pick up any burnt bits.
– Add the sugar and stir well. If lumpy, strain. Leave to cool, then add the cream and mix well. Chill in the fridge.
1 lb konafa (also called kadaif) pastry
8oz butter, melted
2/3 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
– Place the pastry in a large bowl and separate the strands as much as possible. Pour the melted butter over the pastry and, with your fingers, work it in very thoroughly, pulling out and separating the strands so that they don’t stick together and are coated with butter.
– Preheat the oven to 350.
– Spread half the pastry at the bottom of a two 8″ round pie pans. Spread the cream filling over and cover with the rest of the pastry.
– Bake for about 45 minutes, then raise the temperature to 425F and bake for another 15 minutes, until the pastry starts to brown. Remove from the oven. Immediately pour the cold syrup over the hot konafa and sprinkle with the chopped pistachios.
– Before serving, run a knife around the pie to loosen the sides. Slice it up and enjoy!
Eggplants. They rock.
It took me a while to discover this. Mostly because of texture. An eggplant really has to be cooked down to its last dying breath before I want anything to do with it. Too few minutes in the oven and I might as well be chewing on a waterlogged Nerf ball. But those few minutes of cooking later and I’m feasting in eggplant heaven. And what better to way to pulverize an eggplant’s spongey texture than with baba ganoush.
First things first, roast the eggplant. I roasted it over the flame of my stove burner. This adds the smokey flavor that makes baba ganoush taste like baba ganoush. I roast it until it is completely mushy, practically falling apart. The softer you get it over the flame, the more buttery the puree will be. If you lack a gas stove, then it’s possible to roast in the broiler, but it won’t be as tasty.
Then I let the eggplants sit in a sealed tupperware for 15 minutes or so. The idea is to steam them a bit more and to allow them to cool down enough to handle. Resist the temptation to let them cool completely, because this too will result in a less smooth puree.
Once finished steaming I peel their purple skins off.
I put them (sans stems) in the food processor with tahini, lemon juice, minced garlic, salt and pepper. I let it puree for a few minutes. The result should be smooth and fluffy. Taste for salt, because every eggplant is different, you know? From here you want to let it sit for a while in the fridge. 4 hours is sufficient, 12 hours is better. Think of it like a soup, it just needs a little time to have all of its flavors meld together. Right before serving I like to stir in some fresh parsley and top it with toasted pinenuts. No photos of that today though, because well, we ate it too fast. It happens.
BABA GANOUSH RECIPE:
2 medium or 3 small eggplants
1/2 cup tahini
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup lemon juice
fresh cracked black pepper to taste
1 tsp salt
toasted pine nuts