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Archive for the ‘Nablus’


Knafeh كنافة: The Nabulsi Treat 4

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Sahar

Go anywhere in the Leventine and you will be presented by one of the greatest amalgamation of shredded phyllo, farmers cheese, and sugar known to humankind: Knafeh.

This sweet traces its origins back to the Ottoman Empire and can still be found in various forms all through the former empire’s dominion.

However, all through the Middle East, the city of Nablus is the place where everyone knows the best knafeh is made.  An entire knafeh culture exists there and Nabulsis take great pride in their craft (http://tinyurl.com/knlv2zh).  In fact, the World’s Largest Knafeh was made in Nablus in July 2009 (http://tinyurl.com/jw83r29).  (Videos from YouTube)

And, wherever Palestinians have settled, they have taken the art of Knafeh making wherever they go.

Trays of knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could've sat there all day eating this.

Trays of Knafeh in Amman, Jordan. I could’ve sat there all day eating this.

Now, I have to honestly say my dad and ‘Amto (aunt) Siham make the best Knafeh I’ve ever tasted.  I don’t know what they do, but it’s simply etherial.

However, I think my recipe is pretty good, too.  And, now, I’m going to share it with you.

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A few things about Knafeh:

1.  The cheese:  This uses a farmers cheese called Jebne Nabulsi (literally translated “Nablus Cheese”).  Here in the States, it is always packed in brine.  Of course, this is done for preservation.  But, it also makes the cheese semi-hard and salty rather than young, soft, and either unsalted or lightly salted in the Middle East.  To rid yourself of the salt and to somewhat soften the cheese, you have to soak and simmer it.  A good alternative is fresh mozzarella.  However, if you can’t find unsalted mozzarella, you’ll need to soak it as well.

2.  Buy the dough already shredded.  Don’t try to shred sheets of phyllo yourself.  You’ll never get them as fine and it’s a huge hassle.  Any good Middle Eastern market will have the dough in the freezer section.  Let it thaw overnight in the fridge before using.

3.  Coloring the top of the knafeh a bright orange color is traditional.  However, Knafeh coloring isn’t necessary.  There is a powdered coloring available in Middle Eastern markets especially for Knafeh.  However, unless you plan on making a lot, don’t buy it.  Some people use gel color (for coloring icing).  Don’t use regular food coloring, however.  It’s not fat soluble.

4.  Using Rose or Orange water is up to you.  I prefer the orange.  Others, rose.

5.  Don’t skimp on the syrup.  I know that when you first begin to pour it over, it looks like too much.  Believe me, it’s not.

6.  Clarified butter is absolutely necessary to this dish.  Regular butter will burn.  See the end of the post on how to make clarified butter.

 

The ingredients

The ingredients

The Nabulsi Cheese and orange Blossom Water.  These are my two favorite brands.  The cheese isn't too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

The Nabulsi Cheese and Orange Blossom Water. These are my two favorite brands. The cheese isn’t too salty and the Cortas, along with being and excellent product, is readily available in upscale and Middle Eastern markets.

 

 

Thin Qatr (Ka-tr) (simple syrup)

2 c. sugar

1 1/2 c. water

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tbsp. orange or rose water (optional)

 

Knafeh

1 lb. knafeh dough (kataifi), thawed

2 lb. Farmers Cheese (Jebne Nabulsi) or fresh mozzarella

1/4 c. sugar

1 1/4 c. clarified butter

1 tsp. knafeh coloring (optional)

1/4 c. chopped pistachios (optional)

1 recipe Qatr (see above)

 

1.  Make the Qatr: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, mix together the sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.

Starting the Qatr.

Starting the Qatr.

Bring to a boil.  Let the syrup boil for 3 minutes and then add the lemon juice.  Boil for 2 more minutes.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the orange blossom or rose water, if using.  Set aside and let cool.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

The finished Qatr. Once you put the orange or rose water in, the fragrance is amazing.

2.  Make the Knafeh:  Prepare the cheese – If using the Farmers cheese, you will need to soak and cook the cheese to remove the salt.  To do this, thinly slice the cheese (almost to the point of shaving it) and place in a large bowl.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

The cheese. Slice it as thin as you can; almost to the point of shaving it.

Cover the cheese with water and let soak for two hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.  After you have soaked the cheese, drain it and place in a large saucepan and cover with water.  Bring the water to a simmer (do not let it boil – it will harden the cheese) and cook the cheese for 10 minutes.  Drain.  Repeat the process at least 2 more times or until the cheese is salt-free. (Taste as you go.)

If you are using fresh mozzarella, buy salt-free.  If you don’t find any, thinly slice the cheese and soak it in water for 30 minutes  – 1 hour.  Drain and taste.  Repeat if needed.

Drain the cheese on paper towels to remove some of the excess moisture.  Place the cheese in a medium bowl and toss with the 1/4 c. sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

The cheese after its been de-salted and tossed with sugar.

3.  Meanwhile, take the knafeh dough and, with a very sharp knife, chop the dough into approximately 1″ pieces.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

How the Knafeh dough comes out of the package. Kind of like a soft brick.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

The chopped dough. Use a very sharp knife and quite a bit of caution when cutting the dough.

Have 1 cup of the clarified butter heating in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the dough to the saucepan.

Stir and cook the dough until it has absorbed the butter.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and let sit until cool enough to handle.

The Knafeh dough after it's been tossed with the hot butter.  I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step.  I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together.  If I decide to do more mixing ith my hands, I generally wait until it's at least warm.

The Knafeh dough after it’s been tossed with the hot butter. As a general rule, I personally use wood spatulas to complete this step. I have literally seen my dad and aunt stick their hands into the hot saucepan to mix the dough and butter together. If I decide to do more mixing with my hands, I generally wait until it’s at least warm.

4.  Preheat the oven to 400F.  Prepare 2 baking sheets by lining with foil and spraying with non-stick spray. (I use 9″ x 12″ x 1″ sheet pans from a restaurant supply. Invest in some. You won’t be sorry.)  Pour the remaining 1/4 c. butter in the bottom of one of the baking sheets and mix in the knafeh coloring (if using).

Mixing the coloring and butter together.  While it isn't necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

Mixing the coloring and butter together. While it isn’t necessary to color the butter, it is traditional.

5.  Take 1/2 of the Knafeh dough and spread it as evenly as possible over the bottom of the baking sheet.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spreading the first half of the dough over the sheet pan.

Spread the cheese over the top in an even later.  Top the cheese evenly with the remaining dough.

The cheese layer.

The cheese layer.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

The final layer of dough on top. This will eventually become the bottom.

6.  Place the baking sheet in the lower 1/3 of the oven and bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until the top is a golden brown.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

The Knafeh after the first baking. Now, time to flip.

Take the baking sheet from the oven, place the second sheet on top, face down, and carefully flip the Knafeh.

Getting ready to flip.  Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

Getting ready to flip. Have the courage of your convictions when you do this. Along with an apron and very good potholders.

A perfect flip. This doesn't happen often. At least to me.

A perfect flip. This doesn’t happen often. At least to me.

Place the new baking sheet with the knafeh, now bottom-side-up, back in the oven for another 10 minutes.

7.  Once the knafeh is done, take it out of the oven and set the baking sheet on a rack.  Pour the Qatr over the knafeh as evenly as possible.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don;t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Pouring over the Qatr. Don’t skimp on this. It will soak in.

Top with the chopped pistachios (if using).  Let cool slightly and allow the syrup to soak in before eating.

The finished Knafeh.

The finished Knafeh.

Sahtein!

Sahtein!  P.S. This is excellent with a cup of strong Arabic coffee.

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Clarified Butter

At least 2 lbs. of unsalted European or European-style butter (it has a higher percentage of fat than American butters. American butters tend to have more water.)

Basically, clarified butter (also known as ghee or samneh) is butter where the milk solids have been removed.  When butter burns, it’s these solids that burn, not the fat.

Cooking with regular butter is fine, as we all know, in most cases.  In fact, sometimes browned butter is a beautiful thing.  However, for desserts like this, or even direct high-heat cooking, clarified butter is the way to go.  It has a much higher smoke point (about 450F as opposed to 325F for regular butter) as well as a longer shelf life (I’ve had some for at least 6 months and it’s still good).

It’s very simple to make.  It just takes a little patience.

Here is a lovely essay on clarified butter written by Edward Schneider for the New York Times in 2008: http://tinyurl.com/lj6ozhr

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I generally like to do at least 3 pounds at a time and store it in the refrigerator.

To begin, place the butter in a medium to large saucepan over very low heat.

 

Starting the process.

Starting the process.

Allow the butter to very slowly melt.  This is done to help the butter separate slowly and let the milk solids settle on the bottom of the pan.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

The butter almost ready for skimming.

Remove the pan from the heat.  With a large spoon, begin to carefully skim off the milk solids on top.

Skimming off the foam.  Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice.  If I don't have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It's up to you.

Skimming off the foam. Some people save it for using on popcorn, in dairy recipes, or on rice. If I don’t have an immediate use for it myself, I tend to just discard it. It’s up to you.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

The remaining milk solids and little bit of butter in the bottom of the pan.

Once you have skimmed off all (or most) of the solids, carefully pour them into a clean container.  Some people will pour the butter through a cheesecloth as well to be sure to get every bit of milk solid out of the clarified butter.  However, if you are fine with a few bits of milk solid, you can skip that step.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

The finished clarified butter. I generally get 4 1/2 cups from 3 lbs. of butter.

 

 

Enjoy!

 

 

My Arabic Breakfast فطوري العربية 3

Posted on September 30, 2013 by Sahar

One of the great things about having a parent, or parents, who were born and/or grew up in another country is getting to learn and experience mores, manners, customs, and, yes, food that are different than what you might experience daily in the wider world.

My sisters and I grew up with just such a parent.  Our father is Palestinian.  He’s originally from a town called Nablus.  When he was born, it was a part of  western Jordan. Now it is in the Occupied West Bank under the supervision of the Palestinian Authority.  Dad came to the US in 1960 to go to college.  Eventually, he met and married our mom, graduated from college with an engineering degree, co-raised three girls without losing his mind, worked for the same company for 40 years, and happily retired.

Along the way, Dad did impart in us some of his old-world wisdom.  Or, at least tried to.  And while we didn’t always appreciate the lessons he tried to teach – especially Arabic, which I’m still struggling to learn – we always appreciated the food.

And while my sisters and I certainly ate with glee the kibbeh, sayadieh (fish with rice), mjudarah (lentils and rice), mishi waraq (stuffed grape leaves), and knaffeh (sweet  shredded phyllo dough with cheese) our parents made (Mom and Dad each have their specialties), we especially enjoyed breakfast with unrestrained glee.

Breakfast at my aunt's home in Jordan

Breakfast at my aunt’s home in Jordan

Breakfast in the Middle East isn’t necessarily a rushed thing.  Well, it isn’t unless one has to rush off to work or school. Breakfast usually starts about 8 or 9 with a nice long chat over coffee.  Then, the food comes out.  It can be as simple as some jam, bread, and cheese on up to dips, za’atar (spice mix made with thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and salt), fresh fruit and vegetables, olives, pickles, eggs, and occasionally leftovers from the night before.

Unlike in the West, coffee isn’t drunk at breakfast.  It’s used as an aperitif, digestive, at social gatherings, and with the desserts the Middle East is so famous for.  Juice, water, or hot sweet tea is drunk at breakfast.

Just to make you hungrier, here’s a picture of my family at the restaurant my cousin Salam owns with her husband. Tarweea. It serves breakfast 24 hours a day.  And it’s amazing.

The family at Tarweea. Damn good food. And company.

The family at Tarweea. Damn good food. And company.

So, welcome to my version of Arabic Breakfast.

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The recipes I’m showing you are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.  Like anywhere else, there are regional variations for each dish.  That being said, I’m going to show you the way I grew up eating these dishes and the recipes I learned Palestinian style.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

I will be making several recipes in this post:  Ful Mudammas (Fava Bean Dip), Baba Ghannouj (Eggplant Dip), Tomatoes and Garlic Poached in Olive Oil (not sure if this is authentic, but my dad makes it on occasion), and Hummous (which I’ve already made for you, http://www.tartqueenskitchen.com/?cat=63).

Hummous. Mmm... Click on the above link to get the recipe.

Hummous. Mmm…
Click on the above link to get the recipe.

The additions will be some lovely olives and turnip pickles:

olives, pickles, cucumber

Clockwise from top: Persian cucumbers, turnip pickles (the red color comes from a beet put into the brine), Moroccan Oil Cured Olives, Lebanese Green Olives

Plates of olive oil and za’atar.

Olive Oil and Za'atar

Olive Oil and Za’atar

Bread is dipped in the olive oil and then the za’atar.  It has a wonderful savory-slightly tart flavor.  Some people will also make a paste of the two, spread it on bread and toast the bread until the top is nice and bubbly.  It’s divine.

We also have some lebneh.  It is essentially yogurt cheese.  A lovely, delightfully slightly sour treat. Try it spread on bread with some tomato. Oh. Yeah.

Lebneh in olive oil. This stuff is the bomb.

Lebneh in olive oil. This stuff is the bomb.

Some farmers cheese is always essential on the table.  Jebne Nabulsi (Nablus Cheese) is our cheese of choice.  Farmers cheese is used in both sweet and savory dishes.  For sweet dishes, it’s usually boiled to remove the salt.  The cheese we get in the US is always packed in brine. If you’re able to buy it in Jordan, it’s much fresher. The difference is striking.

My favorite brand of Nabulsi Cheese. it's not too salty and cooks well.

My favorite brand of Nabulsi Cheese. it’s not too salty and cooks well.

 

The first recipe I’ll show you is for Ful (pronounced “fool”) Mudammas (فول مدمس).  It’s a breakfast dish made with fava beans. It’s a dish that’s been traced back to ancient Egypt and is still a very popular breakfast choice throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa.

Now, I use the canned ones.   However, if you want to use fresh or used soaked dry beans, it’s up to you.

The ingredients for Ful Mudammas.

The ingredients for Ful Mudammas.

1 can fava beans, drained, liquid reserved

1/4 c. onion, finely minced

2 cl. garlic, minced

2 – 4 (depending on size and heat level) tabasco or pepperoncini peppers, minced

1/4 c. parsley, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon to taste

Olive oil

additional minced parsley for garnish, optional

 

1.  In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, mix together the fava beans, onion, garlic, peppers,  about 2 – 3 tablespoons of the reserved liquid from the beans, and a pinch of salt & pepper.

Beans in the pot.

Beans in the pot.

Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers waiting to make me happy.

Beans, onion, garlic, and peppers ready to make magic.

Heat the mixture slowly, stirring occasionally.  Cook about 20 minutes.  Add more liquid if the beans become too dry.

Cooking the beans and vegetables. Be sure to not let the beans get too dry.

Cooking the beans and vegetables. Be sure to not let the beans get too dry.

2.  Once the mixture is cooked, taste it for seasoning and some lemon to taste.  Remove the saucepan from the heat and mash the beans, leaving some texture.  In other words, don’t make them a smooth mash.

Mashing the beans. Leave some texture. Don't make too smooth a mix.

Mashing the beans. Leave some texture. Don’t make too smooth a mix.

3.  Place the ful on a plate, drizzle over some olive oil and additional parsley.

The finished dish. Enticing, isn't it.

The finished dish. Enticing, isn’t it.

 

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The next dish I’m going to show you is Baba Ghannouj (بابا غنوج.). It’s a smooth dip made with eggplant.  It can be served as a mezze, a salad, or a side dish.  It is sometimes served with sliced or finely diced vegetables on top.  Some will use parsley or mint.  In some parts of the Arab world, particularly Syria, pomegranate seeds or syrup are used as well.

Traditionally, the eggplant is grilled over an open flame until it’s soft and charred.  However, I’ve found the oven is an excellent alternative cooking source.

When buying eggplant, look for ones with a smooth unblemished skin and no soft spots.

The Ingredients

The Ingredients

1 eggplant

3 cl. garlic

1/4 c. tahineh, more if needed

Salt and lemon juice to taste

Olive oil for garnish

Pomegranate seeds or syrup for garnish, optional

Parsley for garnish, optional

 

1.  Prep the eggplant.  Heat your oven to 400F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with non-stick spray.  Drizzle some olive oil on the bottom and spread to cover.

Take the eggplant, cut off the top, then cut in half lengthwise.

The eggplant. You want the flesh to be white to off white.  And not too seedy.  A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.

The eggplant. You want the flesh to be white to off white. and firm. And not too seedy. A lot of seeds can make the eggplant bitter.

Place the eggplant cut side down on the baking sheet.  Drizzle to top with a little more oil and put in the oven.  Bake the eggplant until it’s soft, about 20 – 25 minutes.

Eggplant ready for the oven.

Eggplant ready for the oven.

2.  Meanwhile, if you are using pomegranate seeds, time to get the seeds out.

Hello.

Hello.

When buying a pomegranate, make sure there are no soft pots, the skin is smooth and free of blemishes, and be sure to check for pinholes in the skin.  That’s a sign of infestation or spoilage.  If you open a pomegranate and any of the seeds are brown or dried out, discard them.

Cut around the equator of the pomegranate just until you break through the skin.  Don’t cut all the way through or you’ll lose some seeds.

Pull the halves until they separate.  This takes a little doing, but it will happen.

An excellent pomegranate. The seeds are bright, red, and juicy. The membrane is firm and a nice creamy color.

An excellent pomegranate. The seeds are bright, red, and juicy. The membrane is firm and a nice creamy color.

I suggest wearing gloves for this next part. It is now time to separate the seeds from the membrane.  It’s really not difficult.  Just time consuming.  if you can remove the seeds in clusters, all the better.  The trick is to break as few seeds as possible and not include any of the membrane (edible, but very bitter).

Removing the seeds from the membrane.  Not difficult, but time consuming.

Removing the seeds from the membrane. Not difficult, but time consuming.

The remains.

The remains.

You will be rewarded for your hard work.

Your reward. They look like jewels.

Your reward. They look like jewels.

3.  Check the eggplant.  Give it a quick poke with your finger or a fork.  If it feels soft, it’s ready to come out of the oven.  Take the eggplant halves off the baking sheet and set aside until cool enough to handle.

The baked eggplant.  You want the char.  It adds a smky flavor to the final dish.  However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.

The baked eggplant. You want the char. It adds a smoky flavor to the final dish. However, be sure not to let the eggplant burn.

4.  when the eggplant is cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the skin and discard.

Peeling the skin off the eggplant.

Peeling the skin off the eggplant.

Place the peeled eggplant in a small bowl or dish.  Set aside.

5.  With a food processor running, drop the garlic cloves down through the feed tube and chop them.

The chopped garlic.

The chopped garlic.

Add the eggplant, tahineh, and a little salt.

Ready to mix.

Ready to mix.

Puree the ingredients until a smooth consistency is achieved.  Add a little lemon juice through the feed tube while the machine is running.  When the lemon is mixed in, taste the baba ghannouj for seasoning.

6.  Place the baba ghannouj into a bowl and garish with a little olive oil, some parsley, and a few of the pomegranate seeds.

This is delicious. And I don't like eggplant.

This is delicious. And I don’t like eggplant.

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As for the Poached Tomatoes and Garlic, I really don’t know if it’s an authentic part of the meal.  However, I remember my dad making this dish from time to time, so I do, too.  My husband and I  like this dish, so I make it for that reason as well.

The ingredients

The ingredients

 

4 large tomatoes, quartered, core (blossom end) cut out, and seeded

10 – 12 cloves garlic, smashed

3/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. salt

 

1.  Place all the ingredients in a large skillet or shallow saucepan over low heat.

The ingredients ready to be poached.

The ingredients ready to be poached.

2.  While the ingredients cook, you can mash them a bit if you like. Just cook until the tomatoes have completely broken down, about 30 minutes.

Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.

Cooking down the tomatoes and garlic.

All done.  Yes, it's a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.

All done. Yes, it’s a lot of olive oil. It tastes lovely.

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Fried Nabulsi Cheese

1.  Take a few pieces of the Nabulsi cheese and cut them into smaller pieces (I usually cut them in half crosswise and then again lengthwise).  Place them in a bowl and rinse with water several times until it runs clear.  Let the cheese soak in the water to remove some of the salt.

Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand,

Some of the cheese. The shape and saltiness of the cheese depends on the brand.

Soaking the cheese

Soaking the cheese

Before you get ready to fry the cheese, take it out of the water and drain on paper towels.

2.  In a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Once the butter starts to foam, place a few pieces of the cheese in the skillet to cook.  Cook until each side is golden brown.

Frying the cheese. Not the most healthy way to cook it, but hey, why not?

Frying the cheese. Not the most healthy way to cook it, but hey, why not?

Drain the cooked cheese on paper towels and eat while still warm.  It doesn’t really keep once it’s cold.

Believe it or not, this is excellent on warm pita bread with a little jam.

Believe it or not, this is excellent on warm pita bread with a little jam.

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Of course, the one indispensable ingredient for the whole meal. Bread. Khubuz خبز

 

The bread.  The most indespensible ingredient of all.

The bread. The most indispensable ingredient of all.

And, here is the final table.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

The final table. Invite a few friends.

Sahtein!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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