Kunafah – King of Middle Eastern desserts

Kunafah shot - 1 “You have to be a romantic to invest yourself, your money, and your time in cheese.” 
– Anthony Bourdain

Food as they say, breaks cultural barriers and brings people closer. More than satiating the cravings of the gut, it speaks out to the heart. Kunafah is one such dessert which evokes a loving nostalgia of the place we used to call home (not long ago).

For all those who are not familiar, it is a crisp cheesy pastry sweetened with rose-scented sugar syrup. Gooey like a pizza and with just the right hint of sweetness. Trust me, the deliciousness index of Kunafah is way above any middle eastern desserts I’ve ever laid my hands on. Hence, it is very rightly called “the king of Middle Eastern desserts”. Kunafah shot - 2Few months back, when I was truly, deeply, madly craving Kunafah (and since it isn’t readily available in the whereabouts of our current city) the foodie in me decided to give it a try.

Ok, so a bit of useless info here. Before coming up with the recipe that I am going to share with you guys today, I mixed and matched ingredients and created different Kunafah variations over a couple of months. Just to make sure that I am completely satisfied with the version that has to be shared with you 🙂

This recipe, from what I understand, breaks some conventional Kunafah making rules (since rules are meant to be broken..so lame hehe). That’s because I have not used the traditional Akkawi or Nabulsi cheeses here. Instead, I’ve used mozzarella cheese to get this pizza like gooey-ness that you are about to witness.

Disclaimer: Once you see it, you cannot un-see it. Proceed at your own risk 😉

So here it is..the mighty delicacy in all its deliciousness!

Kunafah shot - 3Alrighty, lets cut the crap and get to the recipe.

Cheese Kunafah
(Sweetened Cheese pastry)
Serves: 10 – 12

Ingredients
Crust
1 lb (454gm) Kataifi dough (I used the frozen one)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter (melted)
Custard
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp fine semolina (sooji)
3 tbsp caster sugar
1 tsp cornflour, dissolved in 1 tbsp water
1 tbsp rose water
Cheese filling
500 gms shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp rose water
Sugar syrup
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
4-5 cardamom pods
3 tbsp rose water
Garnish
1/4 cup pistachios

Method
Preheat oven to 390F. Prepare a 12-inch round pan by greasing it generously with melted butter or ghee.

Crust: Defrost the kataifi dough before you start working on it. While it is half-frozen, use your hands to shred it 1-inch long strands. Pour the melted butter on top and mix it with your hands until each and every strand is evenly coated.
Custard: Pour milk, heavy whipping cream, semolina, sugar and cornflour dissolved in water in a saucepan. Cook it on low-medium heat until the mixture thickens to a custard like consistency. Make sure that it is thick and easily spreadable, but not lumpy. Remove from heat and add rose water.
Cheese Filling: Mix mozzarella cheese, sugar and rose water in a big bowl and set aside.
Sugar syrup: Add sugar, water and cardamom pods in a small pot. Bring it to a rolling boil and lower the heat. Keep cooking until it reaches one string consistency. Turn off the heat and add rose water.

Assembly
Layer 1: 2/3rd of prepared crust. Make sure you bring it up on the sides of the pan so that it can hold the filling.
Layer 2: 1/2 of custard. Spoon it over the crust.
Layer 3: mozzarella cheese filling.
Layer 4: remaining 1/2 of custard. Pour it all over the mozzarella cheese filling.
Layer 5: remaining 1/3rd of prepared crust

Bake the assembled Kunafa in a pre-heated oven for 30-35 minutes until the top turns a beautiful golden color. If you see that the top part of the crust is turning dark, loosely place a piece of aluminium foil covering the Kunafah to prevent it.

As soon as the Kunafah is baked, pour 2/3rd of scented sugar syrup over it. Make sure that the entire surface is generously covered with the syrup. Let it rest for 10 minutes and flip on your serving platter. Garnish with pistachios and dig in 😉

Recipe inspired by:
Cleobuttera’s Mozarrella Cheese Kunafa

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Assorted Chutneys for Ramadan and Eid

Chutney - 1

“A sauce…..adds something, really two things: a taste as well as the opportunity to think about how the thing was made. This is the same kind of pleasure we derive when we look at a painting; the eye is pleased, while the mind explores the aesthetic windings of a technique and a willed structure.”
– Raymond Sokolov

There’s no specific season to have chutneys (Urdu word for ‘sauce’). But with the arrival of Ramadan and Eid, there’s all the more reason to it.

Today I’m going to share three chutney recipes with you guys:

  • Tamarind Date chutney,
  • Green chutney, and
  • Tomato chutney

These chutneys can serve as accompaniments to kebabs, pakoras, samosas, dahi barray, chaats and a lot more.

Try them out and do your taste buds a favor 🙂

Chutney - 2

Tamarind Date Chutney

Serves: 12

Ingredients:
5 dates (soaked in water for 1-2 hrs, so that they soften up)
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup tamarind pulp (without seeds)
1 cup water
1 inch piece ginger, grated
1tsp red chili powder
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp chaat masala
2 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and grinded
2 tsp fennel seeds (saunf), roasted and grinded

Method:
Add all the ingredients (dates without seeds, please!) in a heavy based saucepan. Bring it to a boil and keep cooking until the sauce thickens a bit. Turn off the stove and let it cool completely. Once at room temperature, put it in a blender and give it a blitz. The chutney is ready and good to go.
Stays good for a month in refrigerator.

Notes:
– Save it in a glass jar and not in a plastic one since tamarind reacts with plastic.
– When cooking the chutney, use a non stick pan and wooden spoon preferably, as metals may react with tamarind as well which may affect the taste and shelf life of your chutney.

Green Chutney

Serves: 12

Ingredients:
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves, washed
1/2 bunch fresh mint leaves, washed
2-3 green chillies
3 cloves of garlic
1 inch piece of ginger
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/2 tsp chaat masala
1/4 tsp cumin powder
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tbsp chilled water (if required)

Method:
Add all ingredients in a blender and grind it to a smooth paste. Do not add all the water at once or the chutney may end up being runny. Put a tablespoon at a time to maintain the right consistency.
Stays good for a week in refrigerator. Can be stored in freezer for longer periods and used as and when required.

Tomato Chutney

Serves: 12

Ingredients:
3 large tomatoes
3 tbsp canned tomato puree
2-3 red button chilies
1 tsp garlic paste
1 tsp salt or to taste
1 tsp achar (any kind)
1/2 tsp red chili powder (optional, depending on your heat preference)
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp oil

Method:
Roast the tomatoes on stove and peel off the skin. Add tomatoes and button chilies in a blender and grind to a paste. In a pan, add oil, achar and garlic paste. Saute for a minute and add the tomato-red chili paste and canned tomato puree. Keep stirring until oil separates. Add salt, red chili powder and sugar. Stir for a minute and turn off the flame. Once the chutney is at room temperature, transfer it to a jar.
Stays good for up to a week in refrigerator. Can be stored in freezer for longer periods and used as needed.

Notes:
– Ramadan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar, whereby Muslims observe prayer, charity and fasting. It is believed to be a month full of blessings, since the Quran (holy book of Muslims) was revealed during that month.
– Eid is a festival observed by Muslims, twice during each lunar year. Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan, whereas Eid-ul-Adha is the festival of sacrifice.
– Hearty meals and delicious food form an integral part of Ramadan and both Eids.
– Achar here is referred to as Pakistani or Indian mixed pickles.
– This recipe is inspired by Tomato chutney from Food Fusion.

 

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Chelo Kebab Kobeideh- A Persian Masterpiece

Chelo Kebab Kobeideh

“No, this is not the beginning of a new chapter in my life; this is the beginning of a new book! That first book is already closed, ended, and tossed into the seas; this new book is newly opened, has just begun! Look, it is the first page! And it is a beautiful one!”
– C. JoyBell C.

The first restaurant we went to, after we got married (I and Jay), was Special Ostadi in Dubai – an authentic Persian restaurant, which has been a part of Dubai’s food scene since 1978. This is the place where I had tried Chelo Kebab, for the first time ever. And, that’s when my love affair with Persian cuisine began.

This juicy mince kebab delicately flavored with saffron, rose water and a mix of spices is truly a taste sensation.  It has a signature flat, indented shape and is served with a side of Saffron rice (called Chelo in Persian hence the name Chelo Kebab), fire-roasted tomatoes and is topped with a dollop of butter. Sounds heavenly? I know, right. 🙂

Anyhow, when we moved to US, the task of finding a genuine Persian restaurant was far from our long, impending list of to-dos. In this daily chaos of a life, we totally forgot about Chelo Kebab and moved on. Until one day. When suddenly craving struck. And our taste buds started crying out for this delicious kebab.

That’s it. Since that day onwards, I embarked on the mission of searching famous Persian bloggers and chefs to find an “authentic” Chelo Kebab recipe (not the Chelo Kebab recipe with Pakistani spices and flavor ;)). I read numerous recipes and dreamed of taste combinations and permutations of various ingredients. Finally came across two amazing recipes (links to both given below) and combined the ingredients and techniques from both to come up with the recipe that I am about to share with you. Yippie!

Chelo Kebab Kobeideh
(Minced meat kebabs over saffron rice)
Serves 3-4

Kebab Kobeideh
Ingredients:
1/2 kg (1 lb) ground beef/ ground lamb, a combination of both or ground chicken
1 tsp sea salt, or to taste
2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1/2 tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 2 tbsp rose water
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp sumac powder
1 medium onion
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
Zest of 1 lime

For basting:
1/4 cup butter or olive oil
1 tsp fresh lime juice

Method:
Finely chop the onion in a food processor until juicy. Place a fine metal mesh over a bowl and strain the onion juice by pressing it with a spatula. Retain the pulp while discarding the juice.
Add ground meat, onion pulp, minced garlic, lime zest, saffron mixture, salt and all the spices in a medium bowl. Knead all ingredients until the mixture is pasty and isn’t falling apart. Rest the mixture in the fridge of half an hour.
If using skewers, arrange the ground meat on skewers and cook over coal. Baste it with lemon-butter mixture while cooking and before removing from heat.
If you are not using skewers, shallow fry the kebabs and give coal smoke. Do not forget to baste.

Important Notes:
– Make sure the kebabs are long and flat. You can make indentations with your finger, to achieve the real Chelo Kebab look and feel.
– Avoid overcooking. The meat should be seared on the outside while being tender and juicy on the inside.

Chelo (Saffron Rice)
Ingredients:
3 cups rice
Water to boil rice
5-7 cardamom pods
1 tsp saffron strands, dissolved in 3 tbsp hot water
salt to taste

Method:
Prepare the rice by boiling it in water with salt and cardamom pods
Once the rice is cooked, separate half the rice in another bowl. Add saffron-water mixture over it.

Assembly:
When serving, place kebab kobeideh, white rice, saffron rice and some charred/grilled tomatoes side by side.
Put a piece of butter over the rice.
Nush-e-jan! 🙂

Recipe adapted from:
Kebab Kubideh recipe by Najmieh Batmanglij (Food of Life)
Kabob Koobideh recipe by Persian Mama

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