Author: Sharika Nair
During my childhood, I used to eagerly wait for the Eid festivities to begin in Saudi Arabia, where I was born and brought up. The eve of Eid would mean a trip to the sweet meat shop along with my father. All the varieties of traditional Arabian sweets would be on display in a grand style. I would get free samplings and then the confusion would begin. Which one to choose? Of course I had my personal favourites. But during Eid, customers were given an option of going around the entire shop and picking up whichever sweet they desired. They could then fill their plates as much as they wanted to. Now the trick was to pile up the plate with one sweet after the other in the most reasonable way. The shopkeeper would then wrap it up and out would go a satisfied and happy customer.
Every Eid I made it a point to practise this ritual of buying, sharing and of course eating up the mouth watering delicacies. The very thought of the variety of nuts, quantity of sugar syrup, cream, cheese filled in them makes me drool!
A few sweets that I never missed having were Basbousa, Kunafeh and Baklava. Amongst them, Basbousa is my favourite (I’ve shared the recipe as well). Though I do not get the authentic Arabian sweets here in India, I always try to catch up with my Arabian cravings by treating myself occasionally to a piece of Baklava or Kunafeh wherever I find it. It really makes me nostalgic and brings back sweet memories.
Basbousa is a sweet cake found in the Middle East. This semolina cake is not too sweet by itself but it is soaked in sugar syrup and scented with rose water. The addition of pistachios or almonds adds to its flavour.
- 2 cups semolina flour
- 1/3 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
- ¼ cup melted butter
- 1 cup plain yoghurt
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup almonds ( whole)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a square baking dish.
- In a large bowl, mix together – the semolina flour, baking powder, 1 cup sugar, coconut and butter. Add the yogurt and milk; mix until moistened but ensure it isn’t runny or liquid. If you see that it is too dry, add more milk. Spread into a square baking dish, smoothing the top as much as possible. Decorate the top with whole almonds.
- Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. While the basbousa is baking, combine the water, 1 cup of sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, and cook for at least 5 minutes.
- When the basbousa has finished baking, pour the syrup over it as evenly as possible. Place it back in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until the syrup has been fully absorbed. Let it rest for about 20 minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.
Kunafeh is a dessert laden with rich cream and is crunchy. It is a cheese cake made with semolina dough. While biting into it one can experience crunchiness on the outside and the soft, white cheese stuffing in the inside. It is soaked in simple sweet syrup. Again there are several variations to this delicacy as well.
Baklava meaning many ‘leaves’, is a pastry originated from Turkey. There are numerous variations available throughout Arab world of this popular sweet. Blanched almonds or pistachios and sometimes even walnuts are added. It is flaky, nutty and crispy and is a good combination with strong coffee.