Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Qatayef | قطايف

Ramadan is a beautiful time of the year and I find myself waiting for it to come around. It's been a very peaceful and spiritual month, more so than ever for me. I feel that as I'm growing older and exploring more about Islam and the essence of it, I am falling more and more in love with it.

With Ramadan comes its special sweets. And what says Ramadan like Qatayef? In my house, it's the Ramadan staple. We don't go a day without making it on this blessed month. Qatayef has been described as the Middle Eastern dumplings or Middle Eastern pancakes, if you will. The dough generally includes ingredients such as corn starch, flour and semolina to give it its fluffy texture. We've tried making the dough at home but have failed quite miserably to get it right so we just go over to the nearest bakery and buy a batch (it's common to find them ready and packed to go during Ramadan) But if you're feeling adventurous, here's a good recipe that you can try out.

Our favorite fillings are walnuts with brown sugar & cinnamon and sweetened Akawi cheese with extra sugar.

Best way to make qatayef is to start pinching from one corner to the next. If you feel like it's difficult to close, then you may have too much filling. Just scoop out some and try again. Remember that they are delicate and need just a little bit of patience, but after some practice it becomes so easy to handle.

Walnut + brown sugar + cinnamon
Sweetened Akawi cheese

Swimming in the deep fryer and then cooling off

The Qatayef is deep fried and then dipped in luscious sugar syrup. Yup, it's all about that sugar rush after a whole day's worth of fasting!

Come to mama!

I decided to get a little creative during Ramadan. One day I had a severe chocolate craving while fasting (although, this happens even when I'm not fasting) and decided that I wanted to stuff Qatayef with chocolate instead of the regular fillings. I kept telling my mom about it, describing how wonderful it would be to have hot chocolate oozing out of the dough as you sink your teeth into it. I imagined dipping it in Nutella just for an added twist and also because I, like many others, am shamelessly in love with that wonderful hazelnut cream spread.

So, I decided it just had to be done. I just had to do it. The next day, I was surprised with mini Qatayef pancakes that my stepfather had brought. We decided to make some of them into mini chocolate Qatayef. At first, we tried spreading some Nutella as the filling but it made a big mess and was all over the place. Not a good idea with mini Qatayef, I suppose.

Instead, I started chopping up some bittersweet chocolate and toasted hazelnuts, salivating over the idea of finally satisfying my craving which I've had for over a week. We stuffed the Qatayef and into the deep fryer they went. I patiently (not so much) dipped them into some Nutella, tried my hand at some food modelling and failed quite miserably and then... AND THEN! I finally took a bite out of one of them. Oh hot chocolate, please melt into my soul and rid me of this craving that won't seem to go away! But.. I got nothing.. The chocolate had dried up by the time the Qatayef was done frying and all I got was crispy Qatayef dough with Nutella and hazelnut crunch. It wasn't so bad, to be honest. It just wasn't what I'd expected. I might attempt it again but with normal-size Qatayef pancakes.

I'm sad that Ramadan is almost over but I wish you all a wonderful last few days of this lovely month!

Happy Baking!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Red Panda's Favorites From Turkey

Oh, hi there!

So yes, it has been almost 2 weeks since I've come back from Turkey and I've sorta been, well, too quiet. The truth is I've gone into withdrawal. No, no, I'm not on any sort of drugs.. Unless you consider Istanbul one. Let's just say I've experienced two weeks of what was one of the most beautiful countries I've visited yet. My family and I had spent a week in Antalya, taking in the history and culture of the city and another week in Istanbul, taking in the charm of it all. It was so hard to come back. I found myself asking my parents to just leave me in Istanbul, "I'll be an illegal immigrant and sell roses for a living!" I'd say. Yeah. Not healthy.

Out of the two cities that we had the chance to visit, I fell madly in love with Istanbul. I don't know what happened, but I started wishing for the city to turn into a man that I could marry. Crazy stuff. Let me just say it once and for all, you have to visit Istanbul. It's a city that has something for everyone. Love to sight-see? Love music? Love the hustle and bustle? Love people watching? Love to take photos? Love food? Istanbul has it all and more. I felt so alive over there, it was a city that just never slept. I truly cannot wait for the next opportunity to visit that enchanting city again.

Well now that I'm somehow recovered, I decided a post about my top favorite desserts in Turkey should go up. As expected, I spent most of my time eating in Turkey. It's hard not to, really. I'm sure I gained 7 kilos but didn't dare confirm that on the scales. Instead I consoled myself by thinking *Oh, don't worry. You did not gain weight, but happiness* I love telling myself white lies.

Okay, on to the sweets!

1. Chocolate pudding topped with grated pistachios

You'd think that in Turkey, people wouldn't bother with chocolate seeing as they pour sugar syrup on everything. I mean, especially with baklava available at every corner. Think again. Every pastry shop we entered, be it in Antalya or Istanbul, we would see at least 3 Turkish people eating a bowlful of this chocolate pudding. Some would even ask for a dollop of dondurma (Turkish ice cream). If you're a chocolate freak like I am, this is for you. I can't recall what they called it in Turkish but you can't miss it!

2. Dondurma (Turkish ice cream)

Summer's never complete without ice cream and I had lots of it in Turkey. Dondurma is just like Arabic ice cream (Booza) It has a distinctive, fresh taste. I especially enjoyed the fruit flavored ones but my favorite by far was the caramel dondurma. A must try! You'll find a dondurma stand at almost every corner, especially in Istanbul.

3. Kunafa

Kunafa, or knafeh as we call it at home, has always been a childhood favorite. It's hard not to fall in love with this dessert if you're a sweet tooth. Shredded kunafa dough on the bottom layer, a thick sweet layer of ooey gooey cheese, another thicker layer of kunafa dough which is baked to perfection and then topped with grated pistachio. And then, just to take it to the next level, it is swimming in luscious sugar syrup that has been poured on after the baking process is done. Hands down, the kunafa in Turkey is the best I've EVER tried (and I've tasted many a kunafa in my day in Syria and Lebanon) Seriously, the Turks know exactly what they're doing!

4. Baklava

Of course, no trip to Turkey is complete without the world famous Baklava. Walnut and pistachio fillings, mmmmmmm. Crispy philo pastry that's light and fluffy like a pillow, mmmmmmm.
The first time I ordered a few pieces of baklava, I was hoping and praying that this wouldn't be another one of those overrated desserts which would disappoint me. But this really did it for me (and my parents, who were raving about it since their last visit to Istanbul). Best. Baklava. Ever. Like I said, the Turks really know what they're doing. I'm never going to have Baklava anywhere else again. Ever.
Oh and we also came back with a whole box of these and they stayed crispy for 3 days!

5. Bal (Honey)

Who would have thought that I'd fall in love with honey all over again? Turkey, you've done it again. We went down to this little family-owned restaurant near the Blue Mosque in Istanbul and decided to have some breakfast there. That's when I first noticed a giant slab of honeycomb in a pool of sparkly honey and I was just mesmerized by it. My mom noticed me in my frenzy and directly ordered me a plate. They served it with toasted walnuts and a dollop of fresh cream (which was absolutely divine). The perfect breakfast. I can still taste it!
Oh and if you're interested, this restaurant was called Elif Cafe. A must try, they serve a wonderful breakfast plate too.

Hope you're all safe and for whoever is fasting, I wish you a wonderful month. 

Ramadan Kareem & Happy Baking!