It has been a long time since I last posted on this blog! I feel bad, but I had a lot going on in the past several weeks (months?) and was just not able to get around to updating. Also, some completely unpredicted events changed my plans that I had so carefully laid out for the next year or so, and I am now back in the US. SubhanAllah. But I do have a lot of recipes saved up and want to continue adding to this blog insha’Allah, and I think I am finally in a position to do that again :)
So to end my long break sweetly, I am going to share a recipe for a lovely dessert that is SO unbelievably easy to make and SO satisfying. To my Arab readers: you can make this with ingredients readily available in your kitchen. For those of you who do not have semolina, kaymak/clotted cream/gaimar, pistachios, and sugar syrup on hand: the ingredients are very easily acquired!
Two important notes: I tried making this a few days ago here in MN, and I was terribly wrong to make a few substitutions that made this dessert turn out just terribly. I was in a rush and thought that a few tweaks here and there would benefit me greatly in terms of money and time. Wrong. Do not substitute Cream of Wheat for the semolina. Do not buy a random UAE brand of gaimar from your local Middle Eastern grocer that is on sale. Stick to the well-known and trusted kinds. Do not use corn syrup instead of making a proper sugar syrup on the stove – I knew I shouldn’t have done this, but I was so short on time and decided to give it a try and hope for the best; yeah, no.
So here is my tried and true recipe for Layali Libnan! Literally “Nights of Lebanon,” “Lebanese Nights,” or however you want to put it, it consists of a creamy semolina-pudding base, covered with a smooth layer of thick, whole cream, topped with crushed pistachios. Since none of the ingredients used are sweet themselves, you sweeten this dessert by drizzling sugar syrup on top of each portion when you’re ready to serve it.
(The ingredients listed are very approximate – sorry).
1 liter of fresh milk
1.5-2 cups of coarse semolina
2 small cans of gaimar (use a good brand like Puk or Al-Marai) OR a container of clotted cream OR a small tub of kaymak – basically, any sort of spreadable full-fat cream (you can even boil whole liquid cream, let it cool, then scrape off the layer of fat that will form on the top and use that!)
a couple tablespoons of crushed pistachios for garnish
thinly-sliced strawberries (optional)
For the sugar syrup: 1 cup of water, 2 cups of sugar, half a lemon, rose water or orange blossom water (optional)
Start by heating the milk in a pot on low heat. Stir to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn.
When it almost reaches a boil, pour in the semolina, stirring constantly, letting it boil for a minute. You want the mixture to really thicken – thick enough that it’s hard to stir. If it isn’t thick enough, just keep adding more semolina until it thickens. This is always how I make it, hence my lack of an exact recipe :( – sorry !!
When it thickens up, take it off the stove. In a large glass baking dish or a deep serving tray, put a few drops of water to just barely coat the bottom. This is so that the pudding base doesn’t stick when you come to serve it. Next, pour the milk+semolina mixture into the dish. Let it cool a bit, then cover it and chill for a few hours.
While it’s chilling, make the sugar syrup:
Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan on medium heat. Stir until it reaches a boil. When it starts boiling, squeeze a few drops of lemon juice into the syrup and keep stirring until it thickens. If you want, you can add a couple drops of rose water or orange blossom water to flavor it at this point. When it has thickened, take it off the fire and let it cool. It will finish thickening up as it cools! You need the sugar syrup to have cooled completely before you can use it on your dessert.
When the milk+semolina layer is finished chilling, open the cans of gaimar/kaymak/clotted cream and spread a nice, thick layer all over the top of the semolina base. You can make it as thick as you like; it’s all up to your own personal taste.
Finally, sprinkle the crushed pistachios all over the top to make it look pretty. You can even add thinly-sliced strawberries for extra color and texture if you want!
To serve, cut into large squares and drizzle with sugar syrup to taste :)