Ramadan is almost over and we’re ending it this year with a sweet treat called ‘atayif (really spelled qatayif), which are special little pancakes filled with a variety of stuffings, then deep-fried and sweetened with sugar syrup. In Jordan, this dessert is only made during Ramadan. There, you can buy the pancakes ready-made, and all you have to do is stuff them and fry them yourself. I have not been able to find the pre-made cakes around where I live in Turkey, so I made them from scratch. They’re surprisingly easy to make, and very delicious. Although I received a lot of diverse recipes and recommendations from friends and family when I asked around about how to make the pancake batter, the particular recipe I’m sharing here is one that I’ve found to be generally standard in Palestinian households. It incorporates semolina and mahlab spice* into the batter, two things I really love (major credit goes to Khalto M. for recipe help)!
*Mahlab spice, made from the ground seed kernels of a particular variety of cherry, is used in lots of Middle Eastern cuisines to give baked goods and desserts a special flavor. For me, the signature smell of mahlab always conjures up memories of baking date cookies for Eid. If you can’t find it in the Middle Eastern section of your grocery store, you can omit it from the recipe below.
In a bowl, combine 1 cup each of flour, semolina, water, and warm milk, as well as one teaspoon of yeast, and one teaspoon of mahlab spice. Mix well.
Cover and let rise for a couple of hours. When ready to make the pancakes, uncover and give the batter a stir. You can add a bit of water if it’s too thick. It should have a slightly runny consistency.
Heat an ungreased, non-stick griddle or frying pan on medium-low heat. Ladle out some batter onto the griddle and spread it around in a circle to your desired size (mine were about 2.5 inches in diameter).
Let it cook on one side; bubbles will start to appear all over the side facing up. Once the entire surface is covered with bubbles and cooks through, remove the pancake from the griddle. Do not flip over and cook on the “bubbly” side!
Cover the cooked pancakes with plastic wrap as you continue to make the rest, so that they don’t dry out and become difficult to work with later on.
To stuff, place a little bit of filling in the middle and fold the pancake over, pinching the edges with your fingers to close tightly. The cakes should be moist and the edges will glue together easily. The traditional fillings are:
1) crushed walnuts mixed with cinnamon and a bit of sugar syrup, to sweeten
2) sweet dessert cheese – we used unsalted mozzarella because that is what was available here, but you can use ‘akkawi cheese if you have it, or even ricotta (mixed with a little bit of cornstarch to keep it held together)
My husband likes combining cheese and walnuts in one – not very traditional but tasty :) !
Once folded up, fry them in oil on medium-low heat until golden brown on each side.
Take them out, and quickly drizzle with sugar syrup to taste. Serve hot!
Some people prefer to bake them instead of frying them for a healthier alternative. I always fry :D
Sugar Syrup: in a saucepan, combine one part sugar with half part water. Stir then heat up until it starts to boil, then add a squeeze of lemon juice. Let boil for about a minute, then remove from heat and let cool. It will thicken to a proper syrup once it cools completely.
Variation: to make another type of ‘atayif that does not require deep-frying, make the pancakes following the recipe above, but make them smaller in size (about half the size). Once cooked, fold each pancake in half, and start pinching the edges together 3/4 of the way up, leaving an opening at the end. Spoon a bit of fresh cream (gaimar or clotted cream or kaymak) into the opening to fill the cake, then dip the open part into crushed pistachios and arrange on a plate. Drizzle with cooled sugar syrup when ready to serve. These are called ‘atayif ‘asafeeri.
I apologize for taking so long to update this! I got a couple of unexpected (but very welcome and dear) guests, and was quite busy having a great time with them :) Sam7ooni!
My Taita loves this dish. She tells me she used to make it a lot when she lived in Egypt. I also remember watching her make it back when she and Seedo lived with us in the UAE. She would let me help her wash the little potatoes and peel them, while she cooked the stuffing. I finally got her recipe with photos too, so I decided that it would be a good addition to the blog.
The dish is a bit heavy, being just meat and potatoes, but it’s nice and filling. Also, if you don’t make it with care, it could turn out tasting disastrous, but this recipe is perfect, so I do encourage you to try it!
1 kilo of small to medium sized potatoes; any kind, washed and peeled
500 grams of ground meat
1 large onion, finely chopped
aprox 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon and allspice
aprox 1/2 tablespoon each of ground ginger, ground cardamom
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
3 or 4 large tomatoes, washed and roughly chopped
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
oil for frying
Begin by coring the washed, peeled potatoes. We use a tool called a “ma’warah” or “7affarah,” that is basically a long corer with a handle. Stick the tip of the corer into the top of the potato, twist in gently, and slowly push the corer in further as you continue to twist. Every once in a while, pull the corer out and tap off the “insides” (“libb”) that get attached to it into a separate bowl. You want the potato to be cored so that it’s like a container for the stuffing; not too thick and not too thin. (I wish I had step by step photos for this process; insha’Allah if we make another dish of stuffed vegetables, I will take some good pictures!) When finished coring the potatoes, dunk them in salted water and pull them out to drain off.
Keep the insides of the potatoes in a separate bowl for later use! This is what they should look like:
In a pan, add your oil. When it gets hot, sautee the chopped onions until they get soft and begin to turn golden. Add the ground meat, and sautee until just cooked. Break up any large chunks of meat in the pan. Add the cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cardamom, and salt&pepper to taste. This is the stuffing.
Take each potato and fill it completely with the stuffing. Close the hole by inserting some of the “insides” you had set aside into it and pressing down. When the potatoes are all stuffed, fry them in hot oil on both sides until golden brown. The stuffing shouldn’t fall out because you closed the holes with the “libb”! Also, fry some of the libb in the oil then layer it in a baking dish. Place the potatoes on top of the fried libb in your baking dish. Unfortunately I was a bad granddaughter and missed this step, so that’s why it’s missing in my photos, but Taita says you definitely need to do that.
Blend your chopped tomatoes till very smooth. If you want, you can pour the tomato juice through a strainer into a bowl to make sure to remove any bits of tough tomato skin (I usually don’t bother with this step, but Taita will tisk at you disapprovingly if she sees you not doing it).
Mix the tomato paste into the (strained) tomato juice, and add salt&pepper to taste. Pour this over the stuffed potatoes in the baking dish:
Put the baking dish in a preheated oven (about 400 degrees F) until the potatoes bake through completely. Test them with a fork; if they are tender, they should be ready! Plate them with some of the sauce and some of the libb from the bottom of the pan (not in the picture :( ).
You knew this was coming, didn’t you?
Of course. If there is a dish of which absolutely every Palestinian is fond, it would be ma’loubeh. Ma’loubeh is like roast beef and mashed potatoes for Americans. Or chicken noodle soup. Or spaghetti. My family is from the Palestinian city of Khalil (known as Hebron in English), and ma’loubeh is definitely a favorite among Khalilis. It is one of about four possible dishes you will be served if you are invited to dinner by a Khalili family, especially in Ramadan (a “3azoomeh”). Ma’loubeh is easy, relatively cheap to make, and everyone likes it. Even if you don’t like eggplant or cauliflower, you can still eat the rice and meat.
The name means “Upside-down;” perfectly fitting, because the dish is literally constructed upside down and then flipped upon serving! Q-l-b is the verb root meaning “to flip,” and m-q-l-ou-b-ah is that which is flipped :)
Also pronounced maqloubeh, magloubeh, makloubeh – depending on which region of Palestine you’re from -, ma’loubeh is basically rice, meat, and a vegetable, layered in a pot then cooked. The rice can be either Egyptian or American short grain, the meat can be chicken, beef or lamb, and the vegetable can be either cauliflower or eggplant (although I have even seen some people use potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and carrots!). The best part of this dish is the “flipping” of it; you pull off the pot to reveal a steaming hot layered “cake” of delicious, spiced rice, tender chicken, and succulent eggplant.
Today I’d like to post my aunt Hala’s recipe for the most delicious chicken ma’loubeh with eggplant you’ll ever eat :) She is known in the family for her excellent ma’loubeh.
Tip #1: If you live in the Middle East, cauliflower is known to be tastier in the winter. It is softer, more flavorful, and fries well. Ma’loubeh with cauliflower always tastes better in the winter :)
Tip #2: The eggplant used in ma’loubeh is fried. The best type of eggplant for frying is the short, “fat”, round, purple eggplant; it does not absorb much oil in frying. If you can only find the longer, oval-shaped eggplant (which is all I could ever find back in Minnesota), be warned that you’re going to be using a LOT of oil. The stuff soaks up the grease like a sponge.
1 chicken, washed and quartered – best way to wash a chicken explained here
3 large eggplants (add more if you like!)
1 kilogram of American short grain rice, washed and soaked (if using Egyptian rice, do not soak!)
Spices: 2 tablespoons each of allspice, black pepper, ground ginger, ground coriander and 1 tablespoon each of cinnamon, cardamom, turmeric, yellow curry powder, and half a tablespoon of cumin
Salt to taste
Vegetable oil for frying
First, get the chicken cooking because this is what takes the most time. Put your washed pieces of chicken into a pot, and add enough water to cover. Add three quarters of the spices to the water, stir, then cover. Let the chicken boil for about half an hour, or until just cooked. When it’s done, take out the chicken and set aside. Add the remaining quarter of the spices to this broth, or put in even more of each spice if you like extra flavor! (I do.) Set this spiced broth aside.
(Tip #3: If you are hesitant about your “chicken cleaning” skills or the quality of the chicken you are using, try this tip. It will make for an even “cleaner” chicken experience if you let the chicken boil in plain water (no spices) for a few minutes. You will notice that a grayish foam will start to form on the surface of the water. Scoop that off and dump it! We call this foam “zafar.” When the foam no longer continues to form (or it turns white instead of gray), you can add the spices, cover the pot, and let the chicken cook. )
Next, prepare your eggplant for frying! Wash your eggplant, then cut off the green stem. You can peel the eggplant if you don’t like the skin, or think it’s too tough (my aunt does). Cut off any brown, hard spots on the purple skin if leaving the skin on. Slice the eggplant into slices of medium thickness. Put the slices in a colander in the sink, then sprinkle them generously with salt. Leave them to “salt” for 20 minutes. This process gets rid of any bitter juices in the eggplant, and also ensures that they don’t absorb much oil when fried.
After they have salted for twenty minutes, rinse the slices of eggplant, and fry them on each side in hot vegetable oil until golden brown. Don’t crowd them in your fryer!
Now start layering!
Layer 1: In a large pot, put a few spoonfuls of vegetable oil, then take your boiled chicken pieces and layer them on the bottom.
Layer 2: On top of the chicken, layer your fried eggplant.
Layer 3: On top of the eggplant, layer the washed and soaked American rice evenly (or just washed, if using Egyptian).
Finally, here is the tricky part: you want to pour enough of the spiced chicken broth you’d set aside into the pot of ma’loubeh to just barely cover the rice. As you pour the broth in, the rice you’d layered evenly in the pot might get unsettled and form little hills; use a spoon to even it all out.
Cover the pot of ma’loubeh and let it cook on high heat until the broth starts to boil. Let it boil for two minutes on high heat, then turn your stove down to the lowest heat setting. Leave it to cook – covered – for about 20 minutes. Check on it: if it looks terribly dry, add some more broth (or water if you don’t have any broth left). Use a fork to turn over the grains of rice on the top; they will be the least cooked, so you want to mix the layer of rice a little bit just so the topmost grains can get their fair share of cooking!
The ma’loubeh shouldn’t take more than 35-40 minutes of cooking time, max. Check on it throughout; fork through the layer of rice, and whenever the rice is done, your dish is complete.
Flipping!: You’ll need to be very careful with this step. Uncover the pot of ma’loubeh and place a large, round serving dish face down on it. With both hands, grab the handles of your pot and the edges of the serving dish, and flip the entire thing upside down onto a table in front of you. It would be good to have someone standing nearby to help grab in case you feel like the pot or serving dish is slipping! My father or uncles usually get called in to the kitchen to take care of this step. Tap the upside down pot with a spoon to try and make sure the rice doesn’t stick inside, so you get a nice clean “cake.” After a few seconds, pull the pot off slowly! The result is indescribable. Dig in!
Traditional sides to serve with ma’loubeh: fresh yogurt and salad, like fettoush.
I have some pictures of a chicken cauliflower ma’loubeh we made a few months ago when my friend Cat was visiting me here in Jordan. These Ma’loubeh Memories are for her :)