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Archive for the ‘orange blossom water’ Tag


Ma’moul Cookies

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. My grandfather passed away last month and that took a lot of my blogging energy away from me. I knew I wanted to dedicate a post to him as he was as much a foodie as I am, but my words escaped me. In my failed attempts to write, I would stare blankly at my computer screen as memories of him streamed through my thoughts.

When I slept over my grandparent’s house as a kid, I would often hear my grandfather poke around in the kitchen, usually around dawn, well aware that my grandmother could sleep through anything. I, of course, would get up from bed to find him alone in the kitchen, happily stirring a hefty pot of homemade jam (his specialty) or preparing some sort of sweet treat without my grandmother there to convince him against it. When he noticed me watching he would let out big a smile, and allow me to stay and help so long as I didn’t wake up anyone else.

mise en place

Since I haven’t yet perfected my grandfather’s rose petal jam (مربة الورد), his claim to fame, I decided to make one of my favorite cookies I grew up eating called ma’moul (معمول). If you’re Arabic, these cookies need no introduction as they’re popular all around the Middle East, especially in Lebanon and Syria, where they’re stuffed with either walnuts or pureed dates.

a stream of butter

The cookie itself tastes a lot like butter cookies, but these also have more of a crumbly, shortbread texture because of their semolina base.

the secret is in the mahlab: محلب

The secret ingredient that makes these cookies so special is called mahlab, which is an aromatic spice obtained by extracting the seed kernels from inside the cherry stone of the St. Lucie Cherry. It’s very popular in countries like Greece, Turkey and all around the Middle East.

note: Since I won’t be able to host this month’s A Taste of the Mediterranean, I want to give away some mahlab to three randomly chosen commenters on this post (by May 1st). If you’d like to share, I’d love to know how family plays a roll in your cooking since it is something I have given a lot of thought to this month. Thank you for your support and understanding.

finely ground mahlab

The mahlab gives these cookies a subtle nutty flavor that you won’t pick up on immediately, but you’ll certainly notice if it’s missing. Mahlab is also very popular in Turkey and Greece for flavoring egg-rich breads similar to challah in Jewish cuisine.

ma’moul in four steps

As with most Middle Eastern dishes, these cookies take some patience. If you don’t have Middle Eastern cookie molds laying around, you could use any circular molds, or you could even free-hand them like Kate from Aaplemint did. Anyway you form them, they’ll look beautiful and taste amazing.

miniature ma’moul (معمول)

Funnily enough, I wish I had a pair of pantyhose when I ventured to make these cookies. While visiting the Middle East last winter I learned that some women have a pair of clean pantyhose set aside that they use especially for removing these cookies from their mold. That way you don’t spray the mold with anti-stick spray or bruise your hand in the process, like I did.

ma’moul

yields approx 50-60 small cookies

Components

  • 300 g farina (cream of wheat)* 
  • 100 g fine semolina
  • 125 g pitted dates
  • 1 stick + 1 tbsp butter, melted
  • 1/2-3/4 cup of milk, hot
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp + 2 tsp orange blossom water
  • 1 tbsp mahlab, ground
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • powdered sugar, for garnish

Putting them all together

  1. Mix 1 stick of the melted butter in with the farina and semolina and knead until well mixed. Cover and let sit over night.
  2. To make the filling process the pitted dates with the remaining tbsp of melted butter, 2 tsp of orange blossom water, and half of the ground mahlab in your food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.
  3. Once the butter has soaked into the semolina add the remaining of the ingredients, except the hot milk.
  4. Pour half cup of the hot milk and mix well to form a dough. The dough should be smooth and moist; if it feels a bit dry continue adding more milk.
  5. Form each cookie with a mold or freehand as shown in the photo above (by hiding a ball of the date filling inside the dough).
  6. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in a 325 degree F oven for 25-30 minutes or until the bottom is golden brown.
  7. Cool the cookies on a cookie sheet and sprinkle with powdered sugar for garnish.

notes: Cream of Wheat (aka Farina) should be available at all major supermarkets. For these cookies I use the red box that says 2 1/2 minutes.

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dedicated to my grandfather

For the Love of Pudding

A few days ago I promised you a Turkish post, but I’ve got something better. Ever since I wrote about Peter’s Greek Christmas Cookies I’ve been thinking, rather remembering, more about what this blog means to me. Blog existentialism, if you will; Olive Juice was born out of necessity. I needed a place to jot down and compile my recipes, experiences and, most importantly, the memories that would inextricably become a part of those experiences.

A mathematician by day, I realized that I can use a blog to pursue what genuinely inspired me: food, something that a lot of friends and family thought was a silly crush that would soon fade away. Seven years later, the passion is still here, and admittedly, stronger than ever. As I write this I’m eager to share with you more about the other aspects of food that make me giddy, but that will have to wait for another post. Today, as promised, is going to be about Turkey and the traditional pudding called Muhallebi that I chose for my inaugural Turkish entry.

The detail that makes this pudding better than simply ordinary, besides its ease and wonderful flavor, is its history. When I first read on Wikipedia that Muhallebi was Turkish, I became curious. Not because it was Turkish in particular, but because Muhallabi, rather محلبية (pronounced Mahlabiye), was a dessert I had always considered as Middle Eastern – a childhood favorite, in fact. It was the pudding I could never get enough of. The pudding that would make me (voluntarily) set the dinner table only to reach dessert mere minutes sooner. The pudding I knew I had to blog about.

mise en place

Upon reading that the pudding was originally Turkish, the skeptic in me also wanted further proof of the fact. A few Google searches later landed me on Warda’s blog, 64 sq ft kitchen, where she writes about Muhallebi as a staple Algerian/Moroccan pudding also reminiscent of her childhood. A pudding that her grandmother would quietly, but often predictably, put together in a matter of minutes. The ultimate indicator being the unmistakable fragrance of the orange blossom water that carried through from the kitchen. It was stories like these that made me fall in love with this pudding all over again.

The pudding is a trooper, a survivor of sorts. A simple milk-based dessert that dates back to the Ottoman Empire, which for hundreds of years grew to include most of the Mediterranean, including parts of North Africa and most of the Middle East. This explains a lot of the influences that carry over, with slight variances, across the more recent country boundaries. On that note, here’s what you’ll need to do to bring Muhallebi into your own kitchen:

In a small saucepan, whisk together milk, rice flour and sugar until dissolved. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set). I didn’t time it, but Warda says this takes about 15 minutes total.

the streak test

Once the spoon test clears, you’ll want to turn off the heat and add a few drops of the orange blossom water. Pour the thickened pudding into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve. A light dusting of ground cinnamon and a sprinkling of chopped nuts is traditional. I used pistachios, but almonds are also popular (I’ve even seen both used together).

muhallebi

The pudding is a mix between a velvety custard and a rice pudding, but with a little more to offer. The subtle fragrance of the orange blossom water is present, but not prominent. After just 15 minutes in the kitchen you can leave with piece of mind, knowing that dessert is already covered. It’s this dish that will leave your guests smiling, and remind you why you fell in love with food in the first place.

Muhallebi

approx 4 servings

Components

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 3/4 tsp orange blossom water
  • cinnamon
  • pistachios and/or almonds

Putting them all together

  1. In a small saucepan whisk together milk, sugar, rice flour and salt until dissolved.
  2. Stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until mixture comes to a simmer.
  3. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until you can coat the back of your spoon (when you can make a line with your finger without the liquid coming together, you’re set).
  4. Remove from heat and add the orange blossom water.
  5. Pour into ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.
  6. Dust with cinnamon and sprinkle with almonds and/or pistachios for garnish.

note: You can find orange blossom water at Whole Foods or any Middle Eastern market. 

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creamy rice pudding

Habibi, I’m home!

definition for habibi

Ever since graduation a couple of weeks ago it seems as if all my time and energy has been consumed by the process of unpacking. Seriously though, where did all these boxes come from?! I see now that two jars of whole nutmeg are unnecessary and a third bottle of balsamic vinegar is overkill. Meanwhile, my room is still in shambles, hidden somewhere underneath piles of unopened boxes that have constructed a fort around my bed. The kitchen, however, was the first space to be thoroughly unpacked.  To commemorate this occasion I decided to blog about one of my all-time favorite Middle Eastern desserts, haytaliye

mise en place
mise en place

Haytaliye (hay•ta•lee•ya) is a traditional Aleppan dessert that is popular during the scorching summer months that characterize the Middle East. And trust me – even though we’re thousands of miles away, nothing brings out the heat more than lugging densely packed boxes up three flights of stairs. Plus, the entire dessert is made with things most of us would already have in our kitchens on any given day.

like milk jello, only tastier than it sounds
milk cubes

The dessert itself is nothing more than whole milk cooked with cornstarch.  This mixture is then chilled, cut into bite-sized cubes, and served as the foundation for the other toppings.

your favorite vanilla bean ice cream
vanilla bean ice cream

Traditionally, this dessert is served with clotted cream ice cream, but that’s pretty hard to come by in the States.  Instead, I use high quality vanilla ice cream, and it works quite well.

Haytaliye (حيطلية)
pouring the simple syrup

The third component of the dish, and arguably the most important, is the orange-blossom-infused simple syrup.  A simple syrup is equal parts water and sugar, barely boiled until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once it’s done, adding a touch of orange blossom water gives the syrup its unique flowery fragrance.

Haytaliye

(yields approx. 10 servings)

Components

  • 1.5 L whole milk
  • 100 g. cornstarch
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. orange blossom water
  • vanilla bean ice cream
  • small (or crushed) ice cubes
  • ice-cold water

Putting them all together

  1. Combine the water and sugar, bring to a boil over medium heat and remove once the sugar has diluted. Add the orange blossom water and refrigerate.
  2. Set aside enough cold milk to dilute the cornstarch and bring the remainder of the milk to a boil.
  3. Once the milk has come to a boil, add the cornstarch that has diluted in the cold milk and stir constantly for 3-5 minutes to avoid lumps.
  4. Lower the heat to low and cook for another 45 minutes, stirring every 5-10 minutes.
  5. Pour out the milk mixture into a glass baking dish and immediately cover with ice-cold water so that the milk seizes.*
  6. Once everything has chilled, slice a few bite-sized cubes of the milk (leaving the preservation water behind), top with ice and ice cream and serve the chilled infused syrup at the table so that your guests can control how sweet they would like to make their dessert.

Note: Once you add the cold water, the milk mixture should seize and the water should remain clear. The water will preserve the milk mixture and prevent it from drying out in the fridge. If done correctly, tiny wrinkles will form on the surface of the milk mixture due to the shock from the rapid change in temperature.

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spoonful
spoonful