The month of Ramadan is around the corner, which means everyone should have a qatayef recipe on hand for iftar. During Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast between sunrise and sunset. Friends and family will gather around sunset to break their fast together. This celebratory meal is called iftar. In true Middle Eastern fashion, there’s always more food than anyone can possibly eat, but everyone knows to leave room for dessert. Because dessert during Ramadan almost always means qatayef.
The Middle East is famous for its sweets or halawiyat (حلويات), which include classics like baklava (بقلاوة), buttery phyllo dough layered with crushed walnuts, and nammoura (نمورة), a semolina-cake sweetened with a floral simple syrup infused with orange blossom water. The region is also home to lesser known desserts like heytaliyye (هيطلية), a silky milk pudding topped with rose ice cream and crushed pistachios that made its way to Aleppo from China along the Silk Road.
Sweet Cheese Rolls
While I was living in Aleppo, I became the de facto ambassador to the city. I was never shy about expressing how much more interesting I thought Aleppo was than Damascus. As the capital city, Damascus always felt formal relative to Aleppo. Walking down the narrow streets of the old city in Aleppo felt like you were stepping back in time. The old buildings showed age, but also splendor. The hidden culinary gems in tucked away neighborhoods packed some of the most magnificent flavors I have ever experienced. I quickly gained a reputation among the US embassy staff and the Fulbright scholars in Damascus. Anytime anyone planed a trip to Aleppo, I was more than happy to show them around my favorite city. I knew my way though the historical sites, but most importantly, I knew where to find all the best food.
Qashta: decadence and versatility
There are no words to articulate how delicious, decadent, and versatile qashta is. Qashta, if you haven’t experienced it before, is Middle Eastern clotted cream. You typically see it used in Arabic desserts, but in Aleppo, they even have it for breakfast (because why not?). One of my favorite breakfasts in Aleppo was zlebiye (paper-thin fried dough) stuffed with qashta topped with cinnamon sugar and chopped Aleppan pistachios. This is not the kind of breakfast you have every day.
Cookies with a rich history
Like all immigrants, when my grandparents moved from Syria to Venezuela in the late 1950s, they brought a piece of Aleppo with them. To this day, I associate the scent of fresh mint with my grandmother, Marine, Allah yerhama (may God rest her soul). As kids, we used to play around her vegetable and herb garden in Venezuela. My grandmother grew a disproportionate amount of mint. I would occasionally pluck a couple leaves, rub them between my fingers, and press them up to my nose. The scent of fresh mint always reminds me of her.
I hope everyone is enjoying their Valentine’s Day this year. If you already bought truffles or chocolates for your partner, bookmark this recipe. But don’t wait till next Valentine’s Day to prepare these. Pick a random day that’s not February 14. Buy some flowers. Prepare a special dinner that you both enjoy. Then pull these out for dessert. They’re amazing. These espresso-infused chocolate truffles melt in your mouth and pack a jolt of espresso. They’re also incredibly simple to make — as long as you don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty.