Basbousa- an Arabian Dessert Cake

Do we really grow up ever? Mmm… I say no! I recently got a brand new oven, a much larger one than my previous tiny one, and was all excited to try something new!
Edited 2Basbousa- This beautiful moist Arabian cake has been on my mind since Christmas last year when I saw it on Shireen’s blog here.  Hopped to Shireen’s blog but realised I had no tahina, condensed milk or desiccated coconut. Hunted some more and came upon this recipe at MAD About Kitchen, a blog I love to visit for its recipes as well as to admire the beautiful clicks. Thanks for the recipe Madhuri!

It felt like an apt treat to wind up my Lebanese/Mediterranean/Middle Eastern journey this month.
Edited3I made minor changes like using ghee instead of butter and orange syrup in place of orange blossom water.
I am wary of baking eggless cakes generally as I am a tad apprehensive about the outcome. This, though, is more a baked pudding soaked in an aromatic rose water and orange flavoured syrup
So here is Basbousa (translates literally to ‘just a kiss’- how lovely is that! )
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For the Cake
2 cups Sooji/Semolina
½ cup- Powdered Sugar
1 ½ tsp – Baking powder
1 cup – Yoghurt
100 g melted ghee (The original recipe calls for melted butter)
1 tbsp – Rose water
1 tbsp – Orange blossom water ( I used homemade orange syrup, a reduction of orange juice and sugar)
20 odd almonds and pistachios
Some dry and fresh rose petals

For the Sugar Syrup
1 cup – Sugar
1/2 cup – Water
1 tsp – lemon juice
1 tsp – Rosewater
1 tsp – Orange blossom water (I used orange syrup, even a few drops of orange essence work)

Grease a 24×24 inch pan.
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In a large bowl mix semolina, baking powder and powdered sugar.
IMG_5807Add yogurt, ghee, rose water and orange syrup
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Mix well till combined. It will be thicker than any other cake batter and is meant to be like that.
IMG_5809Transfer to the greased pan and pat down with fingers to level.
Smooth the top with a spatula.
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Make impressions to cut out squares later.
Place some chopped almonds and pistachios at the centre of each square.
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Cover and rest for one hour. Yeah! One hour. This helps the cake rise well.
Bake in a preheated oven at 180C till the top browns nicely.

While the cake is resting for an hour, prepare the sugar syrup.
Bring water and sugar to a boil. Let simmer for 6-7 minutes. Add the lemon juice. Remove from heat and add rose water and orange syrup. Let cool.

As soon as the cake is out of the oven, sprinkle the top with the sugar syrup. Do it in batches and slowly so that the cake soaks up the syrup. So not put all the syrup at once.
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Cut along the marked lined into squares.
Edited 4Sprinkle some dry rose petals.
Garnish with some fresh and dry petals.
Serve straight from the pan lifting gently with a flat small spatula.
This is best enjoyed warm.
We teamed it up with thick mango shake and with vanilla ice cream another time. Both combinations were yum!

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Sambousek- the Middle Eastern brother of Samosa!

Edited1Sambousek! As soon as I read the word aloud and looked a picture of this savoury from the Mediterranean Mezze Platter, I said to myself; Aha!! A brethren of the very popular street snack Samosa- is it! I was delighted when my first reaction was proven right!

The Syrian Foodie says ‘Sambousek is one of these words that is very widely used but it doesn’t have a specific meaning. In essence it is meat filled pies served as a starter, part of mezze spread or a side dish. Sambousek is a very popular dish across the Middle East. The popularity of the dish goes all the way to India. You must have guessed that samosa is a variation of the name’ 😀
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These can be fried or baked. I baked them and did not miss the fried version at all! And to add to the joy- these are wholegrain, made from coarse Punjabi aata. If this isn’t snacking heaven- what is!

I filled the Sambouseks with a feta cheese and spinach filling. Play around and use anything you like for the filling, sweet or savoury. I adapted the recipe from Natalie Ward’s wonderful vegetarian blog, where she has made them with fig and feta.
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I made 35 small Sambousek with this recipe
For the pastry/outer covering of the sabousek

1 ½ cup whole wheat flour/aata
4 Tbsp Oilve oil
¾ tsp salt
½ tsp fennel seeds/saunf
1 tsp cumin/jeera
½ cup warm water to knead the dough

Add salt and olive oil to the flour in a large bowl.
Crush the fennel and cumin slightly with a rolling pin (to release the aroma and flavours better) and add to the flour.
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Mix well and knead well to get a soft and supple dough. Transfer to an airtight box or cling film and leave in the fridge for an hour.

Meanwhile prepare the Filling
A small bunch of spinach, washed and chopped fine
1 small onion, chopped fine
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
A pinch of salt
½ tsp pepper
1 ½ tsp olive oil
100 gms feta cheese ( Can substitute with a mixture of processed cheese and paneer/ cottage cheese if feta not available) cut into small thin rectangles

Heat the oil and add the onion and garlic.
Once the onion becomes transparent add the spinach and cook till all the water evaporated. Season with just a pinch of salt and some pepper. (The feta is salty enough to balance the flavour so the spinach needs very little salt)
Let cool completely.

To get the Sambousek together

Divide the dough into two.
On a well floured surface roll out about 3mm thick and cut out circles.
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Place a spoonful of spinach filling in the centre and top with a piece of feta.
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Moisten the edges of the dough circle and bring two opposite ends up and seal.
IMG_5593Now bring the other two opposite ends up and seal. (A gujiya maker can be used, but I really found this shape very cute J )
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Transfer them to a greased baking dish and brush the sambousek with olive oil.
IMG_5596Bake in a pre heated oven at 180C till they brown. Brush very lightly with oilve oil or butter and serve hot.
(These can be cling filmed and stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.  Take them out ten minutes before the baking and proceed.)
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Serve with Tzaziki and Harissa yogurt dip.
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Red or Green Pepper Hummus

It’s a very chip and dip kinda weather. A regular meal doesn’t seem to appeal but a snacky affair makes the palate sing! So here is a lighter and fresher version of hummus, loaded with peppers (red or green whichever you want to make it with! ) Fill it into Pita sandwiches, or simply use a sandwich spread or use it to dunk your nachos in, hummus is a healthy treat for the taste buds.

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For the Green Pepper Hummus
(Or Red Pepper Hummus)

A medium size red or green pepper
1 red chilli
1 cup chick peas/kabuli chane, pressure cooked till cooked tender (save the water used to boil the chick peas)
1 small onion
2 Tbsp Lemon juice
Salt, to taste
2 cloves of garlic, coarsely pounded
1 tsp toasted cumin powder
½ tsp coriander powder
Water left over from boiling the chick peas
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses (Find the recipe here)
1 Tsp Olive oil
½ tsp black pepper

Roast the pepper and chilli over an open flame till it is charred all over. Alternatively, char them under a hot grill.
Peel and cube the pepper and chop the chilli.
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Heat the olive oil in a small pan and fry the onions till tender. Add the cumin and coriander powders and take off the heat. Let cool.
Add the chilli and pepper along with the  chilli and pepper and all the other ingredients listed above.
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Blend till you get coarse, grainy paste adding water (saved from boiling the chick peas) slowly as required. Do not add all the water at once!
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Drizzle some olive oil.
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Garnish with paprika or some cumin powder.
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Serve with pita fingers, or Vegetable Crudités (carrot fingers, cucumber slices, paneer fingers, asparagus spears, sliced apple, pepper strips etc)

Recipe source- BBC Food Recipes

Baba Ghanoush and Mutabal- Middle Eastern Dips with Smokey Aubergines

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My Gran makes her special special ‘bina chaaunk ka baingan bharta’ where she roasts the aubergines, peels and mashes them but does not further cook or temper them as is usually done in case of ‘Baingan ka Bharta’. She simply adds fine chopped tomatoes, onions, green chillies and fresh coriander along with some spices and serves it with a generous squeeze of lime. When I read up the recipes for Baba Ghanoush/Ghanouj, it reminded me of Naani style baingan bharta. And I got to say they are close,almost identical in fact!
I am amazed at the way food finds echoes across boundaries.
I made Baba Ghanoush with the green aubergines rather than the dark ones as they are slightly sweeter and milder than the other ones.

You need
1 medium Aubergine/brinjal , dark or green any will do
1 Tbsp Pomegranate molasses
2 Tbsp chopped walnuts
A clove of garlic
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 small tomato
2 Tbsp parsley, chopped (can use fresh coriander if parsley not available)
A few drops of white vinegar or a dash of lime  (Can skip if tomato is tart)

Roast the aubergine over the stove till the skin is completely charred.


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IMG_4863Alternatively slice into two and char it under a hot grill. Peel, remove the seeds and mash it once it cools down a little.
Leave it in a colander for about 15 minutes so that the excess liquid drains off. This will ensure a thick and creamy dip rather than a watery one.

Blend the aubergine mash and all the other ingredients in the food processor till you get a coarse paste.
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Drizzle with some olive oil. Garnish with some parsley, olives and a tomato rose.
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Serve cold with warm pita bread wedges, nachos and crackers.
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Mutabal is another dip which is made with smoked aubergine and the method to prepare it is similar to Baba Ghanoush
The ingredients for Mutabal are

1 medium Aubergine
1 Tbsp Tahini (find recipe here)
1 Tbsp Yogurt
2-3 cloves of garlic
Salt to taste
1 Tbsp Olive Oil

Blend the aubergine mash and all the other ingredients, apart from olive oil, in the food processor till you get a coarse paste.
Drizzle with some olive oil.

Recipe sources- Mama’s Lebanese Kitchen and Syrian Foodie in London.