How To Kanafeh

This is how I discovered Kanafeh

I had been in Jordan for several weeks and my love affair with Arabian sweets had reached a lofty peak. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honeys and syrups that would flood through heaps of pistachios on my plate.

I had reached junkie status and began seeking out a greater high, exploring labyrinthine neighborhoods to reach legendary bakeries. But it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

An unmarked door led to an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 100f degree day, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. They were using round, shallow pans and alchemy to produce what many call “Arabian cheesecake”.

This “cheesecake” was Kanafeh

A definitive oxymoron- soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of simple syrup and rose water. Good enough to make one prostrate in reverence to the baker.

The ingredients are few yet they lend themselves to an endless array of pastries. We all know and love baklava but it wasn’t until I discovered Kanafeh that the Arabian culture opened up before me, so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.


Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it- “A rose by any other name” and all that-


Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine



Kanafeh and assorted pastries in Wadi Musa (Jordan)

There are three variants of kanafeh but in this recipe we’ll focus on khishnah (rough Kunafa)


  • 1 Package- Kataifi Pastry (kataifi is something like spun phyllo. Rather than laid out in thin sheets, it is processed in a way that produces vermicelli-like noodles. Check out this great video to see how it’s made)
  • 1 cup- Ghee
  • 2 cups- Akkawi cheese (you can substitute with mozzarella)

Simple Syrup

  • 1 cup- water
  • 1 1/2 cup- sugar
  • 2 tbsp- Rose water (or orange blossom water)
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Optional Toppings

  • Pistachios (crushed)
  • Almonds (whole or crushed)
  • Whatever else catches your fancy (if you dare stray from pistachios…)

As with all recipes- preheat your oven (350f/180c)

Prepare the simple syrup (so that it can cool entirely before the kanafeh is finished) by mixing the water and sugar in a pot- bring to a boil. Add the lemon juice and continue boiling for 10 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Promptly remove the syrup and allow to cool for several minutes. Then add the rose water, or orange blossom water.

At this time, you’ll want to begin shredding the kataifi. This is best done with a food processor but can be achieved by hand. As packaged, kataifi comes in endless noodles and you’ll need to shred them further- so that the average noodle is around one inch in length.


Once you have the noodles at the right size, place the kataifi in a large mixing bowl and gently incorporate the melted ghee (clarified butter.)

As the noodles set, begin the process of cutting down the cheese, or even shredding it if possible. I’ve experimented with many cheeses, some sweeter, some saltier, and there’s no rule for what you use. Just be sure to have 2 cups of a quality melting cheese to your liking either shredded or cut in long, narrow strips.

Taking a 9×13 pan, spread out a generous layer of the processed kataifi (about 2/3 of your noodles). Press the noodles firmly into the pan working it into a flat, even surface so that you can then evenly distribute the cheese, all of the cheese.

Follow the cheese with the remaining kataifi and, again, pack the noodles into the cheese, evenly.

With the oven heated, cook the kanafeh until the noodles have become a golden brown (around 10-15 mins)

Once the kanafeh has baked through you’ll want to allow it to cool for 10 mins

At this point, the kanafeh should have become more firm and set into its cheesy, sexy self.

Now, carefully place a cookie sheet atop the baking dish with the kanafeh and invert the pan so that the kanafeh is now on the cookie sheet.

Litter the surface with crushed pistachios and drown your darling with the simple syrup/rose water concoction.


OK, so the example given below, about that. I had a tough time finding kataifi, so I substituted the noodles for simple phyllo sheets… no harm done. Yet, I will admit that iteration does neglect all the pleasing textures that comes along with kataifi. However, i’ll take what I can get. So get creative.




So, any takers?


Posted in Anthropology, Art, asia, Backpacking, Blogging, City Guide, Culture, Food, foodie, gastronome, Gastronomia, Gastronomy, history, Islam, Istanbul, Jordan, Middle East, recipe, Travel, travel writing, Turkey | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sketching Sights: Galata Tower (Istanbul, Turkey)

Galata Tower, Andriani Watercolor Like a great minaret, the Galata Tower represents so much more than meets the eye.

Built in 1348 as the re-imagining of an earlier structure the tower has gone from hosting inmates, as a prison, to holding great secrets as an observatory for the astrologer Takıyeddin Efendi. What’s more, Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi the 17th century aviator… if you can call him that… achieved, through his scientific mastery, sustained flight that actually carried him from the Tower, over the Bosphorus, and landed him safely on the Asian side. 

Busking Euro-Gypsies surround the base of Galata as if worshiping an idol, strumming rhythms on deep acoustic guitars and homemade drums. Like a great heartbeat at the core of an old world metropolis.

From the balcony (at 51.65m) a rewarding panorama of Istanbul waits to expose all the secrets of modern life. A warmth emanates from the Ottoman palaces, the mosques, and grand Genoese structures all spilling their histories across the skyline. If that’s not cool enough to warrant a visit then maybe the swanky cafe on the top floor will get your attention…

This is the lure of the Orient. Of the East.

Posted in Art, asia, Backpacking, City Guide, Culture, Europe, history, Istanbul, Middle East, Sketching Sites, Travel, travel writing, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Islamic Art: An Exhibit


It’s safe to say that the visual arts have always been an extremely inspirational medium to me. This is especially true when it comes to Islamic Art. The heavy use of geometrical forms and the rhythm of mingling patterns that move in harmony with passages from the Quran.

Traditionally, many schools of Islamic thought have avoided the use of human figures in their artistic endeavors; Sharia law even forbids the use. Perhaps to keep ones practice of Islam clear and void of idolatry. The resulting style became known as Arabesque playing hugely on vegetal, geometric, and scriptural elements. And this only scratches the surface. Other schools of thought, inspired by the Chinese and Mongols, did, in fact include depictions of men and women at the time.

So it’s clear that, like many genres, Islamic art can’t be neatly defined and the pieces i’ve brought to the board today span many centuries and borders.

Now, before I digress once again, I present a powerful collection of Islamic art currently on display at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art here in Kansas City, Missouri.


 Folios From a Qur’an. Abbasid Period (750-1258 C.E.)

Ink and Gold on Vellum. Arabic language using the Kufic script.

IMG_2247Couple Standing Among Flowering Trees.

Tabriz, Iran, Turkman School. 1480 C.E

Opaque watercolor and gold on paper


Today’s Life and War 6

Gohar Dashti- Iranian (2008)


Tile with Inscription

Iran. Seljuk Period ( 1038-1220s)

Ceramic w/ turquoise glaze


Stories of Martyrdom (Women of Allah)

Shiran Neshat

Iranian (1994)



Iran. Seljuk Period (1038-1250s)

Fritware with opaque turquoise glaze


Detailed shot of Mosaic from an arched entrance portal known as an iwan.

Isfahan, Iran. Safavid Dynasty (1501-1722)

Glazed ceramic tile and gold leaf.


Paper Plates

Hamra Abbas- Pakistani (2008)

Paper collage

The exhibit goes on to include textiles, more ceramics, and even a short animated film which plays on the colonial occupation of India. A great display of the wide variations in Islamic art through time and space.

So, I absolutely urge you to pay a visit to the Nelson-Atkins. That is… if you’re in Kansas City already!


Posted in Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Culture, history, Islam, Kansas City, Middle East, spiritual, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Cafe Tajine in the Mountains of Morocco

Ourika, Morocco


547357_3665455120320_1240248596_nThough only 6 hours (460 km) separate Marrakech from the oasis town of M’Hamid I could have dedicated six days between the two place names. The villages that scatter Ourika Valley hold their own against the more popular Imperial Cities (Marrakech, Fes, Meknes and Rabat) and it’s out here in the wilderness of the High Atlas Mountains that I come across the Cafe Tajine.

An hour outside Marrakech the Cafe Tajine emerges from an icy riverbed along the narrow road that parallels the River Ourika. Makeshift bridges of repurposed woods and carpets reach across the river at many points along the route, leading to mud-brick villages, markets, and, in this case, one of the finest dining experiences i’ve had to date. 

Here, for a few dollars (it’s truly a steal), you can feast like royalty. A spread of three tajines, salads, breads, mint tea, and a few beggars in between will cost you around the same price as the new Jay-Z album.

Tajines are made to order and, like most “Old World” recipes can take a good deal of time to cook. This is when the industrious locals strike. Peddling handmade goods, women and children make offers on African keepsakes and jewelry boxes, even crystals, as men serenade us, strumming the guitar-like Moroccan sintir and playing unusual flutes and drums.

Over the melodious North Africa beats we dine late into the night, taking our sweet time, dancing and haggling away.











Yallah bye

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Backpacking, Blogging, City Guide, Culture, Food, foodie, gastronome, Gastronomia, Gastronomy, Hiking, Morocco, Road Trip, Travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Sketching Sights: Istanbul, City on the Edge

The Bosphorus splits Istanbul in two parts. A rift in the madness of Europe and Asia, drifting between bodies of fresh and salt water cooling the heated passion of a most ancient urban jungle.

The hot, hot, heat of human movement generates organized chaos as this great strait, this rift, cushions the blow, keeping this romantic city on its axis.

Gulls parade our smooth cruise to the Black Sea as Istanbul, in all its glory, surrounds us reaching out with minarets and the omnipresent aromas of a heavily spiced city.

It’s here, in the interstitial space between East and West, that time stands still…


Posted in Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, asia, Backpacking, Blogging, City Guide, Culture, Europe, foodie, history, Istanbul, Middle East, Poetry, Sketching Sites, Travel, travel writing, Turkey, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Sketching Sights: Essaouira, Morocco

Whitewashed seaside facade under a beating Moroccan sun.


Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Archaeology, Art, Backpacking, Blogging, City Guide, Culture, history, Morocco, Sketching Sites, Travel, travel writing, Watercolor | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

2014: The Road Less Traveled


Wandering through sandstone canyons that wind through the ruins of Petra. Here, where Bedouin live in the caves, the past and future can be seen in the present. This is a land legendary and proud. Where pastoralists and sedentary pedestrians mix. The desert is hot madness, yet soft and poetic. It’s exotic as it is wild and it fuels my thirst for adventure.

As our world grows increasingly smaller it’s easier than ever to seek refuge in the comfort of familiar places. We also live in a time where thoughts and ideas can manifest in the blink of an eye and round-the-world travel is at the fingertips of risk takers and adventurers alike. I see Marco Polo and Gertrude Bell in the men and women I met abroad. Sharing the road, sharing tales of individual split-second experiences worth more than time itself.

I started blogging not only to share my story and to learn from others, but to inspire, to instill the momentum it takes to lace up ones boots and hit the road. It wasn’t until I found myself alone in a most foreign country that I felt the hot passion of life. Where my native tongue was less useful than the moo of a cow and I had no idea what the hell I was putting in my mouth… but it tasted good and I wanted more! And that is why you must hit the road.

Don’t be victimized by the culture of fear. Our planet is waiting to be explored, to reveal it’s secrets to you, to me, to any who dare ask, it will expose you to the raw truths of life. To the quarks of distant cultures and alien tongues. To disgusting foods and delicious cuisines, to dangerous and countless blessings.

Let’s take control of 2014. Don’t be afraid to leap without looking. I encourage you to take off the training wheels and take the road less traveled.

-Yallah, Bye!

Posted in Art, Backpacking, Blogging, Culture, Food, history, Jordan, Middle East, spiritual, Travel, travel writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments