All of these things are true...

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.

Then it happened… I voraciously reached junkie status. More, more. Never enough! Every bakery that caught my sight was fair game,  out for a greater high, exploring the labyrinthine neighborhoods for the more 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 Kanafehe

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.

Now, please excuse this appauling photograph…

…but 1879!!!

IMG_2298
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-

523975_3679462710501_1083950525_n
Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine

 

IMG_2093
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)

Ingredients

  • 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.

Voila.

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.

20140418-111911.jpg

20140418-111902.jpg

 

So, any takers?

Yallah’bye!

SaveSave

SaveSave

All of these things are true...

A couple weeks in my desperate affair with Arabian sweets had reached dangerous highs. In fact, I would begin and end each day with a platter of pastries, smothered in honey and flooded with syrup and pistachio.

Junkie. That’s what you’d call me. A baklav-addict. More, more. Never enough. Every bakery was fair game as I lurked ancient cobbled alleys, out for a greater high, wandering deeper into the labyrinth in search for legendary bakeries. All of this was is good and well but it was in Wadi Musa where my friend, Khaleed, led me right into the snare of Kanafeh.

I followed him downtown through an unmarked door into an unnamed bakery where, despite the raging 110-degrees, a father and son were cheerfully slaving away, racking out sheets of pastries. Round shallow pans and alchemy. Arabian cheesecake.

This cheesecake was Kanafehe

The edible oxymoron – soft and crunchy, sweet’n’salty, cheesy, gooey, and crispy. All neatly encased in a glaze of syrup and rose water.

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 I finally tasted the essence of Arabian culture: so delicate and sweet behind that mysterious veil.

Now, please excuse this appalling photograph…

IMG_2298
Knafa, Kanafeh, Kunafa? Whatever it is… Tel Aviv, Israel
…but 1879!!!

Let’s just say there’s no right/wrong way to spell it. A rose by any other name

523975_3679462710501_1083950525_n
Kanafeh in Ramallah, Palestine
IMG_2093
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)

Ingredients

  • 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.

Voila.

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.

20140418-111911.jpg
20140418-111902.jpg

So, any takers?

Yallah

Advertisements

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…

photo


Will Write for Food. Or Coffee!

Being an artist, whether poet or ventriloquist, violinist or Beck, it's a taxing gig. Low pay, long hours. Sleepless nights,spotty work. If you find that my writing provides any pleasure, any sense of joy at all, I hope you will consider throwing me a bone, or an espresso.

$5.00

Salaam! HookahMan
“Oh! hookah of the magic bowl,
Thou dost bring me greatest pleasure,
Who likes not thee, hath not a soul,
And can know of joy no measure.”

For several months the hookah served as an icebreaker as I worked my way around the Middle East. Embracing the culture, I learned to appreciate the traditions and social norms attached to this symbol of community.

While the beginnings of this exotic device are unclear, several sources from the 16th century mention a “water pipe” being used in Persia and India. I assume the new pastime caught on quickly considering the popular hookah bars and countless smokers you come across anywhere in the region. I’d see whole families park their car, break out their hookah, sometimes alongside a portable grill, and whip up a kebab while smoking away, right on the side of the road. How damn cool is that!

In the States we have a habit to associate ALL smoking devices with marijuana or some paraphernalia. To tack taboo on the alien. It’s a shame as the hookah serves, more than anything else, as a way for people to congregate in a respectable setting, over civil discourse and a glass of tea, a game of backgammon or simply to gossip. I try to liken the experience to going out for a drink, but that usually leads to drunken debauchery… at least in my case (not really)… Moving forward!

In the image below we have the deconstructed skeletal remains of one hookah. On the left you see the hose. This specimen was a gift I collected in Jordan, Bedouin in style of red velvet and gold ornamentation. On the right side we have the stem, which consists of an air valve, a port for the hose and at the top, a tray for ash and the port for the bowl, which you see at the bottom of the image where the “sheesha” or tobacco is placed. Finally we have the vase, basically a reservoir for water in which the smoke, after passing through the stem, bubbles through the water and passes to the hose.

photo-2

Aside from the body all that’s needed for a good time… is a piece of charcoal and a dollop of molasses soaked tobacco.

I’m not terribly familiar with the various heat sources you can apply as charcoal has always been available to me. Apparently there are other materials you can use which produce a carbon free smoke and cut out any toxins, such as coconut based coal.

photo-1

Widely known as sheesha or “mu’assel” in Arabic, the tobacco used in smoking hookah is a product of sweet alchemy. Two vastly unique ingredients coming together in perfect unison. Dried tobacco forms the base ingredient which is flavored with a small amount of dried herbs or fruit. The mixture is then covered in honey or molasses before being macerated with a low amount of glycerol to maintain the needed moisture.

“Nakhla” seems to be the preferred brand of sheesha, smoked across the globe. Translating to “Palm”, they supply an army of 50+ flavors. Here I’m sticking with the old standby “Double Apple”.

photo

The bowl, sitting snug atop the stem, is packed with sheesha then covered in foil, which acts as a medium between the wet tobacco and the hot coal.

With a setup like this a typical “session” can run about an hour. In 60 minutes traditions and language barriers become a thing of the past.

photo-3

Not ready to give up my new pastime i’ve been seeking out hookah bars across Kansas City, finding authentic experiences here and unsavory there. I’m happy with the trend thats caught fire as Middle Eastern cafes pop up and the hookah emerges from the East.

If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend paying a visit to these flagships of sheesha culture in the States.

Aladdin Cafe– Exquisite Mediterranean fare and hookah on demand

Hookah Haven– Open late into the night H.Haven serves as more of a club. A lounge for watching the game over hookah, rather than the typical PBR.

Istanbul, Turkey- My 22nd birthday. Breezing through a lemon/mint concoction. Here you see me with the self proclaimed “Hookah King”.

hookah

Aqaba, Jordan- This has to be one of my favorite pictures from the Middle East. On a beach in Aqaba I befriended a gang of hookah enthusiasts who, after passing the initiation, let me join them in the rounds.

IMG_1593

As you see below, not much has changed!

800px-View_of_Constantinople_by_Pascal_Sébah_(1905)
Scene from a coffee shop is Istanbul, 1905
Sourced from Wikipedia

Whether in NYC or Istanbul, I would love to hear about your experiences smoking sheesha!

-Yallah, bye

We had gotten lost so many times on the island of Crete that we decided to wake up and leave extra early for the airport, “just in case”. Our superior traveling skills got us there on time and although we were sad to leave our oasis behind at the cottage of Eleonas, we were decidedly ready for the next leg of the trip and another adventure.

Landing in Turkey with little to slow us down we rushed through customs to get our visas. This goes relatively fast and as soon as we’re through we hit up the currency exchange booth and grab 200TRY. Our plan is to head to the tram station that will take us to a stop near our lodging. The terminal winds about leading us underground. Like the subways of NYC we align ourselves with the outbound car that separates us from Sultanahmet (Old Town) and Ataturk Airport.

From the airport its about an hour to our destination with one transfer to make. The last leg of the ride is standing room only, and we are packed in shoulder to shoulder, me with my heavy backpack on and Jaclyn with her suitcase by her side. Just when I sense Jaclyn can take no more we hit the 16th stop, our destination.

Stepping off the bus we’re hit with sensory overload. The Muezzin begins calling out just as the heavens open in a heavy downpour and the fog rolls in from the sea blanketing the city. Thankfully we can see lights from the various minarets but in a city like this it’s not easy to navigate by the unfamiliar structures in this monsoon.

A later view of the Blue Mosque

IMG_2592

Our Pension is just southeast of the Agia Sophia. So with our heads held high against the rain we confidently work our way to the monument where we run into the Hippodrome… which is actually northwest of the Agia Sophia! In our discombobulated state we thought the Blue Mosque was the Agia Sophia.

Now backtracking, the right way, we decide to ask for a little assistance to which a local obliges to show us the way. “Just here” he says, taking us around a colorful complex lined with swanky cafes emitting their scent of sweet pastries and coffee. Just what the soul needs to recover on a day like this.

Completely soaked to the core we hit our destination, The Side Pension & Hotel. Pronounced “sii-deh”, a family owned operation that stands up to its reputation as a warm establishment with the sophistication of a Byzantine guest house and rates for the global traveler that still has bills to pay back home! We promptly strip down and unload our packs as they were not impervious to the storm we just encountered. Our room starts to look like a laundry mat.

At this point we are wet, tired and hungry. Our plan is to spend the evening over dinner and drinks. After changing into some dry clothes, we narrow down our choices of cafes and restaurants from Rick Steve’s guide on Istanbul to Cankurtaran Sosyal Tesisleri. A local gem with a view to the Sea of Marmara. They serve a variety of seafood dishes, kebabs, and  most importantly, kunafeh (a pastry of shredded wheat with cheese, honey, and pistachios. I’m mildly addicted!)

After the perfect introductory dinner we wander the streets for a while but decided to call it a day so we could get up early and get straight to our long list of sights in the city. The next morning the clouds had parted and we started with the complimentary breakfast on the rooftop with these views.

IMG_2693
Hagia Sophia

And to my Left.

IMG_2692
The Blue Mosque

Sleep Here- http://www.sidehotel.com/english/index.asp

Eat Here-  http://www.cankurtarantesisleri.com/

Next time on Yallah, bye…

Catch our tour of Istanbul as we explore the various monuments of Old Town.

Foolproof calculation suggests that I’m in fact 24 years old. 8765.81 days to be exact! Birthday celebrations always bring to mind the activities of birthdays past and the miles in between, many of which were spent among family back in Texas or as most recently over brunch with loved ones.

A year ago however you would have found me wandering the Egyptian Market of Istanbul, cruising down the Bosphorus Strait, or on a less exotic note doubled over from some stomach virus!

So here’s a tribute to my 23rd birthday- Spent in the great cities of Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul.

Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.
Leaving the Pension, we catch the tram, making our way down to the Bosphorus.

Leaving our Pension to catch a tram down to the Galata Bridge. Catching colorful sights of national heritage along the way

Galata Bridge
Galata Bridge, lined with restaurants, children selling hand-rolled cigarettes, and a slew of fishermen.

Down at the Galata Bridge, men call out “Bosphorus, Bosphorus, Bosphorus” luring us to a cramped kiosk where we bought tickets for the “Şehir Hatları” or traditional ferryboat that would take us from the Golden Horn (where the Bosphorus connects to the Sea of Marmara) to Anadolu Kavağı (a small fishing village on the shore of the Black Sea). A voyage that would run approximately 6 hours which includes a 3 hour layover at Anadolu K., a town known for their fish market and archaeological ruins.

IMG_2694

Looking back at Istanbuls’ “Old City” aboard the “Şehir Hatları”. Minarets reach towards the heavens across the entire skyline of Istanbul proper.

bosporus

The “New City” on the Asian side. To our right is the Galata Bridge. Straight ahead the Galata Tower (aka Christea Turris, Latin for “The Tower of Christ) a medieval tower built in 1348.

bosporus2

Residences along the Strait

IMG_2543

Catching another glimpse of “New Town” before it’s out of sight.

IMG_2706

Watch Tower 1 (European Side)

IMG_2703

Watch Tower 2 (Asian Side). 

IMG_2714

Yoros Castle (aka the “Genoese Castle”) is a product of the Greeks and Phoenicians. Anadolu Kavağı rests as the base of this castle which has overlooked the Black Sea for thousands of years. A three hour layover leaves just enough time to explore both the town and ancient castle.

The land is littered with remains of Istanbuls’ past. Watch towers and ruins of great walls, lighthouses and castles can be seen all along the Bosphorus.

asian side

Anadolu Kavağı, a small fishing village with markets known for their fish, cafes and ice cream.

IMG_2712

Fresh clams with chips and a view to the sea…

IMG_2708

It’s clear where the Black Sea begins as the water gets choppier and the clouds more ominous.

nick, asian

Fresh ice cream produced from the local livestock. Life is good here, slow paced and all around a foodies delight.

IMG_2720

Back aboard the Şehir Hatları,  revving up the ferry to make our return trip.

bday dinner

Refreshed we find ourselves at a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves… well his travel guide “Rick Steve’s Istanbul”. Where to start but with two craft beers from Istanbul.

bday drink

The sneaky chef sends out a B-day drink, no questions asked 🙂

IMG_2689

Domatesli Tavuk Sote“– Turkish salad w/ chicken saute

IMG_2690

“Yogurtlu Makarna“- Lamb stuffed ravioli w/ yoghurt and mint.

hookah

Leaving the restaurant we were swept into a hookah lounge where we befriended a local who goes by “Sheesha Mon”, a little Jamaican-slang with a Turkish vibe, I like it.

This goes on until our eyes began to droop and our bladders couldn’t tolerate another drop of mint tea, moving on we crawled back to our hotel and into bed.

Until next time…

Yallah-bye