Today I am reposting a post I did back in August last year at the start of the Islamic month of fasting, Ramadan. Ramadan starts today in many countries around the world and we are fasting (trying hard not to drool as we read food blogs).
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the most important one for Muslims around the world. The Holy Qur’an was revealed during the month of Ramadan and all Muslims try to read all of it, at least once during the 30 days. This is the month where the Devil is chained up for 30 days and we are left in peace to worship and perform good deeds. It’s the Islamic equivalent to Christmas as far as festivities go. We love having family and friends over and we enjoy going to the Islamic Centre and being with our community. It’s a hustling, bustling time of the year for us.
If you would like to know more about what Ramadan means to me and countless other Muslims, please check out my post Ramadan~A Month of Wondrous Days and Nights, from last year.
Now, this particular recipe that I am reposting is a favourite Ramadan dessert all over the Middle East. I absolutely love these pancakes and must have them during Ramadan at least once, ok… maybe every other day 🙂 If you haven’t tried them before, you must. You will love them.
I will just leave today by wishing all of you peace and blessings of this holy month of Ramadan. May God bless us all and guide us to peace and tolerance. May He bring peace in this world and to those suffering injustice, may He grant them freedom from their tyranny. Have a wonderful weekend everyone and to all my fellow Muslims, Ramadan Kareem!
“And the earth He has put down for the creatures. Therein are fruits, date palms producing sheathed fruit stalks. And also corn, with its leaves and stalk for fodder, and sweet scented plants. Then which of the blessings of your Lord will you both deny?” Al Qur’an, 55, verses 10-13
Ramadan is a month of intense worship, self reflection, selfless acts, random kindness and submitting oneself completely to God all in the form of fasting. Fasting teaches us self restraint, self discipline and an insight into what many of the world’s less fortunate experience on a daily basis. Ramadan is also about family and community; laughter and sharing. Like with any holiday or festival, Ramadan too, is associated with high calorie, belt busting treats. However, sometimes it seems that, Ramadan is all about food and not enough about prayer and worship. Seems like we are missing the point when we break our fast with a feast, fit enough for a king when many people (with whom we are trying to empathise,) barely have food to eat.
Ramadan is about simplicity so that we may feel the pinch a little bit in our own, very comfortable, indulgent lives. I, too, am guilty of over indulgence and spending more time in the kitchen rolling out samosas and not enough time rolling out the prayer mat. Unfortunately, I can’t blame it on my husband or children, Trace is a sweet heart and he never demands anything fancy for iftar. It’s my own cravings that warrant the need to get knee high in flour and sugar syrup. I am not entirely sure where I even picked up this habit. My father wasn’t a big fan of samosas or dahi baray (vade), bhajiyas, all the goodies synonymous with Ramadan, so we really didn’t eat any of those when I was growing up. I think living with my extended family close by in Houston and many friends, I have become used to the idea of iftar.
I don’t spend in an inordinate amount of time in the kitchen during Ramadan because let’s face it, the guilt is a killer, but there are a few things I like to have to make my Ramadan complete. It’s just a tradition thing and I like the festive, holiday feel. I don’t make them everyday or even every week but at least once in Ramadan is a necessity!
The Ramadan foods that I must make at least once are: samosas, both meat and potato ones, onion bhajiyas, or any kind really, biryani, chole (spicy chick peas), ataif bil ashta (tick off as completed), kunafa and kabsah or maqluba (both are Arabic rice and meat dishes). Not all these are strictly “Ramadan foods” but I do have a craving for them, and so they’ve become my Ramadan foods. Another tradition, and this is for Eid ul Fitr morning which heralds the end of Ramadan, is kharey seviyan (savoury vermicelli cooked with ground beef) which my mum made without fail every Eid morning. Our newest Eid tradition, and this started in Houston with all my cousins, is Shipley Donuts after Eid prayer. Sadly, we have no Shipleys in Colorado so we substitute with mediocre Lamar Donuts. I do miss Eid in Houston, nothing like spending the holidays with family and friends.
Ataif bil ashta, is hands down my favourite Ramadan dessert. I fell in love with these crispy, creamy pancakes after the first bite, many years ago. I searched for a recipe for a good two years and tried many, but they all had some defect. Finally, about three years ago, I got it right, after a lot of trials and tribulations! This is a combination of a few recipes, but it worked for me and it’s what I use now. There are many recipes on the internet for this, and you may have luck with those but I didn’t.
In essence, these are just yeast based pancakes that are stuffed with a kind of a clotted cream and then fried. But my goodness, they are the most divine things ever. The dough on the outside turns all crispy and yet it remains chewy because of the yeast batter and the addition of the semolina. Then you bite into the oozing, creamy filling that is scented lightly with orange blossom water and you finish off by licking every single drop of the sweet, fragrant, sugar syrup that drips from the ataif.
These come in a non fried version which are just as delicious. The first time I tried these was at my best friends house in London. She is originally Palestinian whose family settled in Lebanon. Her mum had made them one evening and I could not stop eating them. When I came back home, I tried to recreate them, came close but they were never like Aunty Hala’s. The non fried version just pinches a smaller size pancake on one end, making a cone and then the cream is dolloped into the cone and decorated with a smidgen of cherry jam or rose petal jam (or any red coloured jam) and drizzled with sugar syrup. To die for, delicious.
You must try these and you’ll see why they are so loved all across the Arab world.
Makes about 36, 5″(13 cm) pancakes – recipe can be halved, or the batter can keep in the fridge to make the next day.
ATAIF BIL ASHTA
3 cups/462g plain/all purpose flour
1/2 cup/87g semolina
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
4 cups/944ml warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 cups/709ml half and half/cream (mixture)
4 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons orange blossom water
2 cups/450 g caster or superfine sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1-2 tablespoons orange blossom water
MAKE THE SUGAR SYRUP: place the sugar, water, lemon juice in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 8-10 minutes. The syrup should be thick enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Add the orange blossom water and pull off the heat to cool. Put aside.
MAKE THE ASHTA: there are many ways to make what is considered ashta, I just use this easy cornstarch method someone taught me a while back. Pour all but a half cup of the half/half-cream mixture into a heavy bottomed pot and bring to boil over medium heat. Stir the cornstarch into the remaining half cup and smooth out into a paste. Once the milk is nearly to a boil, add the cornstarch mixture and stir vigorously. The mixture will thicken instantly and as soon it bubbles and is thick, pull off the heat. Put a piece of cling wrap directly onto the surface of the ashta and place in fridge to cool.
MAKE THE PANCAKES: using a mixer or a blender, mix together the flour, semolina, yeast and sugar. Add the warm water and mix or blend on high so everything gets incorporated. Add the baking powder and mix through. Put aside for a half hour or so, till the batter is bubbly. Heat a griddle or frying pan and brush with a bit of oil. Use a 1/4 cup measure to drop 5″ pancakes onto the griddle. Cook the pancakes till the surface is covered in bubbles and is cooked. DO NOT flip. These pancakes are cooked only on one side. Place the cooked pancake on a plate to cool slightly. While still warm, take a pancake and place a teaspoon of ashta in the middle and seal up the sides, by pinching, to form a crescent shaped filled pancake. Put aside and repeat with the rest of the pancakes. If the cream is oozing out or you are having trouble sealing the pancake, flatten the pancake in your hand a little bit before filling with the cream. You may also thin out the batter with about 1/2 cup water if the pancakes are too thick.
Once you have the desired number of pancakes stuffed, heat some oil in a large fry pan. The oil doesn’t have to be too deep, just a half inch or so in the pan, enough to shallow fry the pancakes. Once the oil is hot, add the pancakes, as many as will fit in your pan and fry till golden brown. Flip to brown the other side and then drain on paper towels.
To serve, drizzle with a bit of sugar syrup or place a little pitcher with the syrup on the side for guests to help themselves and then stand back and watch their eyes roll back in ecstasy.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy one of my favourite Ramadan delights.