Lebanese Cooking in Africa With Batul
Last year when I got to Congo I met Batul, who I never saw without a smile on her face. She was so nice, but I couldn’t quite figure her out. I swear she told me she was from Lebanon, but then, whenever I saw her out, she was chatting away with the Latinas with the ease of someone who was speaking their mother tongue. I was perfectly confused. Her kids were at the French school, but she told me she preferred to speak English rather than French. I was starting to think I might have misheard the Lebanon part, so I just came right out and asked her.
Batul is, as I initially thought, Lebanese. But she grew up in Venezuela, so her first language is Spanish, hence being so comfortable with the Latinas. Her Lebanese husband and her kids speak French and Arabic, and together Batul and I speak English. It’s quite the international tango.
So, now that we’ve got that sorted, onto the Lebanese food, which is one of my favourites.
My love for Lebanese food started in Canada at a cute little restaurant downtown Calgary, and the culinary love-affair was completely set ablaze when we lived in Paris and there was a Mom-and-Pop Lebanese restaurant around the corner from where we lived, making it our go-to spot when we wanted something quick to eat but didn’t want to make it ourselves.
I’ll start by saying that this recipe, like the others I’ve made in My Expat Kitchen, comes with a bit of international flare. We were following a traditional Lebanese recipe, written in Spanish, while we spoke in English, and our kids played in French. So go easy on me if I get the name of some of the ingredients that are new-to-me spelled wrong…I might be sounding them out.Pour 3 cups of semolina(or semoule, depending on where you live) into a pot.Melt one cup of butter and add it to the semolina.Add one cup of sugar and half a cup of water……and about 1/2 a cap full(around 1/2 teaspoon) of orange blossom water.Stir together and cook over medium heat until dry-about 10 minutes.Press it onto a cookie sheet… …and put it in the oven on medium heat until it gets golden brown(half hour-ish).Pop the crumble in a food processor and mix until fine.Press the crumbs into a baking dish. But save about 1/3. You’ll need it later.That’s step one.
Still with me?
Now, let’s make the filling.
It’s sounding very similar to the crust so far right? Don’t worry, it’s about to get creamy.Add 5 cups of milk. Turns out that’s the whole carton. Stir and cook on medium/low heat.On the element next door, make a syrup by mixing 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water. Let that boil for 30 minutes and we’ll come back to it.Back to the creamy filling for our cake.
Batul brought out a hard and salty cheese that I thought was going to taste like feta, because it was soaking in a liquid, but it actually is very similar to mozzarella. I googled the spelling(because I was guessing on the translation) and apparently this cheese goes by the names, Akawi, Akkawi, Akawieh, or Ackawi, but in a pinch, you can use mozzarella. Give your milk mixture on the stove a stir, then go and crumble the akawi cheese over the crust that was pressed into the pan.Crumble.Crumble, some more.Then go back to the milk mixture. It should be thickened up. Give it one last stir.Pour it over the crumbled cheese.Smooth it out.Sprinkle the reserved crumble over the creamy mixture until it’s totally covered.Then pop it into the oven at 200°C(392°F).Now head back over to that simple syrup. It’s been boiling for a bit, so you can squeeze in the juice of one lime and one cap (1 teaspoon) of rosewater. 30-40 minutes later your cake is out of the over and ready to be flipped upside down onto a dish.And there you have it!Time to dig in!For me, this was like the cheesecake with a twist.Pour the syrup over the cake and it adds a nice touch of sweet.Then have some tea and indulge in your delicious cake.Batul was a good sport about all the pictures I was taking. Talk about pressure!It was a success! A little trip to Lebanon, without even having to leave Congo. Thanks so much for sharing a bit of Lebanon with me Batul. It was delicious.
3 cups +1.5 cups semolina
1 cup + 50 grams butter
1.5 teaspoons orange blossom water
.5 cups + 2 cups sugar
5 cups milk
1 teaspoon rose water
alkewi cheese(or mozzarella as an alternative)
In a pot, add 3 cups of semolina, 1 cup of melted butter, 1/2 cup of water and .5 teaspoon of orange blossom water. Cook on medium heat until dry.
Put on a cookie sheet and bake until golden.
Make into crumbs in the food processor and press into cake pan.
*Reserve 1/3 of crumbs for later.
In a pot on medium heat, melt 50 grams of butter. Then add 1.5 cups of semolina, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water and mix. Stir in 5 cups of milk and heat on medium/low heat until thick.
Bring to a boil 2 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water. Once rescued, after about 30 minutes, add the juice of one lime and 1 teaspoon of rosewater.
After crust is pressed into the pan, crumble alkali cheese over crust until covered. Once the cream mixture is thick, pour it over the crumbled cheese and smooth. Top with the remaining crust and bake in 200C over for 30-40 minutes.
Invert cake pan and drizzle syrup over pieces when serving.