Monday, October 31, 2005

Experimenting with Kataifi

Kataifi is very thin strands of partially cooked and dried wheat pastry sold in 1-lb packages. I know it as a Middle Eastern delicacy, although the brand name it is commonly sold under suggests that it may also be popular in the Balkans. I am personally not a fan of syrupy desserts, but the slightly unconventional first recipe I will give here (which I got from my Egyptian friend Nahed) is not too sweet, and everyone who tried it seems to like it. The amount of butter and cream in the recipe may seem alarming, but a little piece goes a long way, and it is definitely worth a try when you want a moderate sugar high. The second serving idea came about because I had some leftover kataifi from the first project. So I used the traditional walnut filling and made two miniature kataifis in my molds. They also turned out nice. In fact, the result inspired me to make kataifi for a crowd in muffin pans. I will let you know how that one turns out soon.

Kataifi with Cream Filling:

For the syrup:
  • 12 oz sugar
  • 6 oz water
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Vanilla or orange flower water if you want to flavor the syrup
For the Filling:
  • 2 c heavy cream
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 1/2 heaping tbs corn starch
  • Vanilla or any other flavoring you like
For the kataifi part:
  • Kataifi (I had leftovers enough to make 2 mini kataifi from a 1-lb package)
  • 2 sticks of melted butter
  • Ground pistachios for decoration
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the kataifi in a large bowl. Pour the melted butter on it, and work the strands with your hands by gently pulling in opposite directions. In doing so, you should be seperating the strands while also coating them with butter. Continue until no more knots remain, and the kataifi becomes light, fluffy and evenly coated with butter. Set aside.

Dissolve the corn starch in 1/2 c cold milk. Add this to the cream and cook, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens and starts to bubble. Add the desired flavoring and let cool.

Spread half of the kataifi evenly in a 9"x13" ovenproof pan. It is usually recommended to grease the pan, but I did not do it this time without any adverse results. Press down the kataifi. Spread the filling evenly on top. Now scatter the remaining kataifi on top of the cream layer, and press gently to form an even top layer. Bake in your preheated oven for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown.

Meanwhile prepare the syrup. Combine the sugar and water in a saucepan. Cook on medium heat, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves. Bring it to boil and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and simmer a few minutes longer. Remove from the heat and flavor as desired.

When you pour the syrup on the kataifi, both the syrup and the kataifi should be hot. So if you made your syrup earlier, heat it briefly before you use it. Let the syruped kataifi stand for 10 minutes and so, and then unmold it to a serving platter to reveal the nicer, browner bottom side. Cut into slices, and serve warm or at room-temperature decorated with ground pistachios. This dessert is best eaten the day it is made. It does not really benefit from refrigeration because of the high butter content.

Mini Kataifi:

This uses the same recipe for the syrup and preparation of the strands with butter. The difference is in the molds it is baked in and the filling used. This time I used walnuts finely ground with a little sugar. You can use other nuts, too. Pecans and almonds work well, and pistachios are excellent.