Ramadan Recipes: Za’atar Cheese Twists

Ramadan Recipes: Za'atar Cheese Twists

Sweet, crunchy and soft, baklava is a Middle Eastern dessert often found at social gatherings, celebrations and iftar during Ramadan.

Baklava is delicately made and filled with nuts, such as toasted almonds, walnuts or pistachios, and sometimes topped with pistachios, and sweetened with syrup. Many countries claim the dessert as their own, including Greece, Turkey and Syria.

But the history of baklava goes back to the eighth century BC during the Assyrian era. Assyrians used layers of unleavened flatbread and spread chopped nuts in between, infused with honey and then baked the finished product in a primitive wood oven.

Today’s baklava, or baklawa as the Middle Easterners say, has gone through many changes in the production process.

All the countries that were once under the Ottoman Empire, including the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Balkans, and the Caucasus, claim baklava as their national dessert.

It is very likely that the sweet pastry was perfected during the Ottoman rule from the 15th century until its demise in the early 20th century, as the oldest mention of baklava is in the kitchen writing of the Topkapı Palace, where the first Ottoman sultans lived and worked.

Baklava was considered a luxurious dessert in 19th century Turkey that only the wealthy could afford. There is a saying that Turkish people use to this day when describing their financial status: “I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day.”

To make baklava, you will need 400 g of filo dough, 200 g of butter and 200 g of chopped pistachio. For the syrup, prepare 1 cup sugar, 1 cup water, 2⁄ cups honey, ½ teaspoon orange blossom or rose water, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

Start with the syrup, add all ingredients in one saucepan and stir until sugar has dissolved and thickened slightly, then set aside to cool.

On a clean surface, lay out a sheet of filo dough, brush with butter, add another layer, butter it again, scatter the chopped pistachio evenly, place two skewers horizontally at both ends and on the edge of the sheets, roll up tightly before starts kneading the roll to the center, place them in a buttered baking tray and pull the skewers from the roll.

Repeat this process and place the rolls side by side on the baking tray, butter them and bake them in the preheated oven at 160 degrees for a maximum of 1.5 hours in butter. Pour the syrup directly over the baklava as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Set aside until room temperature, cut into squares, transfer to a plate and serve.