Vegetarian Cheese Kunafe Nablusia: Palestinian Tradition

Kunafe NablusiaThings to know about making kunafe

Tools: Most recipes for homemade kunafe require a 30 cm (12 inch) round pan. However, I use a 15 inch deep-dish pizza pan from Crate & Barrel. Since the pan is a few inches bigger, the pastry comes out thinner and more like what’s found in pastry shops. You can also use a rectangular cookie sheet with sides.

You will need a serving tray that is the same shape and size as the baking pan—or slightly larger—to invert the pastry into. Most Arab bakers I know use two identical baking pans and flip the pastry from one pan to the other. You’ll also need a food processor and pastry brush.

Specialty ingredients: The cheese filling is what trips up most people. The standard cheese for kunafe is akawwi, a mild, slightly salty cheese that holds its shape when baked. Find akawwi in the deli or cheese aisle of most Arabic supermarkets. If you live outside the region, look for it in Middle Eastern grocery stores or substitute ricotta, which is softer, but still a good stand-in.

Whichever cheese you use, you’ll mix it with mozzarella, which gives the pastry its gooey quality so distinctive of kunafe. Fresh mozzarella is best, but any mozzarella will do. Most recipes call for a total of 1 kg (2.2 lbs.) cheese. I like to use a little less, as this also makes a thinner and more delicate kunafe.

Because it’s a sweet dessert, the mozzarella and akawwi cheese require desalting—a simple task of soaking it in water for a day. (No need to do this with ricotta).

The kunafe pastry comes shredded and looks like vermicelli. It’s readily available in the Middle East and sold in 500 g packages in the freezer section. In the US, look for it in specialty supermarkets or Middle Eastern grocery stores.

To give kunafe its traditional orange color, you’ll need orange food coloring—either drops, paste or a special power made just for kunafe. I’ve tried it all and I prefer using cake decorating paste. The orange coloring is worth the extra effort, as it gives kunafe its festive appearance which looks exquisite with the green pistachios on top.

Finally, this recipe requires scented simple syrup and clarified butter, both easily prepared at home.

Below is my recipe for this Queenly dessert.

Kunafe Nablusia

Serves 8-10

Ingredients

700 g akkawi cheese (or substitute 500 g ricotta)

200 g mozzarella (if using ricotta, use 400 g mozzarella)

1 package (500 g) frozen kunafe pastry (thawed one hour on the counter)

1½ cups butter to make slightly more than 1 cup clarified butter, melted and hot

4 Tablespoons sugar

3 Tablespoons orange blossom water

4-8 drops orange food coloring (powder, paste or drops)

3 cups rose-scented simple syrup

½ cup ground pistachio, to garnish

Method

1. The day before, slice the akkawi and mozzarella cheese into thick slabs. In a plastic container, cover with water to soak overnight in the refrigerator to desalt the cheese. Change the water several times the first day.

2. Also in advance, prepare the rose-scented simple syrup so it’s completely chilled before the kunafe comes out of the oven.

3. About one hour before cooking, remove the kunafe pastry from the freezer to thaw on the counter. Make the clarified butter.

4. Prepare the pan—a 30 cm (12 inch) round pan or a 15-inch deep-dish pizza pan. Spread 4 Tablespoons of the clarified butter in the pan. Add the orange coloring a little at a time. Using a pastry brush, spread the butter and the coloring evenly all over the pan and up the sides.

5. Preheat the oven to 350° F (190° C).

6. Prepare the kunafe pastry. Remove from package and cut into four sections. In a food processor, gently grind one quarter of the thawed pastry at a time with a few pulses keeping it coarse.

7. Place pastry in a large bowl and gradually pour the remaining hot clarified butter over top. Use the full amount of butter or the pastry will be dry or stick to the pan. Using your fingers, mix in the butter to evenly coat the strands of pastry.

8. Drain the desalted cheese and pat dry with a dish towel. Grate cheeses into a large bowl. (If using ricotta, no need to grate.) Sprinkle the sugar and orange blossom water over the cheeses and gently mix together.

9. Layer the pastry. For the bottom layer, sprinkle handfuls of the buttered pastry and press into the prepared pan going slightly up the sides. Use approximately half the pastry mixture or a bit more to completely cover the pan. (This will be the top when the pastry is flipped.)

10. Add the cheese filling, spreading the cheese evenly and pressing to cover completely.

11. Cover with the remaining layer of pastry, evening it out and pressing gently.

12. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes until pastry becomes crisp and slightly golden.

13. Remove pastry from oven and give it a gentle shake. The kunafe will separate from the sides of the pan. If not, separate with a butter knife. The moment of truth: invert the hot kunafe onto a serving platter. As you flip it over, say bismillah (In the name of God).

14. The orange pastry should be slightly crisp. Pour the cold simple syrup over the hot pastry until the kunafe is saturated and glistening. Reserve the remaining syrup to serve in a small pitcher on the side.

15. Cut the kunafe into squares or diamonds, 2 inch x 2 inch or larger. Garnish with pistachio nuts and serve while still hot. Leftovers can be stored for up to four days in the refrigerator and warmed up in the oven or microwave.

وقت التحضير:15 دقيقة
وقت الطهي:15 دقيقة
المقادير:1 كيلوكنافة شعر 200 جرامسمن سايح 200 مللترشربات شيرة مقدارشربات مقدارجبن ابيض

التحضير:1- تقطع الكنافة.
2- يقلب السمن على الكنافة جيدا حتى يختفي فيها.
3- يوضع الشربات (200 مللتر) على الكنافة ويقلب.
4- تفرم الكنافة في المفرمة مرة واحدة.الطبخ: 1- توضع الكنافة في صينية على النار العالية مع التقليب المستمر لتتحمص حوالي 5 دقائق.
2- تترك لتبرد 1/2 ساعة ثم تفرد في صينية جيدا مع التبطيط باليد لتكون طبقة رفيعة في قاع الصينية.
3- توضع عليها طبقة كاملة من الجبن ثم توضع على النار المتوسطة لحوالي 5 دقائق مع تحريك الصينية الدائم بحركة دائرية لتحمر من كل الأماكن تحميرا واحدا.
4- بعد التأكد من احمرار الكنافة برفعها من جانب تغلق النار وتوضع قماشة نظيفة عليها مع الضغط على القماشة لتتشرب ما تبقى من الماء في الجبن ثم تعصر ويكرر هذا العمل حتى نتأكد من خلو الجبن من الماء.
5- تقلب الصينية بحيث يكون الجبن في الأسفل ثم تسقى الكنافة بالشربات مرة أخرى وتقدم ساخنة.

— with Yasin A. Shuman.

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2 thoughts on “Vegetarian Cheese Kunafe Nablusia: Palestinian Tradition

  1. Ooooooh kunefe is awesome!

    1. Yes, its the recipe for a happy family.

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