Sometime in my graduate school career and the long road to a PhD in Chemistry, I remember standing over the stove for hours making qatayef. I got the recipe from my mother on the phone, back in those days social media, blogging and online recipes were still a novelty; YouTube was still an invention of the future. I hovered over the small frying pan, praying very hard that this experiment of mine would work. I do not think I willed any of my reactions in the lab to work as much as I did this one.
Earlier that day a reaction between sodium and ammonia worked so beautifully in the lab and most definitely got me closer to my dissertation, but the elation I felt as the qatayef hissed gently then sighed as the last bubble formed and popped was only reserved for the kitchen. With every pancake successfully lifted from the pan, and stuffed with walnuts or cheese, I got closer to home in an instant.
Fast forward about 15 years, April 2020… A pan much larger than the one I had back in my Tennessee kitchen, sizzled. I poured the batter out of a measuring cup. The perfect circle formed, then slowly bubbled. Success!!! The recipe worked! This was at least the fourth trial as I tweaked multiple recipes to make it work.
As the small bubbles popped, the same elation of fifteen year ago swept over me. Life was so different, but the act of making katayef had the same grit and perseverance of fifteen years past, albeit for different reasons. I was not in search of a taste home, I was home. Locked down at home that is, with a husband who was a far superior human being than I could ever hope to be, whose patience for my kitchen adventures was the embodiment of true love, and two tiny versions of myself in the form of children.
That spring the kitchen adventures intensified. I found myself, much like the rest of humanity, kneading dough, shaping it into loaves of bread, or spreading it for fteer bizaatar, or sprinkling it with cheese to make mana’esh, losing myself in the dust of flour, running away from the intangible virtual life we were living to the very real sturdiness of dough, and batter.
As the pandemic continues to rage on with virological supremacy, we find ourselves in the same place. Perhaps a bit more nuanced in our virtual lives, but exactly in the same place in the real world, at home, tucked away, staring in disbelief at the crowded shops, and secret weddings as the infection curve rises into the unknown.
As I try to make sense of the world, the kitchen seems to be the only place I have control, and the exhale of fresh qatayef makes me feel more safe and more at home than ever before.
This recipe is featured in the April 2021 edition of This Week in Palestine. Click on the link below
Servings: feeds an army, or the neighborhood.
260 g flour
100 g semolina
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp yeast (I use instant yeast)
¼ tsp Baking Soda
Dash of salt
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Milk
2 Tbsp Rose water
750 mL warm water
2 cups roughly chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
½ kg sweetened Palestinian goat cheese.
Kater: (simple sugar syrup)
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp Orange Blossom Water
- Activate the yeast: add the water, milk, sugar, and yeast into the blender, mix with a large spoon, then leave for ten minutes. The yeast should start working and you should see bubbles forming.
- Prepare your dry ingredients: in a bowl whisk together the flour, semolina, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
- Mix the batter: mix the dry ingredients with the water mixture in the blender by adding the flour mixture slowly into the water and blending well. Add the rose water in the end. Pour the batter into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen cloth and store in a warm, draft free spot in your kitchen for at least 30 minute.
- Cook the qatayef: heat a large non stick pan, or a pancake griddle. To know if the pan is hot enough, sprinkle a few drops of water and watch for a frantic sizzle, you want the pan hot (i preheat mine on medium heat for 15 minutes). Pour small amounts of the batter (¼ cup or so) in the middle of the pan. Watch as bubbles form and pop. If the pan is too hot, the qatayef won’t have time to form the bubbles and will cook too quickly. If the pan is too cold, the batter will stick and not cook all the way through. Depending on your stove, play with the heat until you get the perfect setting . Watch the qatayef closely. When all the bubbles popped, remove the qatayef and place in a large plate covered with a towel. Repeat until batter is finished.
- Filling: take the qatayef in your hand, pinch the end to make a small pocket, place a teaspoon of crushed walnuts and cinnamon in the middle, then bring the edges together by pinching the dough between your fingers to seal the qatayef closed. Do the same for cheese.
- Make Kater: place sugar and water in a saucepan on medium heat. Allow water to boil and sugar to dissolve completely. Then heat for a little longer until it starts to slightly thicken, turn off heat, stir in lemon juice and orange blossom.
- Grilling Qatayef: Preheat the oven to 180 C, brush the filled pockets generously with butter, and place on a baking sheet, insert into the oven and cook until it is a deeper golden color, the center is crunchy. Remove and soak in lukewarm Kater; serve immediately. Note: many choose to fry qatayef, which is equally delicious. Heat oil and deep fry them then quickly transfer them to the kater as they come out of the oil.