Work takes my father often to the middle east. Each time, he comes back with wonderful stories of the gorgeous locales, exotic cuisine and nice people. He also often fondly remembers the unforgettable traditional “mezze” spread on the outskirts of Beirut, hosted by his friend Ben. Having met his friend from Lebanon when he came visiting to India and after having heard from him in detail about the food, culture and tradition of Lebanon I long to visit this marvelous place.
According to the author of “From the tables of Lebanon”, “Lebanese cuisine is predominantly based on vegetarian dishes, although lamb, fish and chicken are also used”. The author goes on to say that this cuisine is great for vegans and vegetarians to explore since it uses fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and olive oil in abundance. According to Susan Ward, author of "Lebanese Cooking", although many of the same dishes are found in neighbouring Syria and Jordan and with slight variation in Eqypt and Turkey, much of what the world knows of as middle eastern cuisine is Lebanese.
Semolina syrup cake is called Basbousa in Egypt and Namoura in Lebanon. The picture of Basbousa in “Quick Vegetarian Dishes” , had often caught my attention, but somehow I had never gotten around to making it.
When the ever charming Meeta announced “Taste Lebanon” hosted by lovely Beth, I immediately wanted to be a part of it and wanted to create something elaborate using exotic Lebanese ingredients. But life came in the way and I soon got sucked into one thing after another until a reminder came in the form of Meeta’s tweet on twitter right when I was in the middle of festival preparations, cooking elaborate festival meals and time was sparse. My mind raced back to the picture of basbousa which Beth confirmed to me was namoura in Lebanese.
This cake is not just easy to make but is quick to put together too. I especially love cooking with semolina. As an afterthought, reminiscent of honey cakes while grwoing up, I quickly stirred some honey into the sugar syrup. The cake baked to a lovely golden brown with a very delicate, heady aroma arising from the magic of semolina and coconut. What’s not to love when you have something exotic and delicious with minimum amount of time spent? Thank you lovely ladies for making me discover a small part of lebanon through this wonderful sweet creation that is bound to be a part of my favoured list of recipes.
Semolina Honey Lemon Syrup Cake/ Basbousa Or Namoura Recipe
340 gm (2 cups) fine semolina
70 gm (1 cup) dessicated coconut
115 gm (1/2 cup) sugar
1 tsp baking soda
150 gm (a little less than 2/3 cup) melted butter or ghee or semnah
250 ml (1 cup) milk
For the Syrup:
340 gm (1 1/2 cups) sugar
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) water
1 tbsp lime juice or 2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp honey
Preheat the oven to 175 degree centigrade/ 345 degrees F.
In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients, the semolina, coconut, sugar and soda together. Mix in the melted butter and milk and stir until well combined.
Put in this mixture into a buttered, shallow medium sized oven proof dish and level the surface with a spatula or a palette knife.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown on the top.
For the Syrup:
In a medium sized sauce pan, place the sugar and water on low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves completely. Increase the heat to medium and then bring the mixture to a vigorous boil and cook until it coats the back of a spoon or reduces by about one-third or until it reaches 108 degree centigrade/ 220 degree F on a cooking thermometer. Stir in the lime juice and allow to col. Once cooled or warm, mix in the honey and stir well.
Allow the cake to cool sllightly, for about 10 minutes and then cut it into squares or diamonds. Carefully pour the syrup over the cake. It will look like a lot of syrup, but the cake will absorb all the syrup gradually. This might take a couple of hours. You can dress up the cake by sprinkling some dessicated coconut or blanched almonds.
Serve at room temperature.
Serves 10 or more
This cake tastes best when the syrup is gradually allowed to soak in, so dont rush this step, infact its best left to soak overnight.
Adapted from "Quick Vegetarian Dishes"