Knafeh Recipe, for the Most Fabulous Middle-Eastern Dessert

knafeh dessert recipe

Does a vision of rich, creamy, sweet and cheesy dessert with a crunchy topping totally seduce you? Well, it seduces people with a sweet tooth everywhere in the Levant. In Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Greece and Turkey, good housewives make knafeh, the most luxurious dairy dessert. (You might also find it spelled knafe, kunafeh, knafah, konafah, konafeh – it’s all the same stuff!).

We love traditional recipes like knafeh, the beautiful Iraqi watermelon rind jam and goat’s cheese with dates.

Many stuff the pastry with locally made soft cheeses. Our recipe, different from our previous one, offers you a pudding-like cooked filling with ricotta cheese.  Some call their dish knafeh and serve it like a pie, in wedges or squares, while others call it kadaif and create individual stuffed rolls. For the crunchy part, everyone uses shredded kadaif noodles. And  it’s essential to infuse the pastry with plenty of syrup perfumed with rose- or orange flower-water.

The only part of the dish that isn’t home-made is the kadaif noodles, which require skill and experience to make properly. They are found in the freezers of Middle Eastern stores. It’s said that shredded wheat may be used instead, but it needs to be soaked in milk and then set on towels to dry. But I can’t say if it approximates the real thing or not. In the open-air markets and bakeries, knafeh’s crunchy topping is colored a violent orange with food coloring. Use it or not, as you please – we don’t.

This is our version of knafeh, served at festive get-togethers and always accompanied by tea or coffee.

Knafeh

Yield: about 40 pieces

Ingredients:
2 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons rose water or 2 teaspoons orange flower water
900 grams – 2 lb. ricotta cheese
450 grams – 1 lb. kadaif noodles
1- 1/2 cups unsalted butter
1 cup syrup (recipe below)
2/3 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Combine milk, cream, sugar and cornstarch in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until dissolved.

When it begins to boil, stir in rosewater or orange blossom water. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes, or until mixture is thick.

Remove from heat. When its cool, add ricotta cheese, stirring until it’s all blended.

Preheat oven to 175 C – 350 F.

Shred the noodles in a bowl by hand, or whiz them briefly in a food processor until the pieces are cut as small as rice grains.  The size of the strands is just a matter of personal preference.

Melt butter over low heat, cooking only until it’s melted.Skim off any foam with a spoon and don’t let it turn brown.

Pour butter over noodle strands, avoiding the milk solids that have settled at the bottom. Mix with hands, rubbing the butter into the strands to coat them well.

Spread half the strands onto the bottom of a 3-quart – 3-liter baking dish. Flatten this layer firmly with your knuckles and palm to cover the bottom up to the edges.

Spread ricotta mixture over noodles. Spread remaining noodles on top of the ricotta mixture and press down.

Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until top is golden. Remove the knafeh from the oven and pour the cold syrup over it immediately. Sprinkle pistachios over the top. Cut into pieces with a large, sharp knife. Serve right away.

Syrup
Yield: 2 cups

Ingredients:

3 cups sugar
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon rosewater or orange flower water

Combine sugar, lemon juice, rosewater and 1 cup water in a medium saucepan.

Stir constantly over medium heat until mixture boils. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, or until the syrup thickens enough to coat the spoon.

Let cool, then chill in the fridge until the knafeh is ready.

Enjoy!

More delicious sweet things to eat and drink from the Middle East:

Image of knafeh by watashiwani via Flickr.

14 thoughts on “Knafeh Recipe, for the Most Fabulous Middle-Eastern Dessert

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  4. Karin Kloosterman

    Half of the Israeli Jews in Israel are from Arab countries, like Morocco, Syria, Turkey, or Iraq…so I think the Addis Ababba comment is particularly off the mark and really not fair. You are perpetuating some twisted stereotype that all Jews are from Poland and that they eat gefilte fish. Not true. You also fail to acknowledge that there are Jews who have lived in Israel for 80 generations since the temple was built; they never left, so who are they if not Palestinian pre-1948? I think Laurie addressed the comments raised here, and we will close the comments on this now.

    Who knew that knafeh would stir up so much controversy?

    Now, if anyone has any secrets to this famous “Nablus” knafeh, please please share. Are there are particular places one must go to in Nablus or is it everywhere? Let us know contact@greenprophet.com

    Reply
  5. Laurie Balbo

    Amazing commentary – proof that all politics is local. Just want to comment on Ghassan’s line:

    “If you ask a common American in USA about Humus he will tell you: Oh I love Israeli food!”

    I’m American – now living in Jordan – hummus accounts for 90% of my body weight. I did a quick Facebook survey (absolutely unscientific) and asked (Yanks only) to state what zip code they associate that creamy goodness with – and 28 out of 30 replied with Arab nations (Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan) – and two smart-asses said “Costco” (the giant US market). In full disclosure, 8 of the respondents are Jews.

    Just saying, “common Americans” associate hummus with tasty snacking, not geopolitics. I like to paint broad stereotypes too, but the one you mention one has no basis in reality.

    Reply
    • Ghassan Kilani

      Thanx Laurie for your reply comment which addresses one single point on my 2 long emails. The build-up to relate Humus with Israel and Israeli cuisine is aggressively taking place as we speak all over USA. Your survey as you rightly point out is “unscientific”. Let us look at the facts: SABRA is today the largest maker of Hummus in the World and they do around $350m of sales in USA. They are originally an Israeli company which is now 50% owned by Pepsico yet Israelis maintain management of the company. They are leading a media campaign to promote Hummus as a main staple for the American family and they are also encouraging US farmers to grow more chickpeas to meet the future demand for Hummus. They are smart as they do not claim that Hummus is “Israeli” but rather Middle Eastern. So for the average American you have an Israeli company doing so much media work and selling so much Hummus in US market. I leave it to you to think what Americans take out of this.
      http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4375098,00.html

      Reply
      • Laurie Balbo

        Ghassan, I replied only to the line in your thought-provoking and considered posts that I think was far off the mark.

        Green Prophet has written about Sabra’s efforts to conquer the US hummus market http://www.greenprophet.com/2013/05/chickpeas-hummus-tobacco/ and (an American point of view) Sabra is suspect not so much due to it’s Israeli connection as to linkage with PepsiCo and suspected genetic engineering of crops. Sabra controversy is multi-layered.

        I think you do a disservice to the positive influence of large, established Arab-American communities to pin rising popularity of Middle Eastern cuisine on a few global enterprises. From my own experience, Lebanese in Toledo and Cleveland, Ohio; Yemeni and Saudis in Paterson, New Jersey; and Arabs living in most every major US city have enticed home-grown Americans to their varied and excellent cuisine, literature and music.

        Food has specific history, and it can build strong bridges. But in the end – it’s food – best shared to enjoy.

        Reply
  6. Ghassan Kilani

    Thank you Kristen for your quick reply. Most appreciated. I do not claim to be an authority on the art of making Knafeh but still enjoy a good one. I also enjoy the debate as it gets to the broader issues in life. I take your point on the maple syrup and as someone who lived for few years in Canada would expect no issue with Iran (or any other country) making good quality maple syrup even if they don’t grow maple trees. This is not the issue: who does what as we are today a global “factory” where products are manufactured in locations not necessarily related to the original root but rather based on manufacturing cost factors. The issue is more to who holds the “right”, the “patent”, the “trade-mark” and the “name” of the product. For instance no matter where maple syrup is made people realize that the best and original recipe for making maple syrup comes from Canada and that whenever we walk into an outlet offering maple syrup we will want to benchmark this to the Canadian one. I am sure Canadians will be outraged should someone claim that maple syrup is not originally a Canadian invention.

    Feta cheese went through this exercise few years ago and the Greeks eventually won this trade war against all the others who claimed making Feta cheese. The Greeks did not take this fight for simply financial reasons but for a much bigger cause: Feta cheese had cultural roots in the lives of all Greeks for may years. For a Bulgarian to come now and “steal” this and claim the right for Feta is illegal. He may make it and sell it but it remains Greek. There is the “original” and there is the “copy”, which could very well be better and enhanced but nothing beats the original.

    A Mercedes made in China remains a German engineering product and never a Chinese one. And if this applies to 20th century products it sure does for products going back thousands of years.

    Why is the issue of Knafeh turning political? What we have learned from the wars in the Middle East is something very interesting and unique: the Israelis in their attempt to legitimize the occupation of Palestine had to prove to the World that they came to a land of no people: so the people of no land (Jews) have suddenly and miraculously landed on the land of no people (Palestine) to create Israel. The only problem with this (ill)logic is that there were/are actually people in Palestine called the “Palestinians” who had been living there for thousands of years and had olive trees grown in their backyards older than the Western Civilization. Not only that: these “people” had cultural roots and heritage in the form of music, dance, poetry, language, fashion, food and many others that actually make them a nation. So the Israelis had to strip the Palestinians off any link or human root that actually made them a nation through out history and actually proceeded to artificially take these same roots and attach them on the skins of their Israeli citizens and sell them to the World as Israeli products. The gain is dual: financial as Israel markets and sells these wonderful products all over and more importantly political as it takes away a national identity from the Palestinians and creates one for the immigrant Jews. So suddenly 2 Israeli companies become the 2 biggest “Humus” makers in USA doing almost $1bm in annual sales between them. Israel claims the Guinness record for the biggest Humus plate!! Falafel and Shawarma are an instant hit for Israelis to market all over the World. Tabbouleh, another Arab cuisine item is the next hit on a long list of food items Israel wants to take possession of. So the issue of Knafeh is not a simple issue but rather of a much bigger dimension.

    In the Arab World we look at this and we blame ourselves for failing to market these wonderful products to the World. We also sit back and say: well they have managed to steal the land so what is a Falafel sandwich? But we all know that eventually this whole “Israel” is an artificial cancerous by-product of the colonization era and will eventually be rooted out. History tells us the same which brings me to the political point on who lived there many years ago. All scholars agree that the land of Palestine was home to many cultures and civilizations due to the geographic location. The Jews lived there for limited number of years and shared the land with the original Canaanites and the Philistines. The Jewish presence was short and abruptly disrupted as Jews were forced (not by Palestinians) to leave Palestine. They have left so little signs of their short existence in Palestine and after so many years came back claiming a right to take land from the people who never stopped to live there! So even if we assume that they had lived in Palestine many years ago: does this imply that the Palestinians would need to simply vacate their lands and villages and cities to give space for someone coming from Russia who (rightly or wrongly) claims that his ancestors lived here? Try applying this criminal concept to any other country in the World and you will realize the magnitude of chaos you will create. Are countries and home-lands more like hotel rooms that one should simply vacate to give room to a new guest? My mother who was born in Acre in 1940 and whose father, mother, grand-father, grand-mother, great grand fathers and mothers, uncles and few brothers, sisters and cousins are all buried in Palestine and who still holds the house deed and key for their house in Acre can NOT go and live there and a Jewish immigrant coming from no where can simply land in “Israel” and become a citizen! How unjust and how racial. I feel sorry for my mom who still remembers the house they left in 1948 and is now occupied by a Jewish family from Poland. Thousands of similar stories are there to be shared if you have the time. The moral: we exist today and we existed in 1948 as the indigenous people of Palestine and no one has the right to occupy our land and kick us out.

    But enough of politics and let us get back to Knafeh: what does a Jewish immigrant coming from Ethiopia 20 years ago have to do with Knafeh? Perhaps the questionable notion that his ancestors may have lived in Palestine thousands of years ago (much before Knafeh was even invented) gives him the right today to claim all legal rights for this dish just because Israelis occupied Palestine in 1948!! So when the Germans occupied France they had the right to claim that Foie Gras is very much German. I do hope you get my point: the fact that you occupy (this is the term used by UN) a land does not entitle you to steal it’s culture including food. You remain an alien to the land until you are expelled or willingly withdraw in compliance with UN resolutions. Israel and Israelis have to stop dealing with our land and our culture (including our food) as their own natural inheritance. We are still alive and we did not just die with no close family members for Israel to claim all.

    Jewish immigrants who came to Palestine before or after 1948 have no right to even share the culture or traditions of the historic land of Palestine and then turn around in such a rude manner and claim it to be theirs! Let them bring the cultures of their original countries: Russia, Poland, Ethiopia or where ever they come from, but stay away from ours. Or if they need to sell it to the World then the least they can and should do is to indicate the true origin: PALESTINE.

    I do not live in my home country Palestine but live close by in Amman, Jordan and would welcome you at any point to taste the second-best Knafeh in the World. Please accept my invitation to share some Palestinian food together if you ever come to Amman. I am sorry if we cannot do this in our home country as it seems pretty “occupied” for now.

    I am attaching few links on Knafeh: origins and recipes. This is what a more biased and objective article would look like.

    Thank you for your patience.

    Ghassan Kilani

    http://www.food.com/recipe/kunafa-the-traditionally-desert-421973

    http://www.food.com/recipe/kanafeh-or-kunafa-or-kanafi-457902

    http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/recipes/12195/kunafa-nabulsiya-my-version

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanafeh

    Reply
    • Ghassan Kilani

      Hi,

      I have read with much dismay the recent article by Miriam Kresh on Knafeh. The author is addressing a non-Arab audience sitting miles and miles away from the Middle East and is educating them about the history of this famous desert. In her opening statement she gives some background to the origin of Knafeh and the countries it is prepared and her list goes as follows: Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, Greece and Turkey. There are 2 very disturbing issues here:

      1) There is absolutely no mention of “Palestine” in spite of the well known fact that Palestinians as well as other Arabs consider Nablus (a city in Palestine) as the best place to have Knafeh. In Lebanon and Syria people call Knafeh as “Nabulsiyah” meaning: coming from Nablus. The white cheese used in the preparation of Knafeh is also called “Nabulsi” cheese. The best shops across the region offering Knafeh are undoubtedly in Palestine and in Nablus in particular. Yet the author decided to strike out all that and not mention “Palestine” once in her politically biased article.

      2) The author makes a second big mistake in hope of deluding readers by inserting the word “Israel” as one of the countries famous for knafeh. Where did Israelis learn to make Knafeh? In Brooklyn, Moscow or Addis Ababa? Knafeh is a historic desert offered by Arabs across the region for more than 500 years at a time when no Israelis lived here. Does the author mean that Israelis consider Knafeh now as part of their cultural heritage and food?

      This is what happens when people (like Miriam) try to mix politics with culture in order to serve a specific point. Israel was created or invented in 1948 by the British by stealing the historic land of Palestine from the true people (the Palestinians) and giving it away to the immigrating Jews and Zionists from all over the World. These new immigrants had nothing to share among themselves in terms of culture as they came from various countries and continents. They also had nothing in common with Palestine: a Mediterranean country where Arabs (Moslems and Christians) of Phoenician origin have lived for thousands of years cultivating a fertile land and peaceful and rich culture. The Israelis did not only usurp and steal the land but had to steal the culture as well in order to build their own society which lacked any coherent bondage. Over the years Israelis adopted the original music, dresses and even the food in their bid to forge an artificial “nation” and strip the identity of Palestinians. So it was right to see “Dabke” being transformed into an Israeli folk dance and Israeli girls parading traditional Palestinian dresses. Everything is open for stealing and then comes food.

      If you ask a common American in USA about Humus he will tell you: Oh I love Israeli food!!! Same applies to “Falafel” which is being sold in Europe as an Israeli dish. This is all a planned war and you may call it the Food War. Israelis will use everything Palestinians have developed in thousands of years to sell it to the outside world as their own. If you do not have a culture then go and buy one. Better still: steal it.

      The author is just doing the same: she is taking away from the people of Palestine any link with Knafeh and sticking it on Israel. This is like one saying Maple syrup is made by Iranians!!

      I am outraged by the insolence of Miriam and demand that my point of view be clearly expressed on your site and that the author makes a correction and an apology.

      Best Regards;

      Ghassan Kilani

      Reply
  7. nader karam

    Miriam, You are writing about food and no need to get into politics which you have smartly done by omitting “Palestine” from your long list of countries associated with Kunafa and by “inserting” Israel. How on earth could someone professionally and objectively not mention that the most famous Kunafa of all is the one made in Nablus?As a matter of fact in Lebanon and Syria they call it “Nabulsiyah”. And how can someone scientifically alk about an Israeli Kunafa? Where did Israelis learn to make Kunafa? In Russia or Ethiopia? I am annoyed by your “omission” and distortion of a known fact for a political reason while you try to explain about Kunafa to people who are not part of the Middle East. Is it too much to relate the people of Palestine (not Israel) to just a dish? Israel “stole” the historic land of Palestine and then gave it away to people coming from all over the World then went on to artificially create a culture for the thieves in form of dresses, music and now food: a culture they simply stole from the Palestinians. Hummus, Shawarmah and now Kunafa have become Israeli. How dare you?

    Reply
    • Miriam Kresh Post author

      If you read the post carefully, you will see that I referred to “the Levant,” a term that covers a very large geographic area, not one specifically. Food, and foodways, drift from culture to culture naturally. Neighbors learn many useful (and delicious) things from each other. Jews from Egypt and Syria , among other Arab countries, brought knafeh to Israel, to the enrichment of everyone. Food makes bridges, I hope.

      Reply
      • Ghassan Kilani

        Miriam, here you go making more mistakes. It is true you mention Levant but you fail to mention Palestine which is an inherent part of the so-called Levant: a term first introduced into English in 1497. So you have selectively chosen to include a vast geography into your “Levant” including a country (Israel) that was not there when the term was actually invented and exclude Palestine which was always there. How biased! And then you make a second mistake by claiming that Jews from Syria and Egypt who came to Palestine in 1948 (or later) actually brought with them Knafeh to “Israel”!!! This is absolutely a complete non-sense. Egyptian Knafeh is one with no cheese and is based on a mix of nuts and has nothing to do with what you have put above as a recipe. It is a completely different dish altogether. So we strike this out. As for Syrians: they themselves call Knafeh by the name “Nabulsiyah” meaning it originated from the Palestinian city of Nablus. You make it sound as if the Jews coming from Egypt and Syria brought with them Knafeh to a land that had no prior knowledge to this dessert. How untrue and how fact distorting. I call upon you to revisit your stated “facts” and correct these mistakes. Your ideas certainly do not help build bridges but destroy any. Be reasonable and objective and share only truthful facts without a political motive. This way you may be able to become a true advocate for peace and friendship. Otherwise you risk the humiliation of exposing your motives or lack of relevant information. Just be truthful and scientific.

        Reply
  8. Miriam Kresh Post author

    If you live in the Middle East, supermarkets carry them frozen. Outside of the Middle East, look for kadaif noodles in Middle Eastern stores, as mentioned above.

    Reply

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