Voices: March/April 2017

We asked some of Tucson’s Syrian refugees: What is your favorite sweet to bake?

March 11, 2017

Issue 23: March/April 2017Voices

The market is packed with tables full of syrup-soaked, flaky pastries; crumbly sugar cookies; golden cake; and steaming cups of Turkish coffee. Organized by Tucson Welcomes Refugees, the Syrian Sweets Exchange is a bake sale run by Syrian refugee women who call Tucson home. More than 500 people came to the third event. Syria is a country famous for its food—especially its sweets. These events and the availability of these baked goods have been opportunities for cultural and personal connection that allows the bakers to share their food and financially support their families. Reema Abu Zead, who arrived with her family 14 months ago, says of the bake sales, “I’m happy to introduce my culture to Tucson. I get to meet people here. Syrian women like to feed you; it’s a way to share culture.”

A wide array of sweets are available to sample, including baklawah, basbousa, katayef, eswaret as-set, asabea’ Zainab, ghorayebah, and many more. One reason to attend the Syrian Sweets Exchange is to sample family recipes of each baker. Many of the women say they would like to eventually open an in-home bakery business to help supplement their family’s income.

As baking brings joy, it also engenders change. These women must slightly shift and change their recipes to accommodate differences in ingredient tastes and availability. In this way, baking also becomes a form of adaptation and growth. Baking is an invaluable connection to memories, community, family, and home. So, we asked the bakers: What is your favorite sweet to bake?

Noor Alhuda.

Kunafa, basbousa with cream, and Syrian pound cake. It’s easy for me to make them because I’ve practiced a lot! They all remind me of my family. I used to make and serve kunafa at night when my family was all together. I also used to buy kunafa from a local shop in Darah, Syria, when I would walk around town with my friends.”

Noor Alhuda

Reema Abu Zead.

Katayef with nuts. I enjoy making it and have my own special secret recipe. It reminds me of Ramadan overseas, and of my family and Syria. Making baklawah reminds me of my mother—it connects me to her. I always want to improve my work and make it nicer. My mother liked making baklawah the old fashioned way, and now I’m making it something new. Mine is a new shape, and now I’m able to add different nuts and different butter.”

— Reema Abu Zead

Manahel Asmadi.

“My favorite is warbat, because my children like it, too. It reminds me of Damascus, and it’s something you can’t find anywhere in Tucson.”

— Manahel Asmadi

Safaa Taata.

“My two favorites are osh el bulbul (bird’s nest) and basbousa (semolina cake). Basbousa is easy to make, is not too expensive, and sells well. Osh el bulbul reminds me of the old market in Midan, Syria, where they sell the best sweets on earth.”

— Safaa Taata

Mariam Alhmed.

Asabea’ Zainab (Zainab’s fingers), eswaret as-set (lady’s bracelet), baklawah, and fatayer. I like all of them! My mother used to make Asabea’ Zainab when it was cold in the winter in Syria to help keep us warm.”

— Mariam Alhmed

Zainab Almasri.

“Making basbousa always reminds me of my mother. I learned to make khaliyat an-nahel (the beehive) after moving here. I need some assistance when making khaliyat an-nahel as it’s more complicated. Making it reminds me of life overseas.”

— Zainab Almasri

Ghorayebah
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Ghorayebah
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter should be somewhat soft. Chill in refrigerator if it’s too soft. Put butter in mixing bowl and beat until light. Gradually add sifted powdered sugar, beating until very creamy and light. Sift flour and fold into butter mixture.
  2. Knead lightly until smooth. (Don’t overdo it.) If your kitchen is hot, chill the dough in refrigerator for 1-2 hours.
  3. Roll pieces of dough into balls the size of walnuts and place on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten slightly. Flour hands lightly if necessary. Top each one with a slivered almond.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes until very lightly golden. Cool on baking sheets.
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Hereseh
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Hereseh
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Ingredients
Dough
Sugar Syrup
Servings:
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together all ingredients. Keep covered in a dark place for at least 8 hours. Butter a 9” x 9” baking dish and cover it with flour. Add the dough mixture and spread it equally in the dish. Add almonds on the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden.
  2. Meanwhile, prepare sugar syrup. Simmer sugar and water and a squeeze of lemon on low heat for about 5 minutes.
  3. Remove baking pan from oven and let cool. Cut into small pieces and add the sugar syrup while still hot.
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Ballorieh
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Ballorieh
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Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place kataifi dough in a baking pan. Separate the fine strands of dough. Drizzle the clarified butter (ghee) or melted butter on it. Mix well, fluffing the dough, then place the pan in preheated oven. Bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes.
  2. Fluff the dough with a fork and bake for additional 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
  3. To prepare syrup for the dough: Mix 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup of water in a pan on medium low heat, until sugar is melted. Add lime juice. Once it comes to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Let cool. Add rose water. Set aside.
  4. To prepare filling: Pulse the pistachios in food processor. Grind them to desired coarseness. Set aside. Start to make a syrup for the filling: In a large wok-like pan, mix water, sugar, and honey and lemon juice. Heat on stove at medium-low heat. When comes to a boil, reduce heat to low simmer for 4 minutes. Add rose water. Add ground pistachios and mix well.
  5. To assemble: Put the lightly baked dough on parchment paper. Drizzle the syrup (that you prepared first) all over the dough and gently mix well.
  6. Grease a 10” x 13” glass pan with melted ghee or butter. Take half the dough mixed with syrup and layer it as bottom layer on greased glass pan. Try to line the fibers lengthwise as much as you can and press firmly down with back of cup. Add filling on top of bottom layer of dough and spread across evenly. Press down firmly on the bottom layer of dough with a greased bottom of a measuring cup. Top with another layer of dough and spread evenly. Again press down firmly on the filling. Cover with parchment paper. Place another small heavy pan and some weights on top and let it sit for 10 hours at room temperature.
  7. The next day, remove the weights and parchment paper. With sharp knife cut in to desired sized squares and serve. 
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