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Middle Eastern recipes II: Semolina pudding

I know, I know. Semolina pudding does not sound (or look) like the most appetizing dessert on this green Earth. However, this is definitely a case of never judge a book by its cover, because what’s hidden inside is definitely worth exploring. And no, it is not the most waistline-friendly dessert either, but if you’re in your mood to indulge a little one day, give this recipe a shot. Known in the Arabic-speaking world as halawet il smeed, this sweet pudding may just be the perfect winter dessert because it is so rich and warming. My grandmother (who else!) made it for us while I was at home last week, and when I asked her about the recipe all she said was, 3-2-1. 3 cups semolina, 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water. How easy is that?

Well, of course then she went on to tell me that there’s a little bit more to it, but the recipe is still very simple. The only difficulty might be in locating some of the less common ingredients, such as the specific variety of cheese that is sprinkled onto the pudding. This is known as Arabic cheese, white cheese, jibneh baydah, or jibneh Akkwai. It is a salty cheese made of cow milk that originates in Palestine (from the town of Akka), and is mildly similar to Halloumi but slightly richer, saltier and more elastic. While pretty rare outside the Arab world, you may be able to find it in Middle Eastern markets elsewhere. Rose water is also widely sold in bigger supermarkets and Middle Eastern food shops.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cup “sweetened” shredded white Akkawi cheese
  • 3 cups fine semolina
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup ghee
  • 1 tsp rose water

Cut the white cheese into cubes and soak in water, changing the water a few times to drain the salt from the cheese and “sweeten” it. In the meantime, begin making sugar syrup by boiling the water, sugar and lemon juice together over high heat. When the liquid starts to boil, turn heat down to medium-low and let simmer for 15 min. Add rose water. Heat ghee in a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, add semolina and toast until golden brown. Add syrup to toasted semolina and let simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat. Drain “sweetened” cheese and add to pot. Stir gently once or twice. Serve in small bowls and garnish with almonds.

In good health,




3 thoughts on “Middle Eastern recipes II: Semolina pudding

  1. How would you compare this version (ingredients, not taste) with semolina desserts from Turkey?

    Posted by buildingmybento | March 8, 2012, 6:00 PM
    • I don’t know if you are referring to a particular Turkish dessert, but Arabic and Turkish cuisines in general have a lot in common, so I’d imagine a Turkish semolina dessert would have a lot of the same elements as this one: semolina (obviously), simple syrup, rose water, and some form of nut (pistachios and almonds are the most common). I know that the Turkish Revani is essentially the same as the Arabic dessert known as Hareesa or Basbousa..essentially semolina soaked in rose-water-infused simple syrup and topped with nuts.

      Posted by dailyamusebouche | March 8, 2012, 7:06 PM
      • I know that there are some congruent themes in both cuisines, but there’s one particular semolina dish I believe that’s called irmik helvasi, do you know about it? Does that have an equivalent in Syria or Lebanon?
        Thanks for the reply…I’ve been looking for a similar dessert in NY for a long time!

        Posted by buildingmybento | March 8, 2012, 9:12 PM

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