Never mind raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, falafel are definitely one of my favourite things. They transport me straight back to the bustling streets of Alexandria in Egypt. Every street corner had its own falafel vendor who sold them fresh and hot, stuffed into pitta bread and drizzled with tahini sauce. We used to have them for breakfast as a special treat. These air fryer carrot falafel may not be the authentic recipe, but they’re delicious and are a breeze to make.
In my youth, when it was rare to know anyone who had travelled abroad, I was a lot more adventurous than I am now. At just eighteen I set off to work in a Swiss hotel in order to learn French, something I hadn’t managed to pick up at school. At various times I hitchhiked from home to France, to Spain and to Switzerland and when I had only just turned seventeen I went to stay with relatives of relatives in Egypt for a month.
Before Christmas, I was sent vouchers to buy some Greek Gods yogurt to try. However, it was a few weeks before I was able to get to a store that sells them, which was no bad thing given the amount of Christmas baking I ended up doing. Greek Gods yogurt is all about the honey. There is something about thick creamy yogurt and honey which speaks to me of the Middle East. It is a thick Greek style yogurt and is quite delicious as a dessert in its own right. There is no mistaking the honey flavour which comes through quite strongly; I find it very pleasant. The yogurt is a little too sweet for me to eat on my morning muesli; I prefer plain yogurt best for this purpose. On reading the ingredients I noticed there is added sugar as well as honey. Does it really need both? Served with fruit or with puddings instead of cream, however, it would work splendidly. The texture is quite firm, almost solid but smooth and creamy too. It reminded me of the yogurts I used to eat in Switzerland, which were quite different to those then found in the UK.
The Greek Gods range is available at Sainsbury’s stores nationwide and retails at £1.99 for a 450g pot and 99p for a 175g one.
I chose a 450g pot of their honey yogurt, a 175g pot of honey and vanilla and a 175g pot of honey and walnut. Any of these yogurts, including the honey and clementine which I didn’t buy, would work well I thought in a yogurt semolina cake recipe. However, it was the honey and walnut version that particularly grabbed my attention and it whispered seductively: basbousa.
When I lived in Egypt many years ago, one of my favourite sweet treats was basbousa – a syrupy cake made with semolina and honey. In the sweet shop I particularly favoured, it was served with something that was suspiciously like clotted cream. My Arabic was never good enough to find out exactly what it was, but that’s my bet and I do know something about clotted cream. I’ve tried on a number of occasions to recreate the wonder that was basbousa, but I’ve never managed it. This could of course be false memory syndrome and nostalgia getting in the way. Whatever the reason, I now have a particular fondness for yogurt semolina cakes. I made one recently as part of a 60th birthday celebration and it proved to be popular.
Traditionally, basbousa is made without eggs and is quite a dense cake. I thought I’d try making a lighter textured version, so included eggs and a little flour. I decided to use white chocolate, which I’ve found works really well in cakes. I reduced the amount of butter and sugar needed accordingly. Nuts are generally used for decoration and are not included in the actual bake, but inspired by the Greek Gods honey and walnut yogurt, I thought walnuts would marry well with the flavours of honey, lemon and rose.
And I was right. the walnut yogurt worked brilliantly in this cake. The result was a substantial yet light cake which was moist with a slightly chewy texture. Not surprisingly it tasted of honey and walnuts. Any self respecting Greek god would be delighted to tuck into this on Mount Olympus. We had to make do with Bodmin Moor, but there are compensations; we ate ours with clotted cream. Proper Job.
I was sent some vouchers to buy Greek Gods yogurt. There was no requirement to write a positive review. As always, all opinions are my own.
This is my tribute to basbousa.
- 100g unsalted butter
- 75g white chocolate
- 200g semolina
- 50g wholemeal flour
- 100g walnuts
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 large eggs
- 175g Greek yogurt (walnut & honey flavour)
- 120g 120g caster sugar (I used cardamom sugar)
- 150 ml water
- 1 tbsp honey
- juice and grated rind lemon
- 1 tbsp rose water
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 slices
These falafel were the inspiration that kick-started me into planning a six course chocolate themed Middle Eastern menu for a dinner party last week. I saw a recipe for falafel salad in the summer edition of the Co-operative’s Share magazine and it immediately appealed to me. I decided to separate the falafel from the salad and add raw chocolate and almond spread. The falafel recipe I have from the Vegetarian Cookery School used tahini, so I couldn’t see why a nut butter wouldn’t work instead of a seed one. I mixed and matched between the two recipes and came up with a version I am really happy with.
When Ethel the Goat first came into my life and tempted me with the #capricornchallenge, I was really excited at the prospect of creating some savoury chocolate and goats cheese dishes. When the hamper arrived full of good things, including olive oil, onions, peppers, tomatoes, thyme and goat’s cheese of course, the very first thing I thought about was a chocolate version of Shakshuka.