Citizens, ‘ataiyef are a delectable Syrian dessert enjoyed throughout the Arab world but which are closely associated with the Jews of the ancient Syrian city of Aleppo. TFD grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood mostly made up of Syrian Jews, so this recipe is indeed one that is close-to-home.
‘Ataiyef are a dessert filled with ricotta cheese, deep-fried, and then dipped in chopped pistachio nuts and topped with shira (Fragrant Aleppian Dessert Syrup). Basically a Sephardic Jewish blintz, Aleppian Jews ate ‘ataiyef on happy occasions such as engagement parties.
Made with a thin pancake batter, they are cooked off as small, crepe-thin circles, but only on one side. Then they are filled with ricotta cheese, sealed and deep-fried. Then you drench them in rosewater-scented simple syrup, and dip the end in finely chopped pistachios.
What’s not to love?!
‘Ataiyef pancakes are one of the dairy foods customarily eaten during Shavuot (the Jewish festival of the giving of the Torah), which happens to be today! Also, the shira syrup is made with rosewater, which has a strong Shavuot connection.
For Sephardi communities, the holiday is known as the Festival of Roses, and the synagogue is decorated with flowers, just as Mount Sinai was full of flowers at the time of the revelation.
King Solomon’s “Song of Songs,” particularly the words “honey and milk are under your tongue,” inspired thi dish. The sweetness of shira shares a symbolic connection with the sweetness of Torah, which the Jews received on Shavuot.
Let us also learn of the Syrian Jews and the importance they have played in modern bible study.
Syrian Jews (Hebrew: יהודי סוריה Yehudey Surya, Arabic: الْيَهُود السُّورِيُّون al-Yahūd as-Sūriyyūn, colloquially called SYs /ˈɛswaɪz/ in the United States) are Jews who lived in the region of the modern state of Syria, and their descendants born outside Syria.
Syrian Jews derive their origin from two groups: from the Jews who inhabited the region of today’s Syria from ancient times (known as Musta’arabi Jews, and sometimes classified as Mizrahi Jews, a generic term for the Jews with an extended history in the Middle East or North Africa); and from the Sephardi Jews (referring to Jews with an extended history in the Iberian Peninsula, i.e. Spain and Portugal) who fled to Syria after the Alhambra Decree forced the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.
In the first half of the 20th century a large percentage of Syrian Jews immigrated to the U.S., Latin America and Israel. Most of the remaining Jews left in the 28 years following 1973, due in part to the efforts of Judy Feld Carr, who claims to have helped some 3,228 Jews emigrate; emigration was officially allowed in 1992.
The largest Syrian Jewish community is located in Brooklyn, New York and is estimated at 75,000 strong. There are smaller communities elsewhere in the United States and in Latin America.
The greatest legacy of the Aleppo Jews was undoubtedly the Aleppo Codex, the oldest and most famous manuscript of the Bible.
Written in Tiberias in the year 920, and annotated by Aaron ben Asher, it has become the most authoritative Biblical text in Jewish culture.
After its completion, the Codex was brought to Jerusalem. Toward the end of the 11th century, it was stolen and taken to Egypt, where it was redeemed by the Jewish community of Cairo. At the end of the 14th century the Codex was taken to Aleppo, Syria – this is the origin of the manuscript’s modern name.
For the next five centuries, it was kept closely guarded in the basement of the Central Synagogue of Aleppo, and was considered the community’s greatest treasure.
Scholars from around the world would consult it to check the accuracy of their Torah scrolls. In the modern era the community would occasionally allow academics, such as Umberto Cassuto, access to the Codex, but would not permit it to be reproduced photographically or otherwise.
The Codex remained in the keeping of the Aleppo Jewish community until the anti-Jewish riots of December 1947, during which the ancient synagogue where it was kept was broken into and burned. The Codex itself disappeared.
In 1958, the Keter was smuggled into Israel by Murad Faham and his wife Sarina, and presented to the President of the State, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi.
Sadly, as of November 2015, only 18 Jews were left in Syria and the community may in fact be totally gone now due to the Syrian civil war.
Citizens, my version of this delectable dessert is resolutely traditional with one small modification. I add some clarified butter to the deep-fry oil as it both improves the flavor and adds another level of dairy context to this Shavuot dessert.
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 cup oil + 4 tablespoons of clarified butter (a TFD addition, I find it improves the flavor and fits with the Shavuot theme)
- 1 cup very cold shira syrup:
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon rose water
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup pistachios shelled, blanched, peeled and finely ground in a food processor
- Mix together the dry ingredients. Stir in the egg, then add water until you have a thin pancake batter, about like a crepe batter.
- Heat a griddle or large frying pan to medium and grease lightly.
- To make the pancakes, spread on 1 T. of batter and use the back of a spoon to quickly form it into a 3″ circle. Cook until bubbles just appear on one side. Do not flip, just remove it from the heat and place in a single layer on a baking sheet or work surface.
- Your goal is only to make the crepe firm enough to be filled, you don’t need it to be fully cooked. Do as many at a time as you can handle without overcooking.
- Fill each pancake with 1 teaspoon of ricotta. Do not overfill! Fold in half and seal with your fingertips. You can freeze them in a single layer at this point until you are ready to use them.
- For the final cooking, heat about ¾ inch of oil in a smallish saucepan. Fry the atayef in small batches until deep golden brown, about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, douse with the shira syrup, and dip the tip in the finely ground pistachios. The shira should be very cold to prevent it from ruining the crispiness of the pancakes.
- Shira – Fragrant Aleppian Syrup
- This simple syrup is a component of so many Aleppian desserts that it is a fixture in Aleppian refrigerators. The addition of rose water imbues it with an exotic flavor for which the Middle East is renowned.
- When preparing shira, it is important to get the right consistency. For some Syrian sweets, a thicker syriup may be necessary.
- To thicken the syrup, keep it on tn the heat a a bit longer; if it is too thick, add some water and simmer again. when pouring shira over hot pastries, the syrup should be very cold so the pastries stay crisp.
- Combine all in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture boils. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the syrup slides slowly down the back of a spoon.
- Allow the syrup to cool. Then pour into a glass jar and refrigerate several hours before using, it will keep for up to 2 months.
- Category: Recipes
- Calories: 1805.77 kcal
- Sugar: 203.2 g
- Sodium: 735.49 mg
- Fat: 78.36 g
- Saturated Fat: 11.36 g
- Trans Fat: 0.22 g
- Carbohydrates: 264.24 g
- Fiber: 4.86 g
- Protein: 21.28 g
- Cholesterol: 78.12 mg
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