Citizens, allow your incandescent Leader – the always illuminated TFD! – to wish those of you who are observing Hanukkah a happy Festival of Lights, as it begins this evening!
If you are unfamiliar with the holiday or want to learn a few new facts about the history and mysticism around it, learn more here. Now, let me tell you all about Zalābiya, the subject of today’s latest recipe!
One of the great traditions of the holiday is to always enjoy food fried in oil, to celebrate the miracle of the oil that is the central tenet of Hanukkah.
Traditionally, Jews of European descent eat latkes, fried potato cakes. Some Jews enjoy sufganiyot, which are fried jelly doughnuts – but Jews from the Middle East enjoy a unique fried treat that I wish to share with you today!
Zalābiya (also known as zalabia or similar variants), are a sweet popular food in the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. These fritters are made by deep-frying maida flour (plain flour or all-purpose flour) batter in pretzel or circular shapes, which are then soaked in sugar syrup. They are particularly popular in Iran and Syria.
This dessert can be served warm or cold. Unlike most fritters, they have a somewhat chewy texture with a crystallized sugary exterior coating. Citric acid or lime juice is sometimes added to the syrup, as well as rose water.
In Christian communities in West Asia, it is served on the Feast of the Theophany (Epiphany), often with dry sugar and cinnamon or confectioners sugar. In Iran, where it is known as zolbiya, the sweet was traditionally given to the poor during Ramadan.
A 10th century cookbook gives several recipes for zulubiya fritters. There are several 13th century recipes of the sweet, the most accepted being mentioned in a cookbook by Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi. It was also mentioned in a tenth century Arabic cookbook by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq, that was later translated by Nawal Nasrallah – you can buy an English translation here.
The dish was brought to Medieval India by Persian-speaking Turkic invaders. Ernest A Hamwi, a Syrian immigrant to the United States, is believed to have used the Persian version zalabia as an early ice cream cone.
In Iran it is known as zolbia (زولبیا) in Persian and in addition to being sweetened with honey and sugar, the fritters are also flavored with saffron and rose water. Zolbia are hollow inside and delightfully crispy outside, drenched in syrup.
In the Indian subcontinent, it is known as “Jalebi” in Hindustani and served with sweetened condensed milk dish, rabri or eaten with kachori and vegetable curry in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent.
In the Levant and other Middle Eastern countries, the fritters are known as “zalabia” (زلابية) (sometimes spelt “zalabiya”). In the Maldives, it is known by the name “zilēbi”.
This sweet is called “jeri” in Nepal, a word derived from Jangiri and the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. In Algeria, Libya and Tunisia, this sweet is known as zlebia or zlabia.
Zlebia or zlabia (Maghrebi Arabic: زلابية) is a type of pastry eaten in parts of Northwest Africa, such as Algeria, Tunisia and Libya as well as Morocco.
Natural ingredients include flour, yeast, yogurt, and sugar or honey. This is then mixed with water and commonly two seeds of cardamom (oil for the crackling).
Zalābiya are fried dough foods, including types similar to straight doughnuts. These are found in and around Iran and the Arab countries of Yemen, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Comoros and Algeria, as well as the rest of the Levant. They are made by a zalbāni. Zalābiya are made from a batter composed of eggs, flour and milk, and then cooked in oil.
Zalābiya mushabbaka are latticed fritters made in discs, balls and squares, first created to please the palates of medieval Caliphs in Persia. They are dipped in clarified honey perfumed with rose, musk and camphor. A recipe from a caliph’s kitchen suggests milk, clarified butter, sugar and pepper to be added.
As far as I can tell, this ultimate version of fritters worthy of royalty is a lost recipe, but I have recreated it for you, Citiizens!
The rare perfumes and spices used in the Caliphate fritters version are nearly impossible to find today – after much effort, I have found sources for the Bulgarian rose oil (the best in the world!), musk, grains of paradise, and camphor.
Especially with musk and camphor, be SURE you are getting the natural product and not an inedible synthetic substitute! As all of these ingredients are pricey, feel free to leave any or all of them out if you prefer – although there is one way you can get a musk equivalent inexpensively.
As it happens, Australians are very fond of a form of LifeSaver candy that is musk-flavored (with a synthetic but edible equivalent). It’s not the real deal, but in a pinch it does work – buy them here.
This lavish and spectacularly-flavored dessert is a perfect way to enjoy Hanukkah – or any special celebration you might be observing! I have started with the excellent base recipe for Zulbia fritters at fae-magazine.com and modified it as above. Enjoy the only extant version of this lost recipe, Citizens!
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