Summers in Palestine have always consisted of two things: family and food. At every ‘azomeh or gathering, the tables are usually dressed with traditional dishes such as mansaf, ma’lobeh, and knafeh for dessert. But every once in a while we get treated to something new and without, a doubt, delicious.
During my last trip, new and delicious came in the form of Hariseh bil Ishta. Traditionally, Hariseh is a semolina and coconut cake drenched in simple syrup and topped with pistachios. But after enjoying lunch at my uncle’s house one summer day, I watched as my cousin Ruba added a layer of ishta, or sweet cream, to the Hariseh.
You know that incredible, “YES!” moment when you put your spoon into a molten lava cake and the chocolate spills out? Okay, the same exact thing happens when you cut into this Hariseh while it’s still warm!
I enjoy traditional hariseh, but I have to be honest, this one takes the cake (pun intended)!
1 cup of sugar
1 cup whole fat plain yogurt
1 cup course semolina
1 cup coconut
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 stick unsalted, melted butter
1 pint heavy whipping cream
2 1/2 tablespoons startch
1 tsp vanilla
Qatir (Simple Syrup):
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Step 2: Prepare the Ishta. In a medium saucepan, over medium-high heat combine the whipping cream, cornstarch and vanilla. Start stirring or whisking right away and keep doing so until you have a pudding consistency. Set aside and let it cool. NOTE: You want to be sure that the whipping cream is still cold when you add in the cornstarch. And KEEP STIRRING…I can’t stress that enough. You don’t want lumps in your ishta and you definitely don’t want anything to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Step 3: In a large mixing bowl, combine all dry hariseh ingredients and mix well.
Step 4: Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix well, set aside.
Step 5: Butter up an 8×11″ pan (I like my hariseh to be thicker and more cake-like) and pour half of the batter into it. Then pour in all of the ishta and gently spread it on top of the hariseh layer. Be very gentle. A spatula or the back of a spoon is what I usually use to spread it. Once the ishta layer is complete, pour over the rest of the hariseh mix and spread.
Step 6: Bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. While the hariseh is baking, prepare the qatir or simple syrup. In a small-medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine sugar, water and bring to a boil. No need to stir this mix as often as the ishta, it’s a lot more forgiving. Once it’s come to a boil, add the squeeze of lemon juice and continue to boil until you have a thin but slightly sticky syrup consistency. You an test this by rubbing a drop of the qatir between your fingers, just be careful, it will be HOT.
Step 7: Once the hariseh is done baking, remove it and pour over the qatir while it’s still hot. Let the hariseh rest until cool. The more you let it cool, the thicker the the ishta will become. NOTE: If you cut into it while still warm, you will notice that the ishta may spill.
Step 8: Sprinkle crushed pistachios on top and enjoy!