libya: narrative, nuance, nourishment

When you’re supposed to be a joint degree student in Arab Studies and Arabic Language & Literature it’s a little humbling when an Arab country is in the news and you find you can’t offer much (or any) insight about it. Which is basically what’s happening right now when it comes to Libya. I scoured my bookshelves for books on Libya and came up with Children of Allah, your classic American-woman-follows-husband-into-exotic-Arab-land-and-writes-about-it narrative, and The North African Kitchen, which has recipes from not only Morocco but Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya as well.

Both interesting, but not exactly the enlightening tomes I was going for.

Fortunately we live in the internet age. For some more nuanced and informed insight on what’s going on right now in Libya, check out this piece on the Libyan opposition movement and this one, which gives a little context and clarification to the information (or misinformation) out there about the “African mercenaries” allegedly fighting opposition forces there.

In the meantime, a recipe for a basbousa, a Libyan semolina and honey cake. It’s like great cornbread but sweeter and reminds me a bit of some similar semolina cakes from Morocco. This recipe is an adapted version of one from The North African Kitchen, mentioned and linked above.

mix it up

Basbousa

You’ll need:

7 oz semolina (or you can mix semolina and corn flour)
3.5 oz sugar
3.5 oz all-purpose flour
1 oz ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1.75 oz butter, melted
.75 cup milk

For syrup:
Several ounces of honey
1/2 cup water
2 tbsp sweet syrup (I used some homemade lavender syrup leftover from a dinner party along with a bit of the leftover syrup from this recipe)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 10 inch pan (square or round works)

Mix the dry ingredients of the cake and then gradually add the butter and milk, stirring then whisking to a smooth consistency.

mmm texture

Pour into your pan and spread around till it’s evenly distributed. Bake for 30 minutes.

this would be the boring picture

While it’s baking, make the syrup by combining the honey, water, and flavored syrup over low heat, allowing it to reduce a bit.

Once the cake is baked, soak it with the syrup and bake for another 5 minutes.

crumbly chewy sweet

Let it cool and then cut it into squares. I think this would be fantastic with breakfast but it needs something liquid to go with it – mint tea works beautifully, obviously, but it’d also make a nice complement to a smoothie or a juice. Alternately, serve with a bit of cream or a tasty preserve or jam (mint jelly instead of mint tea?).

food for thought

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