This dessert has a special place in my heart, because my great grandfather made it for the masses in Jerusalem on special occasions, and my grandfather used to make his dad’s recipe for us. Now, I get to make it for my family, and hopefully the tradition will continue for generations.
Halawet el-smeed literally translates to “semolina dessert” and that is basically what it is. It is popular in the Levant and usually eaten in the winter because it is a hot dessert. Making this dish is actually pretty quick, but it does require some planning, because the Nabulsi cheese needs to be soaked overnight in order to remove the salt. Once that is done, this dessert can be done in 15-20 minutes.
Most people like to make this dessert using sugar syrup instead of adding the sugar and water separately, but I like to add them separately to control the sweetness. But if you do have some syrup lying around, this is the perfect way to finish it up; you could always add more water or sugar to adjust the sweetness.
Unfortunately, back in the day, no one had set recipes. It was more like add a little bit of this, with a little bit of that, and voila, a delicious dish was made! Communicating recipes in this way nowadays is difficult, so I have tried my best to quantify everything, but feel free to adjust things to your own taste. I highly recommend topping this dessert with nuts, to add a crunchy texture.
- 3 tbsp butter
- 2 cups fine semolina
- 350g Nabulsi cheese (soaked for 24 hours, changing the water regularly)
- ½-1 cup sugar (to taste)
- 400-500ml water
- Toasted pine nuts or almonds (topping)
- In a large pan, melt the butter and add the semolina. Toast the semolina until it is browned. Make sure to keep moving the semolina around the pan to avoid it burning.
- Add the sugar and water gradually. Start by adding less than you think you want and taste it. You can always add more. Add enough sugar to reach your desired sweetness and enough water to reach your desired consistency.
- There are two ways to serve this dessert; it just depends on your preference. You could either crumble the cheese in the bowl you are going to serve it in and pour the boiling hot semolina mixture over it allowing the heat to soften the cheese, or you could crumble it into the semolina mix and cook it on the hob. If you want the cheese to be prominent, serve it the first way. The cheese becomes almost one with the semolina if you prepare it the second way.
- Top with the toasted nuts and enjoy!