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Shredded Pastry Filled with Cheese in Lemon Syrup

Of all of the traditional sweet, syrupy pastries, this one is my favourite, with its melted cheese and hint of lemon....

Of all of the traditional sweet, syrupy pastries, this one is my favourite, with its melted cheese and hint of lemon. Called "konafa" ("kunefe" or "kadayif" in Turkish), it is made with thin strands of pastry, similar in appearance to vermicelli. Unfortunately, they are almost impossible to make at home, as the batter requires tossing through a sieve onto a hot metal sheet over an open fire, but you can buy packets of ready-prepared strands in Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Greek food stores; you can also buy individual nonstick pans that are specifically designed for making konafa. The pastry is called "kadaif," which is also the name given to many of the sweet dishes prepared with it. The cheese most commonly used for konafa — dil peyniri — has a slightly rubbery texture and can be pulled apart into strings, so the standard pizza mozzarella is an ideal substitute. Perfect for the mezze table or, in fact, at any time of day, konafa is a sweet dish for reunions and celebrations — in other words, a dish to be shared.

Mezze by Ghillie Basan, photography by Jan Baldwin, is published by Ryland Peters & Small.

Ingredients

For the pastry:

  • 8 Ounces ready-prepared kadaif
  • 4 Ounces samna melted
  • 12 1/2 Ounces dil peyniri, or mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoon shelled pistachios, coarsely ground

For the syrup:

  • 1 Cup plus one tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 Cup water
  • Freshly squeezed juice of a lemon

Directions

For the pastry:

Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.

Put the kadaif into a bowl and separate the strands. Pour the melted samna over them and, using your fingers, rub it all over the strands so they are coated in it. Spread half the pastry in the base of a shallow baking pan (the Turks use a round pan roughly 11 inches in diameter) and press it down with your fingers. Lay the slices of cheese over the top and cover with the rest of the pastry, pressing it down firmly and tucking it down the sides.

Place the pan in the preheated oven and bake the pastry for about 45 minutes, until it is golden brown. Loosen the edges of the pastry with a sharp knife and pour the cold syrup over it — the hot pastry will absorb most of the syrup but you can pop it back into the oven for 2 to 3 minutes to ensure that it does. Scatter the pistachios over the top. Divide the pastry into squares or segments, depending on the shape of your baking pan, and serve while still hot, so that the cheese remains melted and soft.

For the syrup:

First prepare the syrup. Put the sugar and water into a pan and bring it to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Add the lemon juice, reduce the heat, and leave the syrup to simmer and thicken for about 15 minutes, until it coats the back of the wooden spoon. Turn off the heat and leave the syrup to cool. Chill it in the refrigerator if you like.