Thursday, 21 January 2016

Samali (Σάμαλι)

I like desserts that contain as little as possible in the way of dairy products. Samali - a syrupy semolina pudding also known as bambousa in the Middle East - can be made without eggs and just a little bit of butter. Its main flavour comes from masticha, the gum from trees grown on the island of Chios. Samali is very commonly served after dinner in Greek restaurants. The masticha flavour of samali acts as a palate cleanser in a similar way to a mint chocolate. Its flavour is light, even though it has a dense texture.

The best recipe I have ever come across for samali is from a Greek recipe site. The recipe is original, created by the author. It makes no reference to exact measurements using grams or ounces. It is based on the loose idea of 'teacup' measurements, which is very common in Greek cuisine, but which also causes confusion among Western style cooks who prefer more exact measurements. For a person like myself, who is used to such measurements, I know the freedom that this loose form of measurement gives you. A teacup could be a mug, or even a bowl. It's the ratio of ingredients that counts. The difference in the end result will be in the size of the cake.

Keeping this in mind, I used this Greek recipe to bake a perfect cake in an oval 35cm ceramic baking vessel. I've translated the recipe for your convenience.

For the cake, you need:
2 teacups coarse semolina
1 teacup fine semolina
1 1/2 teacups sugar
2 heaped tablespoons baking powder mixed into 1/4-1/2 cup of orange juice (seriously, it makes little difference to the end result!)
1 teacup milk
2 teacups yoghurt (I used a mixture of runny and thick yoghurt)
a teaspoon of finely-crushed masticha gum (masticha is an acquired taste, so be gentle - if you like ouzo, you will probably like it!)
some melted butter (I used 50g, according to the measurements on the packet - but you can use more!)

For the syrup, you need:
4 teacups sugar
3 teacups water
lemon or orange peel (I added the lemon peel as well as the juice)
1 tablespoon lemon juice (see why I added the juice of the lemon?!)
2 sticks of cinnamon

Start by mixing the syrup ingredients: boil them altogether for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to cool slightly. Mix all the cake ingredients together EXCEPT FOR the butter. Grease a baking vessel and pour the cake batter into it. Brush the top of the batter with melted butter and cook at 200C for 30 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden brown. When the cake is cooked (check by pushing a knife through it to see if it comes out clean), brush the top of the cake with the remaining butter. It will soak it up very quickly. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes, then score it into serving pieces. Finally, pour the cooled syrup over it.

An alternative to masticha flavour is grated orange zest, which is a more familiar taste. This cake tastes even better the next day as the flavours of the syrup seep in. Samali pairs perfectly with vanilla ice-cream. Greeks like to have it with 'kaimaki', a mastich-flavoured ice-cream that is also popular in Turkey where it goes under the name of 'dondurma'. But that might just be too much masticha for the uninitiated!

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