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My husband and I joke that we are pretty much like the couple in Tina Fey’s movie, Date Night.If you have seen the movie (which is hilarious and I totally recommend), you know that Claire and her husband Phil like routine and go every week to the same local restaurant for a date. Then, one day, they decide to spice it up and go to a posh Manhattan restaurant (without reservation), take someone else’s table and then the movie turns into a funny thriller.In our case, the action part came a few years ago, when we both worked in peacekeeping, and now we have more or less settled into a routine that we love.

Where we are 100% like the Fosters is in our restaurant routine: once we find one that we love, we rarely change, we become regulars and end up knowing the waiter’s names. Every city we  go to, we fall in love with a couple of places and become loyal customers. Back in Abidjan, our hearts belonged to Nuit de Saigon (Vietnamese cuisine), Maroush (Lebanese cuisine), and Restaurant de la Paix (also Lebanese cuisine), in Belgrade we chose Kosava and Tribecca, in Florence, Ristorante Pinolo and Open View (overlooking the Arno)  in Barcelona, Ugarit (Sirian cuisine), and here in Cyprus, we love Karvounomageiremata, Sitio and the Syrian-Arab Friendship club. I’m sure there are plenty of other great places, but these are the ones we adore.

Did you notice a trend in the list above?

Yes, we love Middle Eastern cuisine and we always find a middle eastern restaurant wherever we go.  Hoummous, tabbouleh, fatayer, fattoush, falafel…you name it, we   have probably tried and most certainly loved it. But for some reason, before coming to live in Nicosia I had never tried Middle Eastern desserts (except Baklava, of course). Then one night, we were given a complimentary Machalebi with our mint tea and  I was smitten. The texture was so soft it almost melted in my mouth, and its sweet, rose flavour was utterly delicious.

The problem was that it was made with milk and cream- and as you know, I don’t eat dairy. So I came up with my own version.

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I checked a couple of recipes, changed this, removed that, and ended up with this recipe: My coconut machalebi, made with equal parts coconut milk and coconut cream, lots of rose water and a little bit of sugar.

And the best part? It takes about 15 minutes to make so it’s ideal for those times when we don’t have loads of time, yet want to impress our guests with an unusual, exquisite dessert. It is also pretty allergy friendly because it doesn’t have dairy, eggs or wheat.

I chose coconut milk and cream because of their luscious texture, but if they are hard to find where you leave, just replace them by other non-dairy versions. In this occasion I used caster sugar so as not to affect the pearly white texture of the dessert, but if you prefer not to use refined sugar, you can use coconut sugar for a change. It will then be brownish in color, but still yummy.

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 Here’s the recipe:

Coconut Machalebi (serves 6)

Ingredients: 1 can (400 ml) coconut milk, 1 can (400 ml) coconut cream, 3/4 cup cornstarch, 1/3 cup caster sugar, 2 tablespoons rose water 4 tablespoons of pistachios, roughly chopped. For the rose syrup: 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup caster sugar, 2 tablespoons of rose water.

Preparation:

1) In a bowl, mix coconut milk and cornstarch until the latter dissolves. Set apart.

2) Put the coconut cream and sugar in a saucepan and bring it to the boil, then reduce heat to minimum and let it simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved, stirring constantly to prevent the sugar from caramelizing at the bottom.

3) Once the sugar has dissolved, add the coconut milk and cornstarch, and the rose water and let the preparation simmer until it starts to thicken, stirring with a whisk.

4) Once the preparation starts to thicken, remove from the heat and whisk vigorously to ensure a smooth, silky texture.This will also allow the preparation to cool down a little bit.

5) Pour the preparation into ramequins or small bowls, add a teaspoon of chopped pistachios, cover with foil and let chill in the refrigerator while you prepare the rose syrup.

6) Prepare the syrup: Put water and sugar in a saucepan and bring it to the boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the rose water and let the syrup cool.

7) Remove the machalebi from the refrigerator, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of rose syrup to each ramequin and serve.

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 Do you have a favorite cuisine? Let me know in the comments below!

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