Get Creative for a Mediterranean-style Shavuot Feast

Middle Eastern kataifi noodles dress up in a European-style honey cheese tart, and are the secret ingredient in a unique vegetable and cheese pie.

Vered Guttman

Kataifi or Kadayif, shredded phyllo dough, is best known in Israel as the base of the popular Palestinian dish knaffeh, a pastry of sweet cheese (similar in texture to haloumi) sandwiched between layers of butter-coated kataifi and soaked with sweet, orange scented syrup.

Kataifi is used around the Mediterranean in sweets such as baklava, the Turkish and Greek ekmek kataifi (custard and pistachio on top of baked kataifi), and the Turkish tel kadayif (baked kataifi soaked in milk and sugar syrup).

This versatile shredded dough works so well with cheese and plenty of butter, making it perfect for Shavuot. I was aiming for a savory kataifi pastry, since a main staple of Shavuot in Israel is the vegetable and cheese quiches, right next to the fabulous cheesecakes. The result was warm, crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside - a layered pan fried-pastry of kataifi, goat cheese and feta with roasted eggplant and olives in a light honey syrup, sprinkled with za’atar. A simple salad of arugula or baby kale in olive oil and white wine vinegar would work perfectly next to it.

End it all with a knaffeh-tart, a fusion of a Greek or Italian-style honey cheese tart topped with kataifi and soaked in syrup, Turkish or Palestinian style.

Roasted eggplant, feta and olive knaffeh with honey and za’atar

Kataifi or kadayif, shredded phyllo pastry, is available in Middle Eastern stores and some Israeli-kosher markets. Look for it in the freezer section next to phyllo dough.

To thaw kataifi, keep it in the fridge overnight, then leave at room temperature for 2 hours before using it.

While you’re at a Middle Eastern market, look for jars of roasted eggplant pulp. The Sera brand is especially good, and saves you the trouble of roasting the eggplant yourself. I keep a couple at home at all times, for making a quick babaganoush, adding to shakshuka and more.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 large eggplant or ½ cup roasted eggplant pulp from a jar (see note above)
Kosher salt
6 oz. thawed kataifi (see note above)
¼ cup olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
3 oz. fresh goat cheese (chèvre)
4 oz. feta
12 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
Pinch cumin seeds
Pinch fennel seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch za’atar

Directions

1. Roast the eggplant over an open flame on medium-high heat for 18 to 20 minutes, until it shows no resistance when pressed. Use tongs to turn the eggplant frequently so it cooks evenly on all sides. Remove eggplant from the heat. Slice it open, sprinkle each half with 1/4 teaspoon salt, then transfer to a colander, cut side down, to drain for 10 minutes. Discard skin and chop pulp. Set aside.

2. Put kataifi in a large bowl, teasing apart the threads with your hands. Pour olive oil on kataifi and mix with your hands until kataifi is fully covered with oil.

3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 10” non stick pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, remove from heat. Layer half the kataifi over the butter. Sprinkle with a little salt. Crumble goat cheese evenly over kataifi, and top with roasted eggplant pulp, chopped olives and feta. Cover with the rest of the kataifi.

4. Return pan back to medium heat and cook for about 12 minutes, until bottom of pastry turns golden-brown. Check frequently and rotate pan to ensure even cooking. Remove from heat. Using a plate larger than the pastry, flip the pastry onto the plate. Put 2 tablespoons butter in the pan, melt over medium heat and then slide the pastry back into the skillet, cooked side up, to cook the other side. Cook for about 5 minutes longer, until bottom is golden brown. Remove from heat.

5. While pastry is cooking, make honey syrup. Put cumin and fennel seeds in a small pot over medium-high heat and toast for 20 seconds, add honey and ¼ cup hot water, bring to boil, cook for 2 minutes and remove from heat.

6. When pastry is fully cooked, slowly drizzle honey syrup over its top. Sprinkle with za’atar and serve straight from the pan.


Knaffeh tart with ricotta, pine nuts and honey

Kataifi or kadayif, shredded phyllo pastry, is available in Middle Eastern stores and some Israeli-kosher markets. Look for it in the freezer section next to the phyllo dough.

To thaw kataifi, keep it in the fridge overnight, then leave out at room temperature for 2 hours before using it.

Orange blossom water is available at Middle Eastern markets.

Yields one 9” tart

Ingredients

For the crust
1¼ cups flour
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, in small cubes
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
Pinch nutmeg
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons ice water

For the filling
1 lb. ricotta cheese
3 lightly beaten eggs
4 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted in a skillet
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the topping
4 oz. thawed kataifi (see note above)
4 tablespoons melted butter
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons orange blossom water (mazahar, see note above, optional)
Roasted pine nuts or pistachios to sprinkle on top

Directions

1. Make the crust: Put flour, butter, sugar, salt and nutmeg in a food processor and pulse until crumbs form. Add egg yolks one at a time and pulse until incorporated, then add water and pulse to create the dough.

2. Roll out dough into a 12” circle on a lightly floured surface and drape into a greased 9” tart pan. Press dough to bottom and sides and trim edge.

3. Lightly prick bottom of tart with a fork, then line with foil. Freeze for 30 minutes and up to a week, until you’re ready to bake it.

4. Mix all filling ingredients in a large bowl and set aside. In a different bowl, separate the kataifi threads with your hands and mix with the melted butter until the dough is coated with butter all over. Set aside.

5. Make syrup by cooking sugar with ¼ cup water and orange blossom water, bring to boil and remove from heat. Set aside.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Fill the foil lined tart shell with pie weights and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes longer. Let the tart shell cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Pour filling into tart shell and bake for 20 minutes longer. Keep oven on and transfer tart to a working surface. Gently layer kataifi threads on top of tart in a circular motion. Transfer back to oven and bake for about 15 minutes longer, until kataifi is golden brown. Transfer to a cooling rack, pour syrup on top of kataifi and sprinkle with pine nuts or pistachios. Let cool for at least 4 hours before serving. Keep covered in fridge.