From Beirut to London in 100 Dishes

Ramadan Treats — Kilaj ( Filo pastry filled with ground rice and rose water)

DSC_0705Again, it is almost dusk.  Here in England, it comes late — well after nine in the evening.  So, it’s been a long day for anyone fasting, although mercifully cool for now.  Iftar — the breaking of the fast — is only a short time away.  There is not the abrupt sunset of the Middle East where you free fall from burning daylight to total darkness within a few minutes.  But the anticipation is similar.  I visit many of my friends here to share iftar with them.  It is a quieter, less fraught affair than back home.  But it’s still a lovely way to renew or deepen friendships.  And of course I hold my own iftars at home in a walled garden that leads to a meadow and the river on the other side.  I make some of my favourite dishes and most indulgent puddings.

DSC_0689This Ramadan, I will share some of them here.  The first is this sybaritic concoction of the usual Lebanese suspects — cream, syrup and delicate pastry.  It’s called kilaj.  It’s a Ramadan speciality in Beirut.  Just before iftar, fathers rush to pastry shops and stand in line for the delicacy while the mothers are still cooking at home.  For me, the richness of this pudding contrasts beautifully with the austerity of the day’s fast.  It’s part of the balance between spirituality and earthly delight that makes Ramadan such an extraordinary time, wherever you are.


6 Filo pastry sheets 

2 glasses of full fat milk or almond milk

1/2 glass of full fat double cream

4 large spoons of ground rice

DSC_06952 large spoons of sugar

2 tea spoons of rose water

1/2 glass of milk for brushing the sheets or almond milk

To fry

2 glasses of vegetable oil

100g of ground pistachio nuts for garnish

For the Syrup 

400g of sugar

2 glasses of water

1 tea spoon of lemon juice

1 tea spoon of rose water 


1 tea spoon of orange blossom water

(I like to put both)


The Syrup

  • In a small pan put the water and sugar and stir well.
  • Once it starts to boil, reduce temperature and leave for 30-35 minutes or until the syrup is slightly thicker, runny like honey
  • Add the lemon juice, stir for few seconds, then add rose water and orange blossom waterDSC_0693
  • Stir well and remove from the heat
  • Leave aside to cool down and use for all sorts of Lebanese puddings
  • It will make around 2 glasses of syrup.


The Filling and Pastry

  • For the rice pudding, put the milk in a small but deep non stick pan
  • Add the cream, ground rice, sugar and rose water
  • Stir well, then place the pan on the hob at a medium temperature
  • You need to keep stirring until all the ingredients dissolve and mix together to make a paste
  • Reduce temperature to minimum and keep stirring for 5 minutes
  • Remove the pan from the hob and leave aside to cool down for few minutes
  • DSC_0694Take one filo pastry sheet, place on a cutting board and cut in two
  • Put 2 large spoonfuls of the rice in the middle
  • Fold the 2 edges together, then fold the pastry to make a flat rectangle, seal the edge by brushing the pastry
  • Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and fry the parcels until golden
  • Remove the kilaj with a strainer and submerge in the syrup
  • Serve hot and garnish with pistachio nuts.
  • Please note — that you can’t leave the parcels for long on the board, once they are wet they will burst and splash all over once cooked.

(I tried this recipe with Samosa sheets, ready cut, and it works beautifully.)


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