I was born and raised in Beirut and when I left (due to war), I never imagined that the food we ate at home was specific to our Greek-Catholic community. I thought all Beirutis ate the same dishes. Much to my surprise, I discovered, while in America, that there were a lot of traditional Beirut-dishes I had never tasted before!
Moufataka is one of them. It is a traditional dessert from Beirut, specifically made in Sunni communities. I read about it in a book that was just published Rural Cuisine in Lebanon by Chérine Yazbeck; I was visiting a friend and her neighbor, Mrs. Shbaro, told me about moufataka and said she orders it every week and loves it and would take me to the place that makes it.
Now if you really want to get a feel for traditional Beirut, Basta is the neighborhood to visit; our mufataka maker was located there. Gracious, warm and laid-back in the authentic Beiruti-style, Hajj Makari and his partner allowed me to take pictures, gave me the recipe and explained the intricacies of moufataka; in short, it requires a lot of stirring. The name of the dish translates into “unsewn”, in other words, the ingredients are cooked to death until they lose their initial texture and meld into an extra-moist, sweet, fragrant mass with a silky, doughy texture and a golden hue to brighten your day.
Origin of moufataka: According to Hajj Makari and Hachem, this dish was born in 1880 and is proper to Ras Beirut (West Beirut). Families used to make it and take it to an area near the beach (now filled with tall buildings) called Ramlet al-bayda (tr: white sand dunes) and the children would play with kites and their parents would eat it. It was an outing on the last Wednesday of April, in commemoration of the prophet Ya’oob (Job).
I used the quantities in Ms.Yazbeck La Cuisine Libanaise du Terroir. If you are in Beirut and want to order it at Makari & Hashem, phone # (01) 643-423.
INGREDIENTS: Serving 6
- 250 g of Italian rice
- 1 heaping tablespoon of turmeric
- 250 g of tahini
- 500 g of white sugar
- a handful of pine nuts ( about 50 g)
First step: Soaking then boiling rice and turmeric in water.
Second step: Mixing tahini, sugar and pine nuts well.
Until a compact mass is formed.
Third step: Adding the rice to the tahini mixture gradually.
Now you start stirring and stirring…
The day before:
- Soak the rice in enough water to cover by 2 inches.
- Add the turmeric to the water.
The next day:
- Bring the rice to a boil and cook the rice until there is no longer any water visible.
- In a large heavy-bottomed pot, pour the tahini, sugar and pine nuts.
- Stir the tahini mixture. Add to this mixture the rice.
- Over low heat, using a large spoon, stir the rice and tahini mixture constantly. Listen to your favorite music if you wish because the stirring will take a while (at least 45 minutes).
- When the mixture bubbles gently and the pine nuts and tahini oil rise up to the surface it is getting ready. One way to tell is to lift the mixture and let it drop back and see how thick and creamy it looks. If it is thick, creamy, homogenous, it is ready.
- Pour into a serving dish, let it cool at room temperature.
Mrs. Shbaro very kindly ordered a plate for us and we loved it at home and licked it clean that same day. My parents both loved it and want to order it again. My cousin did not like it, but then she says it is because of the taste of tahini. It will remind you ofhalvah.