Pistachio-semolina rolls with natef

mini-karabeej copy

This is a famous Arabic pastry called karabeej from Aleppo; sampled it at a wedding, reinterpreted in a mini-version by one of the country’s famed caterer; the shell  of that pastry is made with semolina and butter (clarified) and the filling is pistachios with a bit of sugar syrup; the cream that it is always served with is called natef and is made from the roots of a bark, which makes it the only truly herb-based cream I know of. 

If interested, i have seen a recipe for this on the superb Aleppian blog, Paris-Alep.

Making the natef is easy; the problem is sourcing the actual root which is called soapwort; when I find out how to do so, I will let you know, in the meantime, just use coolwhip or marshmallow fluff. 

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  1. Posted September 7, 2013 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    La forme est très originale et très pratique pour dipper, j’aime beaucoup !
    J’ai du bois de panama qui traîne depuis longtemps, ça me rappelle que je dois publier la recette du natef.
    Merci pour le clin d’oeil !

  2. Posted September 7, 2013 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Exquisite and refined! The kind of pastry I adore.



  3. Posted September 7, 2013 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    These pastries are simply perfect!!! I love the sweetness but not too sweet.

  4. Stamatia
    Posted September 8, 2013 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if it has to be a specific variety of soapwort, but I know it can be cultivated, and even in a country with a cold climate – I used to work at a 19th century historical museum-village on the east coast of Canada (http://kingslanding.nb.ca/), and there was a house that had soapwort and Jerusalem artichokes growing by the door! I specifically remember the local herbal expert (who’s since passed away from pneumonia, unfortunately) showing us how, if you rubbed the leaves in your hand, they created a lather! It was supposed to be good for washing your delicates with. I only learned later that it”s the secret to why I find Turkish halva like Koska brand halva to be so many yummier than Greek “Macedonian” halva – the soapwort they add makes it creamier.

    It does seem to be the “common” soapwort, also called Bouncing Bet. Apparently the saponin in it is potentially toxic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saponaria_officinalis

  5. Mark Wisecarver
    Posted September 8, 2013 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Love this, great photo. Believe I’ve seen it at Lebanese funerals before.
    Natural Marshmallow also falls into this group, not the store bought kind.
    One thing that has been discovered about the long tradition of Soapwort however is that since it contains saponins, women who are with child should not eat it.

  6. Gabi
    Posted September 9, 2013 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    I like the idea of making those mini rolls. They should keep for a while in an airtight container, don’t you think?

    Did some research on soapwort and natef, too. Soapwort is growing wild over most of Europe, but one can’t find it at the common herb shops. Seeds are available, though. Seems you have to take care about the quantity you consume.

    Never tasted natef but Italian meringue with the proper flavouring could be an alternative
    Made with pasteurised egg whites if you don’t know the hen personally.

  7. Posted September 9, 2013 at 3:54 am | Permalink

    So pretty and sounds delicious. Love the cream from roots: really interesting-

  8. Posted September 11, 2013 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Beautiful presentation, looks amazing – reminds me of a pastry i had in Antakya – Antioch. I am also drooling over your stuffed vine leaves :) Selamlar, Ozlem

  9. Posted September 12, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

    Hi Joumana,

    I have seen these in my Lebanse store and have never tried them. What a work of art and a labor of love Joumana! Beautiful.

    chow! Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

  10. Rami
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    In Tripoli, Lebanon this was also a very popular dessert that was sold during the holy month of Ramadan. I’ve made this before using a meringue from egg whites, instead of the mallow root (used in the traditional version). I believe the pods from the mallow plant or “khobeizeh” can be boiled to extract a viscous substance in the the same way that the roots of the same plant are boiled.

  11. Joumana
    Posted March 9, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Permalink

    @Rami: Interesting! I buy khobbeizeh from a Bedouin lady in Beirut and sometimes forage it from the land around our house in the Chouf; I never heard that it was used to make something like a natef; I will ask around, thanks for the info!

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