Delectable desserts of Ramazan

The delectable desserts of Ramazan continue to grace tables with all the splendor of the old days.

The adults were already seated around the table while we kids waited with bated breath at the balcony window. Suddenly we heard the boom of the cannon we’d all been waiting for. One by one the lamps on the balconies of the Süleymaniye Mosque minarets lit up like a burst of stars. Between the minarets that soared into the sky like plane trees, a message, in the shape of an imperial caïque, was strung out in gleaming white lights: ‘O City of Ramazan’. The muezzin was just reciting the call to prayer in fervent tones. "He’s reciting in the ‘eviç’ mode tonight," we could hear the adults inside observing. "Last night it was the ‘segah’. He’s quite accomplished." Then we all sat down to dinner. There was nothing that wasn’t on that table. ‘The blessings of Ramazan’ they called it. First a piping hot soup, followed by oven-baked kebab, spinach and yoghurt ‘borani’, eggs cooked with spicy Turkish pastrami, a sausage-like roll of savory pastry with zucchini filling, saffron rice. And this was followed by an endless caravan of sweets. Myriad varieties of baklava made from thirty layers of paper-thin ‘yufka’, syrup-soaked ‘tulumba’ pastries, baked quince, crisp fritters dusted with cinnamon, juicy ‘ekmek kadayif’ with a dollop of clotted cream, slabs of stewed pumpkin glistening with cloves, and of course, the perennial Ramazan favorite, ‘güllaç’ or nut-filled starch wafers.

So are the Ramazans of yesteryear remembered. Oil lamps, strings of lights, exploding cannons and incredibly rich evening meals. Religious beliefs aside, Ramazan was a festive time celebrated by almost everyone Turkey with equal joy and enthusiasm. In those days, the rhythm of everyday life adapted completely to the Ramazan traditions for the entire month, and fasting also affected people’s eating habits because of the rich dinners and pre-dawn breakfasts. Those old Ramazan desserts still grace our tables with all their irresistible appeal. Sweets are de rigueur during Ramazan when sugar is a way of staving off the fatigue that comes from going without food all day. And as a social phenomenon, the ‘blessings of Ramazan’ gave rise to a rich panoply of desserts in Turkish cuisine. Since Turks view Ramazan as a 30-day holiday, every housewife does her level best throughout the month, taking pleasure in cooking not just for her own family but in sharing with the neighbors as well. And that’s why even the humblest Ramazan table becomes a small but veritable feast, of which the sweets are the crowning glory.

Güllac, or starch wafers, have a special place among the Ramazan sweets, every one of which is as pretty as a picture. Derived from the words ‘Güllü aş’ (literally, rose soup), this sweet includes rose water among its ingredients and therefore also smells like a rose. A Turkish invention, güllaç is regarded by culinary experts as a panacea against the other, heavier desserts of Ramazan. Gourmets describe güllaç as ‘a Ramazan miracle, so light that it can be consumed without hesitation at any time between the breaking of the fast at dusk and the final pre-dawn meal.’ Easily digested, it refreshes the body as well as being simple and inexpensive to prepare, all of which make it one of the most favored sweets of the Ramazan table.
But let me not digress. The lamps have been lit on the Süleymaniye Mosque. The cannon has exploded. As an indigo blue evening falls over Istanbul, indoors the baklavas, tulumbas, kadayifs and güllaç’s have already begun to gleam like gold on the Ramazan tables.


Stewed courgettes rondes with clotted cream

1 kg ‘courgettes rondes’ (small, round zucchini), cut into individual portions
1 kg granulated sugar
200 ml water
1 tbsp walnut meats
25 g clotted cream (‘kaymak’)

Soak the peeled and cut courgettes in a calcium chloride solution for two hours, then wash thoroughly. Place in a pot, cover with the granulated sugar and water and cook for about an hour. When cooled, serve with clotted cream and walnut meats.

Baked quince

4 quinces
1 kg granulated sugar
200 ml water
Turkish clotted cream (‘kaymak’)

Peel the quinces and cut them in half. Scoop out the seeds with a knife and set aside. Boil the quinces in water for five minutes; then arrange on a baking sheet, add the seeds, sugar and water and bake in the oven for two hours at 150 C. When cooled, serve with clotted cream.

Güllaç (Starch Wafers filled with nuts)

1 package of güllaç (starch wafers)
1 liter milk
250 g granulated sugar
1 tbsp rose water
100 g slivered almonds
1 pomegranates, cleaned
1 tbsp green pistachios

Heat the milk, sugar and, rose water together in a pot. Spread a sheet of güllaç on a cookie sheet shiny side up, moisten with milk and sprinkle the almonds in the center. Repeat with the remaining sheets. Fold the güllaç sheets closed and pour the milk over them. When all the sheets are ready, leave to cool. Decorate with ground pistachios and pomegranate seeds and serve.

‘Ekmek Kadayif’ with Clotted Cream

Soak the ekmek kadayif in
6-7 cups of water to soften. Wait 15-20 minutes and drain. While you wait, start preparing the syrup by adding the water and granulated sugar to a pot and dissolving the sugar. Add the cinnamon sticks and half lemon to the syrup. Melt a little sugar in a skillet and add to the syrup to give it color. When the syrup has thickened, let it boil for 25-30 minutes. Then spoon it over the kadayif, which you have arranged on a baking tray. Place the tray in a slow oven and bake, basting frequently with the syrup that runs off. When cooled, serve with clotted cream and raspberry sauce.