Balah El Sham that translates into “Dates of Damascus” is the Middle Eastern version of the Spanish Churro. It is fried fluted fingers drenched in fragrant simple syrup. One of several evocative delicacies, Balah El Sham is particularly prepared during the month of Ramadan, which is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting.
I was not even 7 years old when my grandma’s neighbour walked in one Ramadan night, carrying in her hands a colorful hand-painted porcelain dish packed with glossy and golden fritters studded with ground pistachios. On that very night, I knew about this exceptional sweet dish Balah El Sham, and learned the first lesson of peaceful coexistence with the other.
I grew up as Christian minority in a predominantly Muslim country, and I only have good things to share about the lovely people who had different faith than mine, yet with whom I shared the same land, lifetime memories and many precious values. This early positive experience shaped the way I enjoy today diversity, in each country I get to visit or live in throughout my expat journey.
The month of Ramadan was by far my favorite month of the year and remains the most memorable one! It is festive and pleasantly happening. The colorful lanterns adorn the teeming streets and the smell of fresh made Kataif (Middle Eastern pancakes) fills the alleys of food markets. Pious families generously double up their handouts to needy ones and neighbors are exchanging their holiday signature dishes. when I was a schooler, my parents taught me to be considerate and show solidarity by avoiding having lunch in front of my fasting classmates, a habit that I grew up with. The compassion was mutual, as occasionally my Muslim friends invited me to share their “iftar”, which is the fancy evening meal with which they end their daily Ramadan fast. The blessed month inspired serenity, pristine joy and harmony.
Although I became an American citizen many years ago, and I am no longer a minority, I still bear in my heart the values that I grasped early on in my life. Human values of compassion, mutual acceptance and respect form the bridge that transcends all faiths and culture differences. Embracing the other is the ultimate fashion to enrich our existence.
Baleh El Sham Recipe
Recipe adapted from Manal AL Alem’s recipe of “Bala7 El Sham”
For the dough:
1 cup water
1/2 cup corn oil
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Corn oil for frying
For the simple syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 stick cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange blossom or rose water
- Add water, oil, vinegar, salt and sugar to a medium sauce pan and stir over medium heat to bring to boil.
- Once the water-oil mixture starts to boil, gradually add the flour and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon until a dough starts to form.
- Turn off the heat and let the dough cool completely. Transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the pedal attachment.
- Beat the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl.
- Turn on the stand mixer at medium speed and add gradually the egg-vanilla mixture to the dough. Keep mixing until all eggs are incorporated and a sticky dough forms.
- Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.
- Prepare kitchen cheers and a cup filled with oil.
- Heat the frying oil until it is warm to touch but not too hot. Start piping the dough directly over the oil, dipping the kitchen cheers frequently into the oil and cut though the dough to get equally-sized fingers.
- Once the fritters are puffy and golden transfer them to a dish lined with kitchen towel to absorb the excess oil.
- Soak the fritters, while they are still warm, into the syrup.
- Garnish with shredded coconut and/or ground pistachios.