Baklava to my ears

“everyone got a favorite
sweet     every woman
got a recipe
she is baklava 
backbone strong foundation
layers thousand layers”

“thousand and one flaky layers like// her nights and her center// pistachio walnut crushed// years of rough pounded heart// hear her crunch// in the mouths of men” 

Literature and Baklava? Yes.

From an early age I gravitated toward performance arts. In elementary school I was encouraged to submit my poetry to a publisher and present at a school poetry cafe. In middle school I joined choir and tried out for a few plays. (I never made the cut for any productions.) To me, written poetry is freedom.

During my second year at University – I enrolled in a performance literature class which explored forms of communicating prose, poetry, and literature through voice and body. At the end of the quarter I selected a poem by Suheir Hammad, titled “mama sweet baklava” which, when read, is a visual and emotional expression of the fortitude Arab women value. The process of making baklava is used as a metaphor to illustrate how the challenge of repression only extends itself to fortitude and beauty in the delight that is baklava.



1 pack of Phyllo dough
1 bag of walnuts (or any preferred nut base)
Two sticks of sweet butter
1 bottle of orange blossom water (maa zahr) *(Be careful not to get maa ward – rosewater)
Half a lemon (we’ll only need a squeeze)
Olive oil

Filling Options:
Ashta based | 1 cup of milk:2 spoons of semolina (We’ll be using 3 cups of milk and 6 spoons of semolina)
Walnut based | walnuts + 1 tablespoon sugar + 1 teaspoon olive oil


2 Hours Before:
Allow Phyllo Dough to thaw at room temperature on counter.
Crush walnuts using a blender or crusher – Do not crush into fine grains. Pieces should be broken up and still somewhat chunky.

Walnuts should resemble those on the left.

Mama’s Walnut Baklava Recipe:

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

2. Walnut Filling Option: After crushing walnuts and tossing with a spoon of sugar and a teaspoon of olive oil, set aside and unroll phyllo dough. Separate into two equal piles. Depending on your pan size, cut stacks to fit the pan but be sure to cut so that ends of dough climb up the side of the pan.

Ashta Filling Option: After following instructions below, pour ashta over the bottom phyllo layer on the pan.

3. Lay walnuts over the phyllo dough in the pan and cover the top with the second stack of phyllo dough. Pat lightly over the top so the surface is smooth.

4. Using a sharp knife, cut horizontal lines across the pan and then diagonal lines so that you create a diamond shape.

5. Melt two sticks of butter. While hot, pour over the phyllo dough making sure to soak the open cuts and edges.

6. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top is crispy and golden.

7. Take the dish out of the oven. After 10 minutes or until the steam disappears, pour the hot atr over the baklava. Do not pour immediately. The baklava will become soggy.

Mama’s Atr Recipe:

My mom has always used a Turkish rakwee or ibrik or coffee decanter. She fills around 3/4 of it with sugar and soaks the rest of it with water. Proportions are up to you.

Atr = sugar + water + 5 minutes on medium heat while stirring + squeeze of lemon when it boils.


Mama’s Ashta Recipe: Stir 3 cups of milk + 6 spoons of semolina in a pot on medium- high heat (level 7/10 is good) until contents begin to solidify and bubble. When bubbling begins add maa zahr to the pot. Mom says the more you add, the better. Taste it out!

I love my baklava hot with a cup of dark coffee. 10/10!
Enjoy the smells.

“The walnut almond home
of her   where she sits

back with strong black
coffee and finally
tastes herself rose
water    sweet
slow      delicious”


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