We are heading to the Emirates, a country with a population of about 10 million, but with less than 1.5 million citizens, as the majority of the residents are expatriates!
Today, we are making breakfast. Traditional Emirati breakfasts include breads such as raqaq, a paper thin crisp bread, or khameer, a date sweetened bread. Breakfasts also feature chebab, a pancake whose aspect will remind us of Moroccan baghrir. Cardamom and saffron are definitely the stars of this flavorful cuisine, and we find both of them in balaleet, another staple of breakfasts in the Emirates as well as most Gulf countries such as Bahrain or Qatar, although they have different names.
Balaleet is a dish of contrasting flavors that brings together both sweet and salty elements. It is prepared with vermicelli that are sweetened with cardamom, saffron, and rose water, and topped with a thin egg omelette. Even though the combination of sweets accompanied by eggs has been popular since the early Bedouins, the addition of vermicelli only really came with the traders who introduced pasta to the Middle East during the Middle Ages.
Similar sweet vermicelli noodle recipes can also be found in India and Pakistan, such as sheer khurma (noodle with dried dates) or muzaffar (vermicelli noodles with screwpine essence). Balaleet also shares similarities with the Persian frozen dessert known as faloodeh. This ice cream actually also incorporates rosewater and vermicelli noodles.
Balaleet is also traditionally served during the Eid holidays although with boiled garbanzo beans and black-eyed peas. Upon sundown after a long day of fasting during Ramadan, people gather for the breaking of the fast known as iftar, and balaleet is almost guaranteed at any Emirati table.
- 2 cups vermicelli (wheat noodles)
- 8 tablespoons butter , or clarified butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cardamom
- 2 pinches saffron , diluted in 2 tablespoons of rose water (or water)
- 4 eggs , beaten
- Vegetable oil
- In a pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil and add half of the raw vermicelli. Lightly fry the vermicelli noodles until they turn golden brown, about 5 minutes. Constantly stir with a wooden spoon, so the vermicelli do not burn.
- Then add a large volume of water to boil the fried vermicelli. Once the water starts to boil, add the rest of raw vermicelli and cook for just 3 minutes. Drain vermicelli in a colander.
- Add butter, cardamom, sugar and diluted saffron to the pan. Mix and heat until sugar is dissolved for about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Add vermicelli back to the pan, mix and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a separate pan. Add the beaten eggs. Tip the pan in order to spread the uncooked egg. When dry on top, flip the omelet over and cook for an additional minute.
- Serve vermicelli with omelette on top.