Zalabya (3 ways)
These sweet fritters of the Middle East are super crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Traditionally soaked in simple syrup, but equally loved drowned in Nutella or dusted with cinnamon sugar!
Now that the month of Ramadan is nearing to an end, our Middle Eastern Dessert series is almost coming to a wrap too. Nine down…ONE to go! (Psssst…stay tuned for Kahk; Eid cookies)
And you bet I wasn’t gonna let you leave without a great recipe for everyone’s favorite fritter.
Or as also commonly known as Lokmet El Kady, Awwamat and Lokaymat.
So many names for one little round bite.
I have no idea what Zalabya means but I love the sound of it. However, Lokmet El Kady in Arabic translates to ‘Bite of the Judge.’ Don’t ask why but LOL! Awwammat means ‘Floaters,’ because boy do these float as they fry. And Lokaymat means ‘many small bites.’
No matter what you call them, these sweet golden nuggets are undeniably scrumptious and a staple at every Middle Eastern house.
In Egypt, they are a wildly popular street food and are sold at little kiosks all over the country for a very modest price. At homes, they tend to make a regular appearance throughout the year, but as with all Middle Eastern desserts, they are more celebrated during Ramadan.
You could think of them as a doughnut hole’s grand ancestor and the Indian gulab jamun’s second cousin. In terms of looks, the resemblance is uncanny, but Zalabya has a completely different textural profile. When done right, they should be crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.
Zalabya is essentially a yeasted dough that is fried and then most classically sweetened with a simple syrup. So when you bite into them, you get this little burst of syrup perfectly balanced by the light and airy doughy interior and boldly crispy exterior.
However, a lot of households actually prefer to coat them in powdered sugar instead of the classic dunk of syrup. A dusting of cinnamon never hurts too!
But we can’t let anything pass by without showering it in Nutella can we?
Though not traditional one bit, the Nutella variation is a favorite among the more high-end, trendy Zalabya kiosks. And so we shall we make them that way too!
Now, as common as Zalabya is in Egypt, it is surprisingly really hard to find a good recipe for it. They are either not crunchy enough, too hard, too soggy, too dry, too dense, too bready, too chewy, unpleasantly squishy and the list goes on and on. Luckily, I landed on a great one on the first try. It produces a Zalabya that is violently crunchy on the outside, light and airy on the inside, just like the way it’s intended to be.
I found this winning recipe, by Arabic cuisine guru Mrs. Manal Al Alem, while visiting her website. Mrs. Al Alem is a celebrity chef and a sea of cooking knowledge. She specializes in Middle Eastern food, that she’s known as the Queen of Arabian Kitchen. Her reliable recipes, approachable instructions, precise measurements and sweet personality makes her my number one source for Arabic recipes.
Mrs. Al Alem’s recipe uses yogurt as the wet ingredient, instead of the more traditional water. And the results are a far cry from the the average Zalabya. It adds a depth of flavor and a balanced texture that is unachievable otherwise. Mrs. Al Alem said it…this recipe produces “perfect” results that you could rely on, and I couldn’t agree more. I strongly urge you to watch her video for a better understanding of the process.
Now the only thing I strayed from in the recipe is the amount of yogurt called for. You see…the first time I was making this, I accidentally read the 3 cups of the yogurt as 2 cups! Guys numbers 2 and 3 look freakishly similar in Arabic and it was nighttime and I think I need glasses. I was blown away with the results that I remember thinking to myself that they were the best Zalabya I’ve ever tasted. My family gave me their seal of approval too and I was happy and all and couldn’t believe that I found the ultimate recipe from the first try.
Then when I came to make them the next morning for the blog’s photoshoot, I realized that it should’ve been 3 cups not 2! So I decided to go with 3, because it was the right thing to do. Sadly they didn’t turn out as perfect for me. The dough came out very loose that it lost its shape while frying and the inside of the cooked fritter was far doughier (almost wet) than I would’ve liked.
So next, I tried 2 1/2 cups of yogurt…you know, as a compromise between the two. This trail turned out really good but the outside wasn’t as crunchy as those made with 2 cups. So in the ingredients below, I listed both amounts as an option, so you could choose according to your preferred texture . Two cups of yogurt will give you the crunchiest Zalabya you’ve ever had (my personal favorite!) . Two and half cups will give you a medium crunch and a squishier inside.
So I guess its safe to say that nailing the perfect recipe was a happy accident!
The dough cannot be easier to make.
Dry ingredients get combined, yogurt mixed in and voila! Done! Just make sure that the yogurt is at room temperature, otherwise the dough will take forever to rise.
The consistency should be between a very thick cake batter and a loose, sticky dough. Cover that with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour (or in the fridge overnight) until doubled in size.
Now to shape the dough, there’s this really complicated, highly messy method that involves grabbing the dough with your bare hands and an oiled spoon that professionals use. But I’ll show you 2 easier methods here. This is the piping bag method, which is the one suggested by Mrs. Manal Al Alam. Watch her make it here.
You use one hand to squeeze the top of the piping bag to release about 1 1/2 cm of dough from the tip, then using the other hand, press on the tip with oiled fingers to cut off the dough into the hot oil.
Now you guys know how much I love my ice cream scoops. I use them for EVERYTHING! And the mini one works absolutely perfect here and shapes the most perfect little balls with the least mess. Just dip your scoop in oil (for easy release) scoop out dough, plop in the oil. Easy as that!
Now do you see why these guys are called “Awwamat” Floaters?!
Just keep flipping and turning them so they cook evenly.
While also pushing them down to give them an equal dunk of oil.
That way, you’ll get perfect golden rounds on all sides. And it goes without saying that the deeper the color, the crunchier they’ll be.
A quick swim in syrup…
Will give you the all-time classic. And just between you and me…my favorite! Don’t tell Nutella 😁
But its obviously a close second. How could anyone resist?!
A generous puff of powdered sugar is amazing too!
Who am I kidding?! I love them ALL!
- For the Zalabya:
- 3 cups (360g/ 12¾oz) all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon (7g/ ¼oz/) cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon (13g/ ½oz) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons (7g) instant yeast
- Pinch of salt
- 1 packet vanilla sugar powder or ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (could be substituted with ¼ ground cardamom or ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon)
- 2 cups (454g/ 1lb) room temperature full fat plain yogurt for the crunchiest outsides (or 2½ cups for a medium crunchy outside & squishier center)
- Oil, for frying
- Coating Variations:
- Classic Dipping Simple Syrup, ingredients below
- Warmed Nutella
- Powdered Sugar with optional cinnamon
- For the Classic Dipping Simple Syrup: (cool to room temperature before dipping)
- 2 cups (14oz/ 400g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (237ml) water
- Squeeze of fresh lemon juice, about 1 teaspoon
- Rose and orange blossom water, to taste (if desired)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or large bowl and a wooden spoon) whisk together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, yeast, vanilla powder (or preferred spice) and pinch of salt to combine.
- Add the yogurt and beat on medium speed until well blended and a wet sticky dough comes together. The consistency should be between a very thick cake batter and a loose, sticky dough.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour (or in the fridge overnight) until doubled in size.
- In a frying pan, pour enough oil to fill 2 inches/ 5 cm high and heat over medium-high until very hot (350F to 375C/ 175C to 190C). Keep your coating of choice nearby.
- If using the piping bag method: Transfer the dough to a piping bag. Using scissors, snip the end off to make an opening that is about 1½ cm wide. Lower the piping bag near the oil. Using one hand, squeeze the top of the piping bag to release about 1½ cm of dough from the tip, then using the other hand, press on the tip with oiled fingers to cut off the dough into the hot oil.
- If using the mini ice cream scoop method: Dip a tablespoon size ice cream scoop in cool oil. Keep a small bowl of oil nearby for continuous dipping; this will make for easy release.
- Fill the scoop with a leveled amount of dough, then use the release mechanism of the scoop to release dough balls into the oil. Dip the scoop into the cooled oil as needed to avoid sticking.
- Fry the dough balls, stirring and flipping continuously and applying pressure over their tops to sink with a slotted spoon, until they are evenly golden in color.
- Use the slotted spoon to take the zalabya out of the oil, allow access oil to drip back in the pan.
- Immediately drop the piping hot zalabya into the cooled syrup bowl. Toss and turn them to coat, then transfer to a large sieve to drain off excess syrup. Arrange on platter and garnish with chopped pistachios if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature; they are best eaten within the first couple of hours of frying.
- You could either use syrup dipped or undipped zalabya here, depending on your tolerance for sweetness. If using undipped zalabya, allow them to first drain for a few minutes over some paper towels. Then arrange whether dipped (if prefer them sweeter) or undipped zalabya on a serving platter.
- In a microwave safe bowl, microwave some Nutella until warm and runny. Pour the Nutella all over them to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature; they are best eaten within the first couple of hours of frying.
- Drain freshly fried zalabya over some paper towels and allow to cool slightly until warm.
- Fill a bowl with powdered sugar and cinnamon to taste (if desired). Roll the zalabya in the powdered sugar to coat. Arrange on a serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature. They are best eaten within the first couple of hours of frying.
- In a medium saucepan, combine together the sugar, water and squeeze of lemon juice. Set on the stovetop over high heat. Try to avoid stirring it as it heats to prevent crystallization from happening, but if the sugar is not dissolving, then help it out with a few stirs. Once it comes to a boil, STOP stirring.
- Bring to a rolling boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Set a timer! The syrup will thicken slightly, and have a consistency similar to pancake syrup. If it simmers for longer it could thicken too much and become candy-like. If desired, flavor with rose and orange blossom water. The Egyptian version never uses it here, but its a must in other neighboring countries, so its your call.
- Remove off the heat and transfer to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature before dipping the Zalabya.
Recipe mostly adapted from Manal Online, decreasing the yogurt quantity from 3 to 2 -2½ cups, as this produced crunchier results and a less wet interior.
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