Recipe: Semolina 'Harissa' Cake


This cake is part of a traditional Arabic breakfast served at the Fauzi Azar Inn in Nazareth—a guesthouse that serves nearly 4,000 travelers a year.

For the cake:
    • 2 cups finest grade semolina
    • 2 tablespoons of baking powder
    • pinch of salt
    • 2 cups plain yogurt (use a yogurt brand that includes live, active cultures, such as Stonyfield)
    • 1 cup sugar
    • 2 cups dried coconut, very finely shredded

For the sugar syrup:
    • 1 cup water
    • 2 cups sugar
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 2 fresh geranium leaves (if you do not grow geraniums at home, and cannot find any fresh leaves in a Middle Eastern food shop, they can be omitted and the cake will still be delicious)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add semolina, baking powder and salt to a medium bowl; stir well to combine and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the yogurt and sugar until well mixed, then add dry ingredients to wet, mixing to combine. Fold in the coconut. Pour batter into an ungreased nine-by-13-inch pan and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, mix the water, sugar and lemon juice together in a heavy saucepan. Add the geranium leaves and slowly bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Lower the heat, remove the geranium leaves and simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, or until it is reduced by a third of its volume.

When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Cut into squares in the pan and pour syrup over the cake. Recut the squares and allow to sit, covered with a clean dish towel, for at least 30 minutes before serving.

To read about Leah's visit to the Israeli mansion-turned-guesthouse that serves this cake, click here.

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Leah Koenig is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She is working on her first cookbook, and more of her work can be found at More

Leah Koenig is a freelance writer whose mostly food-related work has been published in The New York Times Magazine, Saveur, Gastronomica, Every Day with Rachael Ray, Culinate, and other publications. She writes a monthly food column for The Forward and a bi-weekly column on seasonal eating for

Leah was the founding editor of The Jew and The Carrot, a blog on Jews, food, and contemporary life. Under her tenure the site won best new blog and best food and recipes blog in the 2007 Jewish and Israeli Blog Awards. Leah has also presented her food research at venues around New York City. Most recently, she gave a presentation on the Jewish cuisine of Rome for the Jewish Historical Society of New York. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband. Her personal Web site is
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