Sweets and desserts have always been an important delight to people all over the world. They offer joy and bring a sense of positivity around the dinner table. Different cultures around the world have their own versions of how to make and serve desserts and sweets and the Somali community is no exception in this regard.
Somali culture is mostly depicted around its delectable food. Somalis have a sweet tooth and are well known for the wide variety of their delicious sweets and desserts and which are often of great quality.
Most Somali households and confectionary businesses take pride in preparing tasteful bites which require intricacy and deep knowledge, an art form by itself that has been passed on from generation to generation.
In Kenya, Eastleigh is where you can find Somali sweets easily with different prices depending on your pocket. The main sweets are halwa, aano baraawe, sinsin and laws.
1. Halwa / Halwo
Halwa is one of the most popular Somali sweets. It is a traditional dish that has been around for generations. It is the epitome of Somali childhood memories, as most Somalis have been brought up eating it. There is hardly a festive occasion, be it a wedding, a naming ceremony or the two Idds in a year where halwa is not served as a delicacy.
There are different types of halwa : flour and nut based. Halwa has a jelly like structure and a soft feel to it.
Halwa can either be soft or hard depending on the relative ratio of the ingredients and the length of stay in the cauldron where the ingredients are cooked and vigorously stirred in hot oil. It can stay for long without a preservative. However one is advised to not put their hands in the dish but to use cutlery to serve from the main dish onto the serving plates.
The main ingredients of halwa are cornstarch, sugar, oil and ground cardamom. Cardamom aids in digestion, has diuretic capabilities (good detoxifier) and much more. Saffron is added for seasoning but its main task is to add colour to halwa.
When buying halwa from the vendors it is really important to be observant in order to get the best pieces in terms of quality. It is sold in big round trays and it is cut into different retail sizes.
Halwa goes well with buskud (biscuit) and qahwe (coffee) .The sour taste of the coffee and the sweetness of the halwa compliment each other.
2. Aano Baraawe
It is Somali fudge that is yummy and really easy to make. Milk is the main ingredient in making the fudge. People often say that it has a smell of spoilt milk. There are different ways of making aano baraawe but the common one is heating milk and sugar together. Stirring is done to ensure full dissolution of the sugar.
The mixture is left to simmer for about 45 minutes. At this point the mixture turns yellow and stirring is further done but now in longer intervals than at the beginning. Melted butter is then added. When ready it is placed on a non stick pan to cool off, and then it is cut into different shapes and sizes.
Aano Baraawe is soft to the touch and melts in the mouth. It can served with shaah (tea), qahwe or even with camel milk.
Sisin is Somali for sesame seeds and the main ingredient of this sweet. The small seeds are roasted and then added to melted sugar. The melted sugar in this case acts as a binder for the seeds and as a sweetener for the dish.
Sesame seeds is one of the most nutritional foods in the world. It contains minerals that are important for the body such as manganese, phosphorous, iron, vitamin B1, selenium and molybdenum.
Sinsin is crunchy and sweet with the smoky roasted taste of the sesame seeds. It is served with either milk or qahwe.
1. Luqaimat (Sweet Dumplings)
Luqaimat or sweet dumplings, is one of the best syrup based desserts. People mostly enjoy it during the month of Ramadan .The round ball of sweetness creates an urge to have more upon each bite hence one easily loses count of how many have gone down the gullet.
The main ingredients in making Luqaimat are white flour, corn flour, yoghurt and dry yeast, mixed together to make a thick batter. One can add water to get the constituency they so wish. Scooped portions are then place in hot oil. A golden brown ball quickly takes shape. The already cooked Luqaimat is then dumped into a bowl of syrup (sugar and water heated together to form a soft caramel) for a sweet coating.
The sweetness of the syrup and the savoury taste of the dumpling is a match made in heaven. Both tickle the taste buds with different tastes that complement each other .The coated syrup hardens upon cooling on the dumpling as it is usually hot in the beginning. When you bite it, one immediately gets the crunchiness of the coat and moist texture of the dumpling.
Luqaimat has a spongy feel to it. In terms of coating one can go for the option of using icing sugar. One can add almonds or sesame seeds to the syrup for a desirable coating. It is usually served with qahwe or shaah.
2. Somali custards and fruits
Somali households have gotten accustomed to this flavourful type of dessert. It has even become a part of their family because the young to the old greatly enjoy it. Custard is a cooked mixture of milk and egg yolk.
One can make custard from scratch at home or buy at the supermarket. Custard can come in different flavours the most common being vanilla. Custard and fruit is a combo that is out of this world. Most people would tell you that custard served with fruits is the ultimate dessert.
Custard is prepared by heating milk and custard powder together. Stirring is continuously to prevent the custard from sticking on the cooking pot .Ground cardamom is then added. Cardamom is one of the most used spices around the world, due to its strong and aromatic smell. It has a herbal and citrusy feel to it. The cardamom powder added gives the custard a different taste.
When it is ready it’s left to cool or one can put it in the refrigerator. Different varieties of fruits are then added. Tropical fruits usually go well with custard, but everyone has their own preference when it comes to fruit choice. Such fruits are kiwi, apple, bananas, and sweet melon.
The creamy texture of the custard sparks off the taste buds. It is best served when chilled. One can add raisins or even roasted almonds.
3. Adriyad (Sweet Somali Vermicelli)
Also known as angel hair pasta. It is a sweet dish with vermicelli pasta as the base. Vermicelli pasta is made from wheat into thin, long strands.
Adriyad is easy to make and addition of flavours is done through adding varieties of add ins and spices. One can add cinnamon, almonds, cardamom and raisins. It all depends with one’s taste and the desirable flavour they want to achieve.
The vermicelli is toasted in an oven for a few minutes until it is golden brown then boiled for about six minutes until tender. The water is drained leaving just a little and oil and sugar added.
For lovers of colorful food, they can purchased the base vermicelli in many colors to add that extra va va voom..
Adriyad has a nice aroma .The cardamom, raisins and the vermicelli present a mouth watering dish that is a treat for the senses.
Mohamed Amin Abdulrahman is food blogger in Kenya.