Making zalebiya is a challenge…for everyone. When I started experimenting with the dough, and made my first ever zalebiya, I almost gave up. The secret lies in the dough and in your working skills, which you can only train by trying the recipe very often. Let’s say as a start, once a year on Epiphany. My first trial goes back 7 years ago when I launched my Facebook page. The number of followers was growing fast, the idea of a book was simmering slowly, and the positive pressure was increasing. It was only natural to develop recipes that were missing in my repertoire, and zalebiya was first on the list.
I knew what the ingredients were; I could taste the marvellous flavour of anise and smell the sweet aroma of fried oil. I was imagining myself carefully dropping the perfect dough into that hot oil. Still, I had no usable recipe. I had no choice but to challenge myself, and sometimes the people around me. I wrote my first recipe, and tried my first zalebiya while visiting my sister in Dubai on January 6, 2013 to celebrate my first Epiphany on Dina’s Kitchen. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked well. Several alterations and trials followed in Lebanon and in Germany the following years, until I obtained the perfect doughy texture.
My aim, however, is not to discourage you. But I know the frustration when you try a new recipe and you face problems that you were not anticipating. I hope the photos I am sharing with you will help you overcome your hesitation or may be fear, and I promise to share a video on this page soon. Meanwhile, check my Instagram account for the video. For the first trial, I would recommend finding another cook enthusiast to assist you. That way one person would form the shape, poke 2 holes (for beginners) or 3 holes (for well-trained) and lower in the hot oil, and the second person would stick the handles of 2 spoons in the holes and stretch once to keep the shape.
I am sharing with you the recipe that made it into my cookbook “The Taste of Marjeyoun”, Le Goût de Marjeyoun”.
Good Luck and Happy Epiphany!
Zalebiya - Lebanese Doughnuts
Yield 20 zalebiya
- 30 g sesame
- 425 g sifted all-purpose flour
- 75 g sifted whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast
- 175 g granulated sugar
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon ground aniseed
- 1 teaspoon whole aniseed
- ¼ teaspoon mahlab, optional
- 350 ml lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon sunflower oil to coat the dough
- 750 ml sunflower oil for deep-frying
- Heat a small non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat and toast the sesame for about 3 minutes, or until golden in colour and start to pop, stirring constantly. Be careful, seeds can easily burn. Remove to a plate immediately.
- For the dough: Mix the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add the water and mix well with your hands. The dough will be soft and sticky. Gather the dough and coat with 1 tablespoon sunflower oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for at least 6 hours.
- Frying the zalebiya: Heat the oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high until it reaches 180 °C, 350°F on a deep-fry thermometer (see tip below). While the oil heats, line a tray with a double layer paper towels for draining the zalebiya. Have on the side a cup half-filled with oil to grease your fingertips.
- Working in batches of 3 or 4, shape the dough and immediately fry as follows keeping in mind that the pace of work should be coordinated and fast:
- Shaping the dough: With your hand take one portion of dough about 5 cm. Poke two holes (or three holes) in the ball with your index fingers and thumbs and carefully stretch the dough into an oblong shape about 15 cm.
- Frying the dough: Have at hand 2 spoons (for the holes) and 2 forks (to turn the dough in the oil and remove to the plate). Carefully lower one end of a Zalebiyah into the hot oil, and immediately stick the handle of a spoon into the first hole, and almost at the same time, lower the other end and stick the handle of another spoon in the second and third holes and stretch. This should take one to two seconds. Fry until golden brown on the underside for about 2 to 3 minutes. Carefully turn the zalebiyah over and fry for an additional 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden brown as well. Remove the zalebiyah to the paper towel-lined tray.
- Serve at room temperature. Tastes best when freshly made.
Tip: If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the hot oil, the oil will bubble around the stick when is ready for frying. You might also have to lower the heat just a bit halfway if the oil gets too smoky.
All images and text © Dina Bayoud Kohl for Dina’s Kitchen