Balaleet (Sweet Vermicelli)

Everybody loves balaleet. This pleasing combination of sweet pasta and hearty omelette comes from the Indian subcontinent, where many versions are found. It's a difficult dish to pigeonhole. In the Gulf it may be eaten as a main course at dinner or served as a dessert. Shi'riya (vermicelli) is used throughout the Middle East to thicken soups and rice dishes.

pinch of saffron strands, plus extra (optional) for the omelettes
8 Tbs sugar
4 Tbs butter
1 lb 2 oz vermicelli
3 Tbs rosewater
4 eggs, beaten

Dissolve the saffron in 4 tablespoons of warm water and set aside.

Put 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon of butter in a large pan of boiling water and cook the vermicelli for 3 minutes until al dente. Drain well into a colander. While the pasta is still in the colander, sprinkle with 5 tablespoons of sugar and toss well, preferably by shaking the colander, and without using any utensils, to dissolve the sugar evenly into the vermicelli.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons butter in a deep pan, taking care not to burn it, then sprinkle 1 tablespoon each of the sugar and the rosewater across the bottom of the pan. The sugar will quickly melt into the butter and start to caramelize. Do not stir. Immediately toss in the pasta.

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Cut the remaining 1 tablespoon butter into cubes and place on top of the pasta. Pour over the saffron water and the remaining rosewater. Cover and steam over the lowest heat for about 40 minutes until the pasta absorbs the sugar and the bottom caramelizes.

After about 15 minutes remove the lid — the butter will have melted. Pass a fork through the top layer of pasta without touching the bottom of the pan. The pasta will look set and drier on top and ready to be turned over onto a flat plate.

Fry the eggs in some oil or butter to make two thin omelettes. For extra flavor, add a few saffron strands when heating the eggs.

Turn the pasta out onto a large platter, top with the omelettes, and serve warm.

Serves 6.

From "Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf " by Sarah Al-Hamad

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