Kunafa is traditionally eaten during Ramadan in Arab and Middle-Eastern countries. It is served during the non-fasting hours which is called Iftar, the time between sunset and breakfast.
1 (1 pound) package Kataifi (can be found in most Middle Eastern, Arab or Greek grocery stores or markets)
1/2 lb. (2 sticks/8 oz./226 g) butter, melted
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 tsp. rosewater or vanilla extract
1/4 cup blanched whole almonds
1/2 cup golden raisins
2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped (or 2 1/2 cups pistachios and omit raisins)
2 1/2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 lb. soft ricotta cheese (this is an alternative filling, if using ricotta omit the nuts, raisins, cinnamon and the 2 1/2 tbsp. sugar)
Butter, for buttering the pan
1. In a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, add water, the 1 1/2 cups sugar and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Let simmer to a syrupy consistency. Remove from heat, let cool and add rosewater or vanilla.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C. Butter a 12-inch round, 2-inch high cake pan.
3. In a large bowl gently loosen kataifi. Mix very well with the 1/2 pound of melted butter. Place blanched almonds in a decorative pattern in the cake pan. Cover with half of the kataifi. Press down lightly.
4. If using the ricotta cheese, spread in an even layer over kataifi, then cover with the remaining half of the kataifi. Press down gently.
5. If using the raisins and walnuts sprinkle an even layer over kataifi. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cover with the remainig half of the kataifi. Press down gently.
6. Bake until lightly golden, about 30 to 45 minutes. (Note: the reverse side will be more golden when you turn it out.)
7. Immediately pour cold sugar syrup evenly over the hot kunafa. Let cool completely to room temperature. Invert onto serving plate.
8. If using the ricotta cheese, kunafa should be served warm or hot. It may be difficult to invert with the ricotta filling so cut and serve from pan.
Makes 12 servings.