This simple yet addictive deep-fried Persian dessert works equally well with any kind of sugar syrup. I use saffron, but you could try rosewater, orange blossom or your own blend of flavours. The saffron syrup will continue to develop flavour and colour over a period of seven days, so begin this step up to a week in advance.
Skill level Mid
300 g cornflour
100 g labna (see note)
170 ml water
vegetable oil, to deep-fry
Saffron sugar syrup
3 generous pinches of saffron
500 ml (2 cups) water
1 kg caster sugar
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.
To make the saffron sugar syrup, combine the saffron and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, transfer the syrup to a sterilised jar and steep for 24 hours before using. The syrup will keep for at least 6 months at room temperature.
Using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cornflour and labna until combined. Gradually add the water and continue to mix until it is a creamy and slightly thick batter with the consistency of thickened cream. Transfer to a squeeze bottle. Cut the tip off the bottle so the opening is about 5 mm in diameter.
Heat the oil in a deep fryer or large wok to 170°C. Squeeze the batter directly into the hot oil in a rough circular motion, about 10 cm round, crossing over the circle a few times to ensure the zoolbia holds together. Cook for 1 minute on each side or until light golden. Cook as many as will fit in the wok at one time.
Once cooked, transfer the zoolbia to a wire rack to drain off the excess oil. Pour the saffron syrup into a large shallow bowl and soak the zoolbia for 1-2 minutes or until they absorb the syrup and take on some of the saffron colour. (The zoolbia can be cooked ahead of time then soaked once ready to serve.) Drain again to remove the excess syrup and arrange on a plate. Serve immediately.
• Labna is thick yoghurt cheese made by adding salt to yoghurt, then hanging the yoghurt to remove the excess whey. Labna can be purchased from European delicatessens and cheese stores.