Eat & Drink
Byzantine Honey Fritters
An ancient snack you can enjoy today
Here's a recipe for what are alternately called Byzantine honey fritters or Ancient Roman honey fritters. Whatever they're called, you'll call them delicious.
(And since the Byzantine world was originally the Eastern Roman Empire, the name is really just down to semantics, anyway.)
The recipe takes just a little bit longer overall then the usual 30-40 minutes we usually shoot for, but it's not difficult. It just takes a bit of extra time to cook, then cool, then fry.
An original ancient Roman recipe says that either milk or water may be used, but recommends using milk, as it will make it tastier. It doesn't specify whether to use cow's or goat's milk, but I decided to go as authentic as I could and found some goat milk at Whole Foods. I've never had the opportunity to use it before, so why not give it a try? The results were excellent! You can certainly use cow's milk, however.
The durum wheat flour, also called semolina - and this is important - should be as finely ground as you can get. A coarse grind won't work. I found some fine semolina on Amazon, but you may find it at your local market if it's well-stocked.
The recipes I've found online call for black pepper, as that's what the ancients had in that period, but I also experimented with sesame seeds and they were great that way, as well.
I even skipped the pepper on a few fritters and tried them with Hot Honey. They were really good that way, too! Whether with pepper or spicy honey, the "sweet and heat" is a lovely combination.
As for honey, I used Greek honey from Ikaria. If you can't find Greek honey, use the best quality you can find. Since this is such a simple recipe, the quality of the ingredients becomes that much more important.
Want a savory option instead? I experimented by leaving off the honey and adding some grated mizythra cheese and these were good, too!
Use a high-quality (and preferably Greek) extra virgin olive oil, too. And the kind of pepper you grind yourself will be a vast improvement over the sad pepper dust you shake out of a bottle.
It should be noted that I went rather light on both the honey and the pepper for these on my first try. Should they be soaked in honey or just drizzled? Should the pepper be sparing or really tossed on there? The older sources don't say. Experiment and see what tastes good to you.
Are these things dessert? Yes. But would I have them as a light breakfast or afternoon snack? Absolutely.
Byzantine (or Roman) Honey Fritters
Makes about 30-40 bite-sized fritters
2 cups (475ml) cow or goat milk
1 to 1 1/4 cups (136g to 170g) fine semolina. You may end up using less than this.
Extra virgin olive oil for frying - enough to float the fritters
Honey to drizzle
Black pepper to taste
mizythra or parmesan cheese
1. Heat the milk in a saucepan over low heat. Don't let it simmer; just bring it to the point where it's steaming.
2. Add about half the semolina and stir.
3. Slowly add a little more of the semolina. Keep stirring. The flour will start getting a little hard to move the spoon through. It's a bit of work but that's what you want. Keep adding flour and stirring. If it becomes too hard, you can add a splash more milk. Alternately, if it's too liquid, add a touch more flour. You may find you may or may not use all the semolina. Stir continuously for about 10 minutes over low heat.
3. It will get to the point where the flour pulls away from the sides of the pan and forms a kind of ball.
4. After the 10 minutes, turn off the heat.
5. Put the dough on a large flat dish or cutting board and let it cool just enough so you can work it without discomfort, but it should still be warm. Flatten it out into a large circle. Make sure it's evenly thick all the way around - about half an inch or so.
6. Once it's formed, let it cool for about 20 minutes. If you have room in the refrigerator, you can put it in there to speed up the cooling a little.
7. When the dough is cool, cut it into even pieces. I just started in the center and cut squares. Don't worry too much about getting the perfect shape, as they will change shape a bit in the frying pan. Just try to keep them roughly the same size, more or less.
8. In a deep frying pan, add enough olive oil so that the fritters will float when you put them in. Heat the oil to about 350 degrees Fahrenheit or about 170 degrees Celsius.
10. Add 6-8 pieces to the hot oil. Don't overcrowd the pan, as that will lower the oil temperature. Let them fry undisturbed for about a minute on one side, then turn them over for another minute to minute and a half. They should be golden brown.
11. Remove with a slotted spoon and put them on a wire rack to drain.
12. Wait a minute or two between batches, to make sure the oil heats back up again. Add batches of 6-8 until finished.
13. When the fritters are drained and cooled, plate them with honey and black pepper to taste. I went a bit conservative with the pepper on my first try; feel free to use more if you like.
And you're done! Extra fritters can be refrigerated for a day if needed (without the honey and pepper) and lightly heated when ready to eat, but they won't be quite as good the next day. Heating them in a pan or air fryer is far preferable to a microwave. Add the honey and pepper after they're heated.
Enjoy this elegant snack from the days of the Byzantine emperors in your own kitchen!
The honey and sesame version
Do you like Greek food? Take a look at more of our quick and easy recipes here!
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