Ingredient: Shredded phyllo pastry (kataifi, knafeh, kanafe, kenafeh, kunafeh…)

That list of spellings for knafeh (kuh-NAF-ee), shredded phyllo dough, seems to go on and on. Knafeh dough is typically called kataifi dough, which is the Greek iteration of knafeh. Like the sheets of phyllo used for baklawa, the shredded dough is used to make several different kinds of Lebanese pastry, typically of the buttery, syrupy sort.

When you first open a package of shredded phyllo, the papery threads hardly seem edible. They look more like the stuffing used to buffer fragile items in a box from Williams-Sonoma than anything you’d want to eat.

But then there is that scent, that distinct flour-y phyllo scent that is the indicia that something good is about to happen—a party, or something fun and happy, because we pull phyllo out for pastry for most every special occasion. A party is official when there is something crispy, rich, and fragrant to eat.

When I called around to Middle Eastern groceries to see if they carried the dough, I just said: Do you carry frozen dough for knafeh? The one guy said, You mean shredded phyllo? I said yes, that’s it. Yes, he said, of course. Is it frozen? I asked. Of course it is, he said with a slight edge. I know that it’s always frozen but I asked it, I think, because I worry that this particular shop’s products aren’t always as fresh as they could be, so somehow my asking if it was frozen was akin to my Aunt Hilda asking if the pot of decaf in the restaurant is a fresh pot. If so, she’ll have a cup.

So it’s always frozen, just as phyllo is always frozen. That’s a good thing, because who knows how much turnover they have with this product?

I was happy to find Fillo Factory brand knafeh dough because I’ve used their phyllo a lot, it’s always so easy to work with, and it has good flavor. Fillo Factory’s ingredient list is short, and it’s vegan, sugar-free, no cholesterol, and yeast-free. Sometimes the knafeh dough is referred to as vermicelli, but I don’t see any similarity other than thinness of threads. There is nothing of pasta in texture or flavor of the knafeh dough, and there is no egg in the dough. It tastes instead of what it is: phyllo.

The shredded phyllo is handled very similarly to phyllo sheets in that it dries out quickly, so it’s best to keep exposure to air at a minimum. If the dough must be exposed to air for a few minutes, cover the dough with plastic wrap and a clean dish towel. There’s something terrifically fun in tearing apart the knafeh shreds, if you can get over the little threads getting all over the place. Do it over the sink, though, and problem solved.

Can you make knafeh dough yourself by very, very thinly slicing phyllo? Even I haven’t attempted that kind of mania, but if you do and it’s successful, please let us all know…

I can’t wait to share knafeh jibneh with you this week, a cheesy, buttery Lebanese sweet pastry. There are variations of this that do not require the shredded phyllo, but our version does.  Give your local Middle Eastern market a try for knafeh (or kataifi) dough, or check it out online here and here.

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13 Responses to Ingredient: Shredded phyllo pastry (kataifi, knafeh, kanafe, kenafeh, kunafeh…)

  1. Jerry Wakeen says:

    Looks like Angel Hair pasta, are you sure you shouldn’t use Marina sauce?

    Seriously never heard of that product before and I love all the sweet Lebanese pastries.
    Once visiting a cousin in Detroit he took me by Shatila’s (in Dearborn Michigan and they do fill orders on the internet with reasonable shipping). They have a store front showing all of the various sweet Lebanese items. I was looking for the jelly/nut combination they call Turkish Delight. My cousin turned his nose up and pointed me to some squares with nuts with a bit of jelly…presumably a substitute for the Turkish Delight, and it was great, but I wouldn’t have thought they were at all similar just looking at them
    Of course there is always fudge, from Mackinaw Island! :)

  2. Maureen, I have, on occasion, found Fillo Factory organic,whole wheat fillo dough!! I find it in my local, family-owned, small market here in my village. Back in the day, before fillo leaves were commercially available, my Mother made these by hand–when I was a very, very young child, I helped her do this–I am glad I had the experience, although I would never have the patience to do this as an adult so I am grateful for Fillo Factory leaves. So looking forward to your pastry recipes!

  3. Susan says:

    Hello Maureen,

    I read your comment on David Leibovit’s blog, hopped over to take a look, and just wanted to let you know how delighted I am to have found your blog. I have always adored Lebanese food, but the few
    cookbooks on the cuisine that I have acquired over the years put so much emphasis on meat, which we just don’t eat that often. I am so happy to have found a modern resource on Lebanese cookery, that offers explorations and recipes on the kinds of dishes I want to eat, and am looking forward to really delving into your blog. You write beautifully on the culture as well.

    • Maureen Abood says:

      How very nice to have you here, Susan, thank you. I look forward to being in touch–keep me posted on your Lebanese cooking adventures!

  4. Kaunan says:

    Can I make this with Indian Vermicelli instead of shredded phyllo? As i want to make it tomorrow!! cant wait for your reply!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hello Kaunan–great question. I have not cooked with Indian Vermicelli so I can’t confirm it will work, but from what I’ve read about it, it seems it could work. If you try it, let us know how it comes out!

      • Kaunan says:

        Thanks for the advice! I tried it with Vermicelli and it tured out good! Not the best but good enough to satisfy my want for kunafe!!

  5. lucy says:

    Hello need to buy sheded phyllo and to be deliverer to Puerto rico,is that possible

  6. Ruth Contreras says:

    I wanted to surprise my Turkish boyfriend by making Kunefe. I bought the ingredients however without realizing that the phyllo dough was not shredded but they were sheets. I shredded them and used them either way. Should I throw the finished product or try to give them to him??? I am afraid because I have never tasted it and not sure what the taste should be. Please help!!!!!

    • Maureen Abood says:

      Hi Ruth–how wonderful that you are making knafeh for your boyfriend. I think it would be difficult to shred phyllo yourself to get the same texture and fine thread of the commercially shredded knafeh dough. The result looks like shredded wheat and is crisp. Phyllo sheets seem much softer to me than the shredded phyllo, but perhaps if you’ve cut them very finely they worked out ok. Not seeing or tasting your finished product, I can’t say if it is like knafeh, but I’d say you’ve made him something and should absolutely share it! He will appreciate your effort and thoughtfulness!


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