Kahi and Qei’mar—A Flaky, Creamy Affair

For Iraqi Jews, Shavuot is synonymous with kahi and qei’mar.
June 6, 2024
Photo by Sephardic Spice Girls

As a child growing up in Sydney, Australia, I would often hear my parents wistfully reminisce about eating qei’mar (pronounced khey’mar) for breakfast everyday. Qei’mar, an Iraqi clotted cream made from the milk of water buffalo, acquired an almost mythic quality in my young imagination.

The cream is made by slowly boiling raw milk over low heat, then cooling overnight, which results in a thick layer of cream. Water buffalo milk has a very high percentage of fat (about 40-60%) which makes it ideal for this recipe. Kaymak, a word with Central Asian Turkic origins, meaning “melt,” is a similar type of clotted cream. It is popular in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans, Romania and central Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Georgia. In Iran, this cream is called sarshir, which means “top of the milk.”

Water buffalo originated in western India and were domesticated about 6,000 years ago. They were traded from the Indus Valley civilization to Mesopotamia in 2500 BCE. Archeological records even show the sacrifice of water buffalo on the seal of the scribes of an Akkadian King. The marshes that dominate the south of Iraq are particularly suitable for the raising of water buffalo. While Saddam Hussein, in his attempts to root out the “Marsh people,” tried to destroy the marsh ecosystem, the marshes of southern Iraq are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the water buffalo continue to thrive there.

For Iraqi Jews, Shavuot is synonymous with kahi and qei’mar. When we were younger, my mother would make us kahi, a flaky layered crepe. But it’s an involved process of kneading a dough made with vinegar, allowing it to rest, then rolling it out and layering it, then frying it with lots of butter.

This year for Shavuot, I decided that rather than struggling with the kahi dough, I would bake little squares of puff pastry. But what could possibly come close to the thick, rich creamy qei’mar?

Rachel and I hit on a wonderful solution—we strained equal parts sour cream and ricotta cheese. The results were a mouthwatering smooth, thick, rich cream.

We highly recommend you try this recipe for crispy kahi, clotted cream and Silan, a dark caramel date syrup. A typical, traditional Iraqi breakfast food, for Jews and non-Jews alike, it makes a perfectly simple, yet elegant dessert.

I will be nostalgic for my childhood home on the Sydney harbor and the happy memories with my parents. But, as always, I will try to make sweet new memories


Iraqi Kahi And Qei’mar

1 roll puff pastry cut into 12 equal squares.
1/2 cup full fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
Silan -Date syrup

Preheat oven 400°F
Combine ricotta and sour cream and place in a sieve or strainer Place puff pastry squares on a sheet pan lined with parchment.
Poke a few holes on each square with a fork Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and puffed Allow puff pastry to cool. Arrange on a serving tray top with cream and Silan.

Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food. Website .

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