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Samali: Traditional Greek semolina-cake with mastic in fragrant syrup from Asia Minor (easy recipe)

Samali is a semolina-cake scented with mastic, one of the traditional Greek so-called “tray sweets”, even though not so famous as its glamorous cousins, the baklava or kataifi. It is a modest sweet soaked in fragrant syrup and modest because it has nuts only as decoration and not as main ingredient.

Its origin is from Smyrna (Izmir) in today’s Turkey and was brought to Greece with Greek refugees from Asia Minor.

I can remember well that my Mikrasiatis grandfather used to make this sweet, although the old-fashioned grandpa would gladly stay away from the kitchen which was my grandma’s kingdom.

For me personally, Samali is one of my favorites treats in winter when we are in desperate need of more calories and because it is easy to make.  I don’t have to bother with 1000+1 layers of well-buttered fyllo, elaborate rolling of it at the edges and fine-ornamented cutting. Not to mention the highly cultivated art of traditional syrup with sugar and water that needs a certain temperature and whoever knows what else to reach the perfect level of consistency to avoid ..crystallization.

Note, that one can hardly find Samali ready to buy and consume, at least not in Athens and generally in central and southern Greece.

Still until the early 1970’s, Samali in its simplest form of semolina, water and sugar-syrup was considered the sweet for the poor and it was sold by vendors on the streets and outside football stadiums.

Samali main ingredients are semolina, sugar, milk and syrup, is perfumed with the flavors of mastic and lemon in the batter and cinnamon in the syrup, the aromas of the eastern Aegean, the Asia Minor and the Middle East.

I once found grandpa’s recipe in my mom’s handwritten recipes book. But I felt to modify it, make it even more easier – and don’t ask my why. I even “invented” my own syrup to avoid unpleasant surprises and the sometimes nightmarish sweetness of the Greek so-called “tray sweets.”

Many Greeks add yogurt or semolina half and half (fine and coarse), however, these make Samali fluffier, while mine has more firm consistence.

And here is the recipe semolina-cake SAMALI for a tray 34cm x 24cm and 20 small pieces. the cup I use is 200 gr (water)

I have no pictures of the making procedure as I wasn’t planning to post the recipe when I made it today. But then I posted one picture on Twitter and some wanted to have the recipe…



Semolina batter

3 cups semolina coarse (χονδρό) = 450 gr PLUS 2 soup-spoons for the tray *in Greece you buy semolina in 500gr packages. So you measure 3 cups & the rest is fro the tray.

2 cups sugar

2 teaspoon (flat) Baking powder

1 teaspoon (flat) fine crushed mastic (1-2 mastic tears)

Zest from 1 lemon

1 cup milk ( I use 1.5% fat) PLUS 1/4 to 1/2 cup, room temperature

20 almonds whole, peeled

A small piece of butter (10 gr) for the tray

Mix well in a big bawl: semolina, sugar, baking. Add zest and mastic and mix well. Add the milk and mix well with a wooden spoon. The batter is much thicker than for a cake.

Butter the tray – also the edges to keep the batter “down” when baking – , sprinkle the tiny semolina kernels and move the tray  up and down so that is covered.

Pour in the batter and flatten it with a wet knife.

Put tray in the oven: 185-190 degrees Celsius

After 20 minutes (25 minutes if oven not pre-heated) and when the surface is firm, take the tray out,cut in 20 pieces and put one almond in the middle of each piece. Bring tray back to oven for another 20 minutes and until golden brown.

Make the test with a knife that it comes clear.

Take tray out and let it cool completely.

Note: Samali-cake must be cold and Syrup hot!


450 gr honey (whatever quality)

1.5 cup water

some lemon peel + a few drops of lemon juice

1 cinnamon stick + a pinch of ground cinnamon

Put all ingredients in a saucepan, mix well and bring them to boil. Shimmer for another 10 minutes.

With a big soup spoon pour the hot syrup into each piece of the samali-cake, edges included.

Let it again cool completely and enjoy with a traditional Greek Coffee and a glass of water.

Strictly between you and me: It tastes better the next day. 🙂

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  1. Greek coffee (metrio) and a small piece of samali cake is the ultimate dessert after a delcious grek dinner! How I miss it!