Nahla Alsafar was born and raised in Baghdad, Iraq. After leaving Iraq, she spent 3 1/2 years in Turkey with her husband and three daughters before arriving in Maine in 2016. When she first got here, she couldn’t talk to people in English because, back home, language classes were not focused on speaking. So even though she knew quite a bit of English vocabulary, she couldn’t converse. She started looking for conversational English classes, and met Claudette Ndayininahaze, one of the founders of In Her Presence, at a gathering in the neighborhood. Claudette told her about classes at In Her Presence. So Nahla started attending weekly Saturday classes, and has missed only one class in three years – the day that her family moved from Portland to Westbrook. She says she has made lots of friends through In Her Presence.

In 2018, the program added a monthly cooking class, In Her Kitchen, which she leads along with Justine Mugabo, the co-coordinator of Amjambo Africa’s monthly Market Basket feature. Nahla is a big believer in home cooking, and in the importance of eating healthy foods. She notes that foods cooked in restaurants and markets often have more sugar, fat, or salt in them than is healthy for regular dining. She believes that a great advantage of cooking at home is that one can control the amounts of sugar, fat, and salt in recipes to simultaneously please the taste buds and benefit the health of the family. In her culture – as in many cultures – the woman is responsible for the cooking, which, in effect, means that women are also responsible for the health of the family.

This recipe is for Basbousa, a very popular and well-known dessert in Middle Eastern countries. It can be enjoyed with tea, or with ice cream – vanilla ice cream is Nahla’s favorite accompaniment for the treat. Basbousa is popular during Ramadan, and as Ramadan approaches, all the markets start to prepare it for their customers.


2 cups semolina flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup shredded coconut
3/4 cup ghee or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Then add the yogurt, vanilla, and melted butter or ghee to the dry ingredients one by one, and mix thoroughly. Grease a baking pan (with sides) and pour in the mixture. Bake until golden brown (approximately 30-45 minutes). Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by mixing sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Lower the heat and allow the sauce to cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the stove and add the lemon juice, mixing so the sugar stays smooth and doesn’t harden. Pour the sauce over the baked mixture while still warm. Pistachios or other nuts can be sprinkled on the top. In Turkey, hazelnuts are a popular topping. The dessert can be enjoyed warm or cool, accompanied by ice cream or with a cup of tea or coffee. This is the basic recipe, however there are variations.