Monday, August 17, 2009

A Middle Eastern Frame Of Mind

Sometimes I think that we human beings are difficult at best. Here in the US Northeast, first we complain about not having enough summer, then when the heat really hits us, we complain about that too. Take for instance, yours truly. In my home, DH and I are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to weather - he being a cold climate supporter and expressing an overall disdain for bright, hot, sunny days, while I preach the reverse. However, in the last few days I've had to bite my own tongue, because it truly has been too hot. Sizzling hot. Brain-scrambling hot. Render-you-senseless hot. Or in other words, almost as hot as a summer's day in the Middle East. Yes, I would know, because I did grow up there (and loved it).

But the years I've spent in the US and Canada have softened me up. The last few days of 90+ degrees temps have reduced me to a puddle of sweat as soon as I step outdoors. One of my neighboring towns had their Annual Oyster Festival this past weekend, and I was so excited about it. I'd even managed to convince DH to come along, but in the end, it was my sorry ass that he had to drag around, because I was so completely beaten down by the heat, that even the mere idea of having fried oysters was repulsive to me! And I don't think I was the only one - most of the people at the festival seemed happy enough just to collapse in the shade with a cone of shaved Italian ice. I would prefer to dunk my head in it, honestly.

So since the weather helped remind me of my years in Dubai, I thought I'd pay a humble tribute to it through food. I've been enjoying some cold, home-made hummus (recipe coming soon) and minted iced tea, but I think this Middle Eastern dessert recipe is the first one I'll share with you. It's a bit like bread pudding, but much lighter and easier to throw together. I got the recipe from Mercedes' blog Desert Candy (I love that title!) - she's got some amazing foodie gems on her site, and it's heart-warming to come across an American who loves the Middle East like I do!

Umm-e-Ali (pronounced 'oomay ali') Original recipe found here.
Serves 6

Click here for printable recipe

1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
1/3 cup mixed fruits and nuts (such as raisins, dried cherries, chopped dried apricots, pine nuts)
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4-1/3 cup sugar
slivered almonds and pistachios for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spread pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes until puffed and golden. Set aside.

2. Meanwhile, heat milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Turn off heat and let sit while you proceed with the next step.

3. Raise oven heat to 475F. Grease a baking dish, crumble/tear apart the pastry and scatter in the baking dish. Scatter the dried fruit and nuts over the dish. Pour the milk/cream mixture over the dish. Bake for 15 minutes, or until golden on top and set. Let cool somewhat before serving.

4. Lightly toast almonds and pistachios and scatter over top before serving.

Verdict: Subtly sweet, light yet custardy, with layers of smooth velvet interspersed with the crunchy nuts. I'm going to make it in a smaller baking dish next time, so that the layers are deeper. But overall, this dessert is a keeper because of its unique taste and ease. I know that when it comes to bread pudding, people either love it or hate it. For those in the former category, I encourage you to try this out because it's not as dense and eggy as regular bread pudding, and you almost feel like you're eating something healthy, thanks to all those dried fruits and nuts! (of course, my favorite parts are the buttery puff pastry and oodles of milk and cream, tee hee)

While we're on the subject of the Middle East, yesterday I was watching this rather well-made documentary on CNN (surprising, I know), hosted by the charismatic Christiane Amanpour, called "Generation Islam". I know I don't usually talk politics on my blog (because bringing people together over good food is my mantra), it was really very touching. And although there were a few instances where I was weeping like a baby (it's not easy viewing, because it focuses on children), it did have a semi-hopeful message, and showed how people are just as capable of kindness and generosity of spirit as they are of senseless violence. For once, it felt like something close to unbiased was coming out of CNN. Ms. Amanpour herself says that "The lack of foreign news on American television is unconscionable", and I agree. So I recommend this 2-hour documentary to you all. 'Nuff said - back to food next time!


Cathy said...

lol at the complaining about the weather!! We get so much snow and cold weather here that I'm loath to say anything when it hits 30 degrees....I could live somewhere hot all the time!

Your dessert looks deadly - only because I would probably eat the whole pan!

Varsha Vipins said...

Now thats one awesome dessert..loved it..!
I am rofl-ing here imagining you dunking ur head in ice..:)

Anonymous said...

This looks like a delicious treat! I love the use of puff pastry here!

Don't we always complain about the weather? I lived in San Diego for a few years where the weather was pretty much 75 degrees year round, mostly sunny, not humid, just perfect. But soon I was complaining that it was always the same and I actually missed the changes of the weather and the seasons :)

Hindu Marriages In India said...

A very good recipe.

Anonymous said...

Ha,the climate Part,i just mentioned the same to dear shabs weeks back..thats true dear..

and the "oomaay ali" looks so tempting that i am here trying to grab from the screen rocking munee..

Parita said...

Wow this is something new, looks delicious! i like the name :)

Jennifer said...

Ohhh Muneeba, that looks so good, I love Middle Eastern dishes, I want to learn to make Hummus, I found fresh Tahini!

Yasmeen said...

I've seen this dessert before ,never tried it though,its almost as rich as double ka meeta,don't you think?:)
I can take summer all year long :).Thanks for the link dearie,I'm so interested in such unbiased documentaries :D

Kerstin said...

What a delicious sounding dessert, I would love to try it!

I'm not a fan of this hot weather because I commute by the T/bus, and hate being sticky when I get to work!

Jessica@Foodmayhem said...

I can never resist puff pastry and I just like the ring to the name too.

Anonymous said...

I saw most of Generation Islam a couple of times. For some reason I kept missing the first half hour. But I was happy to catch my hero Greg Mortenson on there. His book, Three Cups of Tea, was so moving. And yes the children were heartbreaking.