Sunday, April 29, 2007

Om Ali

Had the most delicious Egyptian dessert today! Served at almost all notable Egyptian eateries, hotels etc, its called Om Ali. Cooked pieces of puff pastry combined with nuts, raisins and coconut, covered in hot sweetened milk and cream, Om Ali is a great comfort food. What makes it even more delicious, are the interesting (if gruesome) stories behind its origin!

Legend has it that Om Ali was the first wife of the Sultan Ezz El Din Aybek. In Egypt, women were not allowed to rule, but were permitted to be guardians to their sons who would become king when they came of age. When the sultan died, his second wife had a dispute with Om Ali over whose son would be the successor to the Sultan. The second wife was heavily guarded making it difficult for Om Ali to get rid of her.

Om Ali hatched a plot bribing the second wife’s handmaids. While the second wife went to the hamam for a bath, she was beaten to death, by slippers, by her own handmaids! To celebrate her death, Om Ali made this dessert and distributed it among the people of the land.

Another story involves again a sultan, who started to feel peckish during a hunting trip in the Nile delta. The hunting party stopped for food at a poor village along the way. The locals called upon their best cook, Umm‘Ali, to feed the hungry monarch. She filled a large pan with the little they had – scrapings of stale wheat flakes with bits of nuts – and put it in the oven together with milk and sugar. It was so well received that the sultan went back again and thus the dessert became known by its creator.

There is also a school (European of course!) that credits an Irish nurse by the name of O’Malley (mistress of the Khedive Ismail!) for the invention of this great Egyptian sweet.
Tales abound, but the most popular is the rather gruesome one about Om Ali.

As with most local dishes, there are a variety of ways to make it. Here is a basic recipe with ingredients that can be found in your store.

6 sheets of fillo (or puff pastry, pancakes, or bread)
6-8 tablespoons of butter, melted
2/3 cup black or golden raisins
1 cup mixed whole or slivered blanched almonds, chopped hazelnuts and chopped pistachios
5 cups whole milk
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
½ - 2/3 cup sugar
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)

Keep the sheets of fillo / bread in a pile, covered with a damp towel to keep them from drying out. Brush each one with melted butter and place them on top of each other on a buttered baking sheet.

Put the buttered fillo sheets in a preheated 350F oven for about 10 minutes, until they are crisp

and the top ones are slightly colored.

When cool enough to handle, crush the pastry with your hands into pieces into a baking dish, sprinkling the nuts and raisins between the layers. Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a pan with the sugar and pour over the pastry.

Sprinkle, if you like, with the cinnamon and return to the oven. Raise the heat to 425F and bake for about 20-30 minutes, until slightly golden. Serve hot.

Serves 8.

Bon app├ętit!

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