In this desert country, where almost nothing grows but natural gas and oil, 90 % of the ingredients are imported. For that reason, Qatari cuisine really has no identity. It is based on a blend of cuisine all neighboring countries, but Lebanese cuisine is particularly present as in all the countries of the Arabian Peninsula. The recipe I chose to cook today, is associated with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar, but originally comes from Egypt.
Oum Ali (or Om Ali) also known as “Middle Eastern pudding” is a creamy dessert made with flaky pastry or croissants and soft and crunchy nuts. In Arabic, oum means mother and Ali means… Ali ! This is the Mother of Ali ! But who is Ali? There are several stories about the origin of the oum Ali. I chose to share two of the most famous stories.
The first, which I think is less “violent”, features a new Sultan in the thirteenth century, who while hunting in the Nile Delta was hungry one day and stopped in a very poor village in search of food. An old lady who was passing by with his son named Ali, hastily prepared a dish mixing the few ingredients each household had in stock to feed the Sultan and his army. The sultan found this preparation so delicious and nourishing that he made it famous upon his return to the city by giving it the name of the old lady in recognition.
That was for the softer story…
Now let’s head to the harem with this other story. Oum Ali was the first wife of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybek, whose reign began in 1250. When the Sultan died, it was expected that the throne would go to the first son of the first wife, Ali. However, the Sultan’s second wife Shagaret El Dorr, also wanted her son to be the Sultan. However, oum Ali was not willing to leave the throne to anyone other than her son and decided to use the hard way. She bribed two servants to beat to death Shagaret El Dorr with slippers while she was taking a bath. Oum Ali then made this dessert to celebrate his victory and that of her son for his ascension to the throne.
There are many variations of this dessert. Some people even use different types of dough such as pita, puff pastry, croissants, brik pastry or filo dough.
I am a fan of dried fruit and milk and if I was rather uninspired when I tasted the kazakh buckwheat porridge I prepared last month, I have to say oum Ali was a treat!
Oum Ali has nothing to do with traditional Middle Eastern pastries stuffed with dates or dried fruit or dripping with syrup such as my Armenian boorma. Instead, oum Ali is a succulent milk pudding that combines the crispness of puff pastry as well as dried fruits.
OK, I must confess that the flag of the PSG (Paris Saint Germain) football team floats at my window and that PSG is owned by a Qatari company! Even if it was definitely not a slam dunk strictly on the basis of ingredients, Oum Ali had a nice head start in the minds of my two sons, Alexandre and Ruben. “If it comes from Qatar like PSG, it has to be good!”
- ½ lb puff pastry (or 10 butter croissants)
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cups creme fraiche , divided
- ½ cup sugar
- ⅓ cup almond powder
- ¼ cup shredded coconut
- ¼ cup walnuts
- ¼ cup pistachios , toasted
- ¼ cup almonds , toasted
- ¼ cup hazelnuts , toasted
- ¼ cup pine nuts , toasted
- 2 tablespoons golden raisins
- 2 tablespoons currants
- A few dried apricots and prunes
- 1 vanilla bean , split and scraped
Preheat oven to 400 F (200˚C).
- Sprinkle puff pastry with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and bake for about 15 minutes.
- Set aside to cool completely.
- In a large bowl, coarsely chop the pastry or croissant, add the dried fruits without the almonds, making sure to keep a few for garnishing.
In a saucepan, put the milk, 2 cups (500 ml) of creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla.
- Bring to a boil over medium/high heat stirring constantly with a whisk.
- Just before reaching the boiling point, pour in the almond powder and mix well.
- In a baking dish or individual ramekins, pour the puff pastry (or croissants) and dried fruit mixture almost to the brim.
- Pour the hot liquid slowly allowing time for the dough to absorb the liquid. Set aside for 15 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 F (180˚C).
Coat the top with the remainder of creme fraiche.
- Sprinkle two tablespoons of the remaining brown sugar.
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
- Garnish with some crushed nuts (optional).