OM Ali – Egyptian Bread Pudding

The dessert name of Om Ali, means ‘Ali’s mother’, has its own story. To make a long story short, not wanting to bore you with the detailed war history of Om Ali ….. Ali’s mother, was a powerful feminist of the 13th century Egypt. Her husband tried to cheat on her so she kills him and celebrates with distributing Om Ali dessert declaring her son Ali as successor. As ever, food is a much more than just the act of cooking and eating. Food is culture, history and the stories of a given people and time.

You could think of Om Ali as the Egyptian cousin of bread pudding. Same idea of soaking some type of bread with milk or cream and sugar, then baking it in the oven. Om Ali skips the eggs though, which makes it lighter in texture, looser and milkier as opposed to custardy. Instead of bread, it is traditionally made with baked puff pastry, phyllo or Egyptian flat bread combined with milk and nuts.

Om Ali has become a well loved and celebrated dessert all over the Middle East, being served at many big celebrations and events.

Instead of using the traditional nuts, raisins and coconut, I’m using the ‘Sahale Snack Mix’ which has a very similar blend in my Om Ali pudding.

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OM Ali - Egyptian Bread Pudding
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Instructions
  1. Allow puff pastry to thaw before using. Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the puff pastry into squares & poke holes in each using a fork. Bake for about 15 minutes or until puffed & golden brown. Remove from oven & allow to cool.
  2. In a saucepan, whisk together milk, sugar, spices & whipped topping powder. Allow to come to a gentle simmer; add the vanilla & heavy cream. Remove from heat.
  3. Break the puff pastry into pieces & place half of them in either individual ramekins or an oven-proof baking dish. Sprinkle each with some of your fruit/nut blend, reserving a bit for topping. Cover with the other half of the pastry pieces.
  4. Slowly add the milk mixture, one ladle at a time until the milk mixture fully covers the puff pastry. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, you'll notice that the puff pastry absorbs some of the milk. Add milk again until it covers the puff pastry.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 F. then place under the broiler if you wish, for a couple of minutes to get a golden top. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Recipe Notes
  • When baking is 90% done, sprinkle the rest of the fruit/nut mixture on top so they don't burn & taste bitter. It gives a nice eye appeal.

Salmon with Roasted Figs & Braised Fennel

Figs, another symbol of Autumn, begin to ripen in late summer. Native to European and Middle Eastern regions but today are widely available around the world. This tear-drop shaped fruit is singular in appearance and flavor. From their characteristic perfumed fragrance to their fragile skin, that is often slit from ripeness, revealing drops of honeyed nectar.

I love the sweet earthiness of figs with all their little seeds, whether they are fresh or dried. Any recipe that calls for peaches, pears, prunes or dates can be substituted successfully with figs. Pairing them with the aromatic anise flavor of fennel is a great compliment to salmon as well as other entrees or baking.

Fennel has been a favorite of Italians for many years due to its mild sweet anise flavor. All parts of the fennel plant, including the bulb, stalk, leaves and seeds are edible.

This recipe is simple but has a wonderful flavor. We enjoyed it served over Jasmine rice.


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Salmon with Roasted Figs & Braised Fennel

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Instructions
Fennel
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Cut outer leaves of fennel off & discard. Remove stalks, reserving a few fronds for garnish if you wish. Cut the fennel into quarters leaving root in tact. Place a large oven-proof pan over medium-high heat. Add olive oil & allow to heat. Place fennel into the pan ; cook & sear to a golden brown, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt & pepper & add the chicken broth. Place in preheated oven & roast for about 10 minutes or until slightly soft but still holding quite a bit of firmness in center.

  2. In a small saucepan, combine honey, vinegar & chili powder. Heat & simmer for 3 minutes. Quarter figs & place them on a baking sheet. Drizzle figs with the honey mixture. Place in the oven & roast for 4 minutes or until warm, bubbly & caramelized but still holding their shape.

Salmon
  1. Season salmon fillets with salt & pepper. In a large non-stick skillet, add vegetable oil & heat. Place salmon in skillet & fry on each side until flesh is opaque & translucent in the center. Do not overcook. Serve immediately with the roasted caramelized figs.

Stuffed Zucchini Rolls over Spanish Rice

This is a meal that is as much about the process as the final plate. Most everyone has made ‘zucchini boats’ at one time or another and this is a lovely rendition of them.

I have learned from travelling across cultures, that one thing can truly bring people together, no matter where in the world you are from, and that is food. 

No doubt, every culture has its own equivalent of ‘comfort food’. Stuffing vegetables is a Middle Eastern food trend that has been popular for thousands of years, combining spices and food groups in unique ways.

In truth, zucchini are simply immature cultivars of the squash family, eaten while the rind is still edible. Developed in Northern Italy, zucchini was not introduced to the rest of the world until the 1930’s.

‘Kousa Mahshi’ (Arabic for stuffed zucchini), is a type of yellow squash found in the Middle East which is hollowed out, stuffed with a meat/rice filling and steeped in a seasoned tomato broth. These were likely a reinvention of the ‘stuffed grape leaves’  common in the Mediterranean, Balkans and Persian Gulf.

I found the idea of hollowing out the small zucchini and stuffing them quite unique as opposed to just slicing them to make ‘boats’. Rather than using a meat/rice combo in my zucchini rolls, I used a ground turkey/mushroom stuffing and served them over a ‘simple’ Spanish Rice Pilaf.

This is not a difficult recipe, just one that takes a bit of time but is worth it in taste and eye appeal.

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Stuffed Zucchini Rolls over Spanish Rice
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Instructions
Zucchini
  1. Wash zucchini & slice off stem end. Use a long narrow apple or vegetable corer to core zucchini, leaving 1/2-inch walls. Care should be taken not pierce the shell or the end. If you are cutting your zucchini in half, make sure to leave your cut end with a solid bottom. Gently remove all the pulp from the rolls & set aside. Reserve pulp for turkey filling.
Turkey Stuffing
  1. In a skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil. Saute onion & garlic until soft. Add mushrooms & reserved zucchini pulp; saute about another 2 minutes. Remove from skillet & set aside.
  2. In the same skillet, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil; add ground turkey. Lightly brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes. Stir in reserved onion & mushroom mixture. Add chicken broth; stir in tomato, basil & rosemary & cook 1 minute longer. Drain off any excess fat, remove mixture from heat & set aside. When mixture has cooled, add cheese, egg, salt & pepper. Fill zucchini rolls with mixture.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a Dutch oven, place stewed tomatoes & water. Arrange stuffed zucchini in the pot. Cover & bake for 25-30 or until zucchini is tender-crisp. With a slotted spoon lift rolls out of pot & serve on top of rice or serve in stewed tomatoes WITH rice, your choice!
'Simple' Spanish Rice
  1. In a large pot, heat oil. Stir in onion & saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Mix rice into pot & stir until it begins to brown. Stir in chicken broth & salsa. Reduce heat & simmer (covered) for 20 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed & the rice is cooked.

Sweet & Sour Cabbage Casserole

Stuffed cabbage rolls are a unique blend of various flavors. The art of seasoning is about far more than adding a few grinds of salt and pepper. It’s more about sorting out the sweet, sour, savory and bitterness balance.

Food history tells us cabbage rolls have their roots in the ancient Middle East and spread to Eastern Europe as trade routes flourished with various ethnic groups migrating. Many countries lay claim to their origin, which accounts for the several interesting versions on the traditional recipe. For example:

Ukrainian holubtsi  are typically vegetarian, filling pickled cabbage leaves with either buckwheat and wild mushrooms or a mixture of whole grains and root vegetables, braised in tomato juice or vegetable stock served with perogies.

Poland’s golabki, translating to ‘little pigeon feet'(named after the French dish that wrapped cabbage around cooked pigeon), stuffs the leaves with pork, beef, rice or barley, accompanied by sour cream and sweet paprika.

Romanian sarmale combines ground pork, caramelized onions and rice nested in a pickled sauerkraut leaf, then smothered in dill and tomato sauce. It is often topped with bacon or smoked sausage.

The Asian variation wraps Chinese cabbage around seafood blends, tofu and shiitake mushrooms.

Egyptian mahshi kromb are simmered in an aromatic tomato-based sauce with mint, cumin and other Middle Eastern herbs and spices.

Jewish holishkls are a combination of ground beef, rice and raisins enveloped in cabbage leaves and simmered in a sauce of brown sugar, lemon and tomatoes.

Today’s blog recipe gives you some of those same traditional flavors without the fuss of rolling the cabbage and meat. Brion and I really enjoy this particular version. Of course, it’s a given that most recipes will always need tweaking to account for the different cooking conditions and personal tastes.

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Sweet & Sour Cabbage Casserole
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Instructions
  1. Remove 5 large leaves from a head of cabbage; steam until tender. When cool enough to handle, roll up & cut into 1/2" slices; set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, minced garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper & 2 Tbsp parsley.
  3. In a large saucepan, heat oil. Cook onion & chopped garlic for a couple of minutes until fragrant but not brown.
  4. Add sugar, lemon juice, tomatoes & pineapple juice; bring to a boil. Add 2 Tbsp parsley & cook for 15 minutes, breaking up tomatoes with spoon. Season with salt & pepper.
  5. Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 2 L casserole with 1/3 of the cabbage slices. Spread with half of the meat mixture & 1/3 of the sauce. Repeat with cabbage, meat & sauce. Top with remaining cabbage & sauce.
  6. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours until a meat thermometer reads at least 160 F. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp parsley & allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Egyptian Kofta

Over the years, our travels have taken Brion and I to many interesting places in the world. Each has left us with amazing memories.

In November of 2009, before Egypt was in such disarray, we explored this ancient country. You could safely say that time has not lessened the mystique of the world’s oldest tourist attraction. No matter how many pictures you look at, or how much you read on the internet, there is just nothing as powerful as seeing the real thing. Brion’s ability to speak fluent Arabic was a huge bonus for us while in Egypt.

The flight from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to Cairo, Egypt was a bit grueling at 16 hours long but we ‘recovered’ fairly fast. To make the most of our vacation, we divided it into four segments; – five days in Cairo, six days in Alexandria, eight days on a Nile River cruise and the last week at Sharm El Shiekh on the Red Sea.

The Nile River cruise was definitely the highlight of the vacation. We boarded the ‘Helio’ cruise ship in Luxor which took us to Aswan and back. Each day the ship would dock at various sites along the way and our personal guide would take us to explore temples, tombs, the high dam and the beautiful botanical gardens at Kitchener Island. It was such an incredible experience viewing the sights and sounds as you slowly sailed along. Travel is a good reality check to make us appreciate what we have in our own lives and so often take for granted.

Every evening, the supper buffet on the ship was created with a different theme. One of the items Brion really enjoyed was ‘EGYPTIAN KOFTA’. Egypt’s local and rich resources of fresh foods coming from the Nile Valley, has given the world some of the most coveted cuisines. Egyptian food is a mixture of all the different civilizations that came to Egypt in the history of its existence.

The word kofta (or kefta) has its origins in Persia. Although you can make meat, seafood or vegetarian kofta, the most popular in Egypt is a mixture of ground beef and lamb combined with onions, garlic, parsley and a ‘BAHARAT’ spice blend.

Along with my recipe today, I thought you may enjoy to look at some of the photos from our Nile River cruise. 

 

 

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Kofta
This is the burger meat of the Middle East.
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skewers
Ingredients
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skewers
Ingredients
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Instructions
  1. Soak 16 wooden skewers in water for about 1 hour; remove from the water when you are ready to begin. Lightly oil grates of grill or BBQ & preheat to medium high temperature.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients thoroughly. Divide meat mixture into 16 portions. Mold each onto a wooden skewer to form a 'kofta kebab' about 1-inch thickness.
  3. Place kebabs on lightly oiled, heated grill or BBQ. Grill for 4 minutes on one side, turn over & grill for another 3-4 minutes. Serve immediately with mini pita breads, tahini, hummus or yogurt dip.