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A sweet finale to holy month

As Ramadan ends, create blissfully sublime desserts from a new cookbook and a popular restaurant.

October 01, 2008|Noelle Carter | Times Staff Writer

TODAY marks the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday signaling the end of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month. According to culinary historian and former Times food writer Charles Perry, " 'Fitr,' or the 'breaking of fast,' is traditionally associated with sweets."

We've compiled three recipes to commemorate the holiday. Two recipes -- milky rice pudding (muhalbiyat al-ruz) and cardamom-saffron sponge cake ('igaili) -- are from Sarah al-Hamad's upcoming cookbook "Cardamom and Lime: Recipes From the Arabian Gulf," celebrating the rich cuisines of the Arabian Gulf -- Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. We've also obtained the recipe for ashta, a fragrant custard-like cream, from Dolly Chammaa of Sunnin Lebanese Cafe (locations in Westwood and Long Beach).

Introducing her pudding, Al-Hamad notes the popularity of milky desserts in the Middle East and describes regional variations thickened alternately with rice, rice flour and even corn flour. In this recipe, Al-Hamad uses soaked rice that's partly pureed in a blender before it's cooked. This gives the pudding a textured yet silky feel. It's a simple recipe; the pudding's not too sweet and subtly perfumed with cardamom and rose water. Prepare it up to a day ahead, and serve chilled with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.

The light, airy texture of the sponge cake showcases the sweet dates, walnuts and sesame seeds added to the batter. It's very aromatic, liberally spiced with cardamom, saffron and turmeric.

Chammaa's ashta is a fragrant and lightly sweetened pudding that's reminiscent of clotted cream. Made from half-and-half that's steeped with mastic -- the aromatic resin from the Mediterranean tree of the same name -- then boiled with rose water and orange blossom water, it's a wonderful component of a dessert buffet. Chammaa serves it topped with banana, chopped pistachios and honey, or with baklava. Other combinations of fruits and nuts -- late plums, perhaps, with walnuts or almonds -- would be equally festive.

Eid Mubarak, blessed Eid!

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noelle.carter@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Muhalbiyat al-ruz (milky rice pudding)

Total time: 40 minutes, plus soaking and chilling times

Servings: 6

Note: Adapted from "Cardamom and Lime: Recipes from the Arabian Gulf," by Sarah al-Hamad. She writes, "Milky desserts are very popular in the Middle East, and this one is a particular favorite -- the rice thickens to give it texture. There are many ways of making muhalbiya: with rice, with rice flour, or with corn flour, the way it is made in Lebanon and Syria. Top with chopped pistachios to add some color and crunch."

1 cup basmati rice

4 cups whole milk

6 to 8 tablespoons sugar, as desired

1/2 teaspoon green cardamom seeds, crushed

3 tablespoons rose water

1/4 cup chopped pistachios, toasted

1. Wash the rice and let it soak for 30 minutes. Rinse until the water runs clear, then drain.

2. Put the rice and 1 cup cold water in a blender and process until the liquid becomes milky and the mixture just begins to thicken to a paste-like consistency, about 15 seconds. Set aside.

3. In a large, heavy-bottom saucepan, warm the milk over medium heat and add the sugar. Increase the heat to high and stir frequently with a wooden spoon until the milk mixture begins to bubble around the sides of the pan. Reduce the heat to a simmer and continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the rice and cook at a very gentle simmer until the contents are thickened and the rice is al dente, 15 to 20 minutes. Be careful to stir frequently, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan so the pudding cooks evenly.

4. Add 1 cup boiling water, stir in the crushed cardamom seeds and rose water, and cook at a low simmer just until the water is incorporated and the pudding again thickens slightly, about 3 minutes.

5. Remove from the heat and divide among 6 serving bowls or glasses. Allow to cool, then refrigerate, covered, until desired. Serve sprinkled with chopped pistachios.

Each serving: 308 calories; 9 grams protein; 50 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 8 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 16 mg. cholesterol; 66 mg. sodium.

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'Igaili (cardamom-saffron sponge cake)

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: Adapted from "Cardamom and Lime: Recipes From the Arabian Gulf," by Sarah al-Hamad. She writes, "This is the Arabian version of sponge cake, perfumed with the evocative scents of the East and traditionally accompanied by a cup of sweet black tea. It is the perfect cake: satisfying yet light, aromatic but subtle, enfolding a variety of seductive ingredients like sweet dates and sesame seeds, saffron and cardamom, and walnuts." Cardamom is assertive, so decrease the amount for a lighter taste.

Pinch of saffron threads

6 soft-packed dates, pitted

5 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of turmeric

1 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, divided

1/4 cup chopped walnuts, or other nuts of your choice

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