An Omani Dessert

Every time someone asks me, “What is Omani food?” I don’t know how to answer.  I’ve lived here a year and I don’t know a good answer.  I’ve asked Omani friends, “What is Omani food?”   The answer always starts, “Um, well….” and the voice trails off before the explanation begins.  There is a vague answer, but we will talk about it a little later.

Instead, we’re going to start with an easier question, “What is in Omani dessert?”  Or even better, “Can you tell me about one specific Omani dessert?”

Yup, today, that’s what I have for you.  An introduction into food and we’re going to start with dessert.  My mom has a framed quote in her kitchen that says, “Life is uncertain eat dessert first.”  In honor of Mother's Day and the wonderful moms that make delectable desserts we are going to stick to that to that logic today.

First, local desserts are very sweet.  To me, they are super sweet.  Actually, I react to sugar a bit like a child.  When you give me too much sugar my heart races and I bounce off the walls for a few hours before collapsing in a heap.  I have to be quite careful with local desserts or the experience is literally just like that.

We’re going to discuss a dessert called Umm Ali (oohm ah lee).  Umm Ali is not just an Omani dessert. It is enjoyed throughout the region.  When I mentioned it to a Jordanian friend she relayed childhood memories of her mother making it at home. 

In my opinion, the first logical step in cooking anything, including Umm Ali, is to hire a chef.

In lieu of hiring a chef you could always learn from one.  This is a pastry chef from a local restaurant called Kargeen Café.  I recently went to a cooking demonstration there and I’ll share a few photos and some basic instructions that I learned.

Start with beautiful puff pastries, the type of pastries that take forever to make.  The delicate ones that usually collapse in the oven before you get to eat them.  First, bake those, your favorite puff pastries.  Let the pastries cool.  Then smash them to bits.  Seriously. 

I watched the chef smash the puff pastries and I thought to myself, “Yeah, right, like I’m going to make puff pastry and wreck it.  Oh, well, maybe I can buy it already made at the bakery.

Anyway, smash your beautiful pastries to bits, add a few cups of your favorite nuts and dried fruits.  For example, you could add pistachios, cashews and dried cranberries or raisins.  I hear there are many acceptable mixtures.

Start with your crushed pastries, nuts, and fruit in a baking dish.

Start with your crushed pastries, nuts, and fruit in a baking dish.

In a saucepan heat milk, sugar (to taste), Cardamom Powder and Rose Water. Heat the milk mixture for a few minutes.

Heat milk mixture.

Heat milk mixture.

Pour the milk mixture into your baking dish with your prepared pastry and nuts.  Stir.  Even out the mixture. 

Pour in warm milk and spice mixture.

Pour in warm milk and spice mixture.

Pour fresh cream on top.  Honestly, I’m a little confused about this step.  Pour warm milk and mix, but then add fresh, cold, liquid cream to the top.  I’ll have to ask why this is necessary another day.

Bake 15-20 minutes in a preheated 400-degree oven and you’ve made your dessert. Serve warm. 

Before and after baking.

Before and after baking.

My first bite of Umm Ali was somehow comforting.  It’s warm and creamy like hot cereal on a cold winter morning.  It’s sweet, but savory like warm pumpkin pie.   Actually, just like pumpkin pie, it would probably be delicious with some whipping cream on top.

Unfortunately, I’m not at liberty to hand over the Kargeen recipe to you in its entirety.  Hopefully, with this as a guide and a quick search on a Google you can find yourself a tasty Umm Ali recipe to try at home.  Perhaps you could serve it for Mother's Day.  Enjoy.