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Wonders of the World

Wonders of the World: the podcast that visits the great places on Earth to tell the story of our people, our civilization, and our planet.
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Now displaying: March, 2017

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Mar 21, 2017

Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

I don’t do a lot of desserts on this podcast, mainly because, well, I don’t know why.  I just don’t.  Maybe it’s the hassle of baking, maybe it’s that I prefer savory dishes, maybe it’s that desserts aren’t THAT different from place to place?  Maybe it’s something deep in my psyche.

Well, I’m bucking the trend today!  Om Ali (sometimes spelled Umm Ali) is an Egyptian bread pudding.  The name means “Ali’s Mom” and refers to the wife of an Egyptian sultan back in the middle ages.  The story is that after the sultan died, Om Ali got into a fight with another of his wives, had her killed, and then gave this succulent dessert to the people of Egypt to celebrate.  A weird story, if you ask me.  She doesn’t have a name?  Just “Ali’s Mom”? 

Anyway, the story is awkward, but the dessert is delicious.  In its most basic form, it’s layered phyllo dough, crisped in an oven, and then soaked in sweetened milk to make a bread pudding, and then studded with nuts, raisins and such.

That can be delicious, but it’s also possible to make it particularly awesome by adding a couple of small steps.

I’m basing this recipe on the recipe here:  http://cleobuttera.com/middle-eastern/best-ever-om-ali-egyptian-bread-pudding/  — When Tasbih claimed that this was “best ever”, I took her at her word.

I’ve changed hers up a little bit, mainly because a) I like the warmth that a little cinnamon, cardamom and vanilla provide and b) I don’t have access to country-style clotted cream, so I thickened up the milk sauce with some extra cream.

There are plenty of other recipes that say those two changes are OK, so I’m comfortable with not being yelled at.

Anyway, try this.  It’s so freaking delicious.  So so so good.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 package (17.5 oz / 500 g) of frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1 cup / 240 ml sugar, divided in two
  • 1 tsp cinnamon, divided in two
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom, divided in two
  • 4 cups / 1 liter whole milk
  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml whipping cream
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (aka sultanas) (optional)
  • 1/2 cup shelled pistachios (optional)

STEPS

  1. Preheat an oven to 200 C / 400 F.  Unfold the puff pastry sheets onto a floured surface.  Take 1/4 cup of the sugar, and sprinkle it onto the pastry sheets.  Do the same with 1/2 tsp of the cinnamon and 1/4 tsp of the cardamom.  Use a rolling pin to push the sugar and spices into the dough.
  2. Fold the bottom sixth of the pastry up.  Do the same with the top sixth.  Then fold the top and bottom again so that they meet in the middle.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar.  Fold the top onto the bottom one last time.  You should have six layers.
  3. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes to firm up.
  4. Cut the dough into 3/8 inch / 1 cm pieces.  Put them onto a baking sheet with plenty of space between.  Cook for 6-8 minutes per side - Don’t forget to flip! - then set aside.  These lovely cookies are called Lunettes or Palmiers.  You can actually enjoy them as is, if you like, but only a couple of more steps will take you to Om Ali brilliance. 
  5. Crumble up 3/4 of the lunettes and put them in a 9’x11’ glass baking dish.  Layer on the raisins and the pistachios if you’re using them.
  6. In a medium saucepan, combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 1/4 cardomom.  Add the milk and bring to a rolling simmer.  Take it off the heat and add vanilla and cream.
  7. Pour the milk mixture over the cookies.  Let it sit for 10 minutes.  While that’s doing, preheat the broiler.
  8. Put the rest of the cookies, crumbled up, on top of the soaked mixture.  Put it under the broiler for about 10 minutes to ensure a crispy golden brown top.
  9. Enjoy!

Thanks to Tasbih at cleobuttera.com for the brilliant idea of pre-cooking the puff pastry!

Mar 21, 2017

We go to Luxor Egypt, ancient capital of the New Kingdom, to visit the great temples of Karnak and Luxor. We discuss Hatshepsut: a fascinating woman who became king. We also talk temple-side fries! Special thanks to Dominic Perry and Lantern Jack.

Mar 7, 2017

Most food on Santorini requires the local volcanic soil or crystal blue waters to make it special.  While we could make tomatokeftedes, the deep-fried fritters fueled by the phenomenal local tomatoes, so perfect in the volcanic soil, you can’t get Santorini tomatoes where you are, so it would be a pale imitation at best.

Therefore, we’re going with something simple, that you can make with ingredients from your local supermarket.  Dakos is translated as “bread salad” but I prefer to think of it as a cheesy Greek bruschetta. 

Officially, these are made with barley rusks, which are twice-cooked bread rounds that are approximately as hard as rock.  By letting them soak up the tomato juice and olive oil of the marinade, you make the rusks edible.  So that’s one way of going, but my version is a pansy American attempt, mainly because I can’t get barley rusks anywhere and I live in a major metropolitan area in the 21st century: I’m guessing if I can’t get ‘em, you can’t get ‘em either.

So yes, this is absolutely not actual dakos.  But you know what?  It’s amazing.  My new favorite thing.  It made me love feta for the first time in my life.  Eat. It.

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 slices of good, rustic country crusty bread
  • 4 ripe tomatoes - use heirloom if you can
  • 4 tbsp feta cheese - if you can do 2 tbsp feta, 2 tsp mzithra, even better
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp oregano (Greek or Turkish, not Mexican - there is a difference)
  • salt and pepper to taste

STEPS

  1. Chop the tomatoes. Some recipes call for grating them, but I find that unless you have perfect summer tomatoes, grating loses too much texture and leads to an unsavory mushiness. Put the tomatoes in a large bowl.
  2. Mix with cheese, olive oil and oregano.  Let sit for five minutes for flavors to meld.
  3. Toast the bread to a golden brown.
  4. While still hot - which is not at all canon, but I love what the warmth of the bread does to the tomatoes and cheese - top the slices with the mixture.
  5. Let sit on the bread for a few minutes so the juices soak in.  Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Enjoy!

NB: The picture does NOT match the recipe.  The picture is of ACTUAL dakos, courtesy of wikipedia user Frente.  I only remember to take a picture of what I'm cooking something like 20% of the time, which leaves me frantically scrambling and searching the internet like a college freshman.  Anyway, you'll note the barley rusk on this picture.  Frente also used olives, which you are welcome and encouraged to do - I am weird (as noted in Episode 3: The Statue of Zeus): I don't like olives though I love olive oil.  But do as you will.

Mar 7, 2017

We go to the Greek island of Santorini to learn about the eruption that devastated the Minoan civilization of nearby Crete. Plus minotaurs, donkeys, Atlantis and Cretan cuisine!  Thanks to Ryan Stitt, Margo Anton, and Seth Ruderman for their help.

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