I have a fairly serious sweet tooth. When dining out I have been known to forgo a main course, instead having two entree’s, to ensure sufficient digestive space for the “pud”. My real passion is chocolate and I can (and most certainly will, at a later date) drone on about the health giving benefits and restorative powers of that magical little bean. As I have previously mentioned, I firmly believe that almost anything is improved with a little/big bit of chocolate but there are certainly occasions where something fresh and light is more appropriate and, with Julie in mind, this following recipe most definitely fits that bill.
My inspiration for this dessert was the Egyptian-born cookbook writer, Claudia Roden. I first discovered her when I was mis-spending my youth, living in various share houses. I was not very long out of home at that stage, with bad food memories and very basic cooking skills, when my housemate announced that he had invited a fairly well known visiting band home for dinner the following evening. At that time the housemate – who was not the household cook – was doing a midnight-dawn shift as a disc jockey at a local radio station and, having just interviewed the boys, discovered that they were at a loose end and tired of take-aways. These were not particularly sophisticated times so when he called me to share the joy and request my co-operation I was happy to oblige, secure in the knowledge that I could turn out a very respectable roast dinner. It was not until he called me back fifteen minutes later with the news that two of the band members were vegetarians that a feeling of cold dread gripped my heart and I realised that I could well be way out of my comfort zone.
I bolted to the largest book store that I could find, feverishly searching the shelves for a vegetarian cookbook that I felt would not overly challenge my inadequate culinary skills when Claudia Roden’s “A Book of Middle Eastern Food” found it’s way into my hands, and a quick flick through it reassured me that I may just be able to avert total gastronomic disaster. I have no memory of what I prepared for the vegetarians that evening, but I do remember that the meal and the evening was, fortunately, a success.
For me, this was a wonderful introduction to an unknown cuisine. The recipes in the book were accompanied by personal anecdotes and memories of the dishes or brief accounts of the origins or rituals surrounding them and it became a favourite standby on my cookbook shelf. Claudia Roden has gone on to become one of the most inspirational and authoritative writers on Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, with subsequent publications comprehensively covering Jewish, Moroccan, Turkish, Lebanese and Italian food, many winning various writing awards. The seminal – and face-saving – “Book of Middle Eastern Food” was re-created and enlarged by her and published as “The New Book of Middle Eastern Food” in 2000.
This is a deliciously fragrant dessert to serve after an otherwise substantial meal. It can be as sweet as you like and goes equally well with a good dollop of either thick cream or refreshing yoghurt.
Ras el Hanout is a blend of Moroccan spices and can be bought or blended yourself. I have done both and can recommend the blend sold by “Herbies” at http://www.herbies.com.au/
2 cups fresh squeezed orange juice
Zest of 2 oranges
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ras el hanout spice mix
1 teaspoon rose water
Peel oranges, removing all pith. Slice thickly and arrange in shallow dish.
Place orange juice, sugar, zest and Ras el Hanout in saucepan and bring to boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil for about 5-10 minutes to reduce and thicken the syrup.
Remove from heat, add rose water, set aside to cool, then pour syrup over orange slices.