The French have a phrase – savoire vivre – which basically means living a good life while staying elegant and smart.
In my mind, the Lebanese are the embodiment of this. They manage to live a good life, look remarkable at the same time as dealing with the chaos that regularly breaks out around them.
Their food is also an illustration of this – elegantly complex.
While many words have been written about the wonders of Lebanese mezze and other savory dishes, this country has also given the world some pretty extraordinary desserts.
I was given a fabulous surprise by the boys who run Al Balad Qatar on Monday. They sent around to my house (which is literally around the corner – in Doha terms) their version of Osmalieh.
This is shredded and toasted vermicelli noodles or filo pastry with what can only be described as a heavly cheese filling. This is called ashta cream – which isn’t really a cream at all. It’s clotted milk, whih is my view makes it almost a cheese!
Ashta is the foundation of many Lebanese desserts and is made with powdered milk or half and half.
Sometimes this recipe has a touch of rosewater or orange blossom water in the cream cheese.
Al Balad also sent me some simple sugar syrup, which allowed me to sweeten to taste. Digging into it is a riot of flavor and texture – crunchy then the velvet softness of the cream/cheese.
Yes it does look a little like a birds nest. But crack the surface and you find a surprise.