The many charms of Lebanese food is its varied desserts, rich, sweet, and full of flavors. Sometimes a name can elevate and carry a certain resonance to something so simple. This amazingly aromatic dessert that is quite refreshing with a rich complex taste stemming from subtle hints of Mastic (Arabic Gum), orange blossom water and rose water carries a poetic name that speaks volumes about our culture.
Layali Lubnan literally translates to Lebanese nights, is a simple yet delectable dessert. Sometimes it is referred to by its other name Madlouah, meaning the spoiled one. It’s a pudding with a layer of firm semolina at the bottom and then a layer of Ashta on top. Ashta is a cream used in many other Middle Eastern sweet dishes, it can be eaten alone served with fruit or used to layer like in Layali Lubnan. Ashta makes its texture more creamy. Topped off with coarsely ground fresh pistachios and tart dried apricots. Finally a drizzle of atter (rose water or orange blossom water syrup) adds the final touch to this lovely dessert.
Traditional versions are almost always garnished with pistachios, but sometimes almonds or walnuts are sprinkled on top, as well. Less traditionally, fruits, like sliced bananas or strawberries, are sometimes added for flavor contrast. This dessert appeals to sweet eaters and the non-sweet eaters too because you can adjust the sweetness of the dish with the amount of syrup you add.
Taking a bite of it gives you a combination of the velvety pudding feel with the richness of the ashta adding an interesting texture and flavor, that is creamy yet light on the palette. A hint of mastic sets it apart and elevates it from any other simple pudding. Next comes the nuttiness of the pistachios and finally the sweetness of the orange blossom syrup to give it the much needed sugar kick that it yearns for, all in one mouthwatering bite.
This decadent sweet creamy pudding infused with the beautiful flavors and scents of Rose water and Orange Blossom water is definitely a perfect dessert to serve at dinner parties and probably earned its name because of that. Layali Lubnan, like an ambassador with its colors of Lebanon, is a pudding that consumes its silky smooth sexiness on a plate of punchy aromatic costumes that invade the senses and palate in sensual smoothness, just like our long animated Lebanese nights.
Here is my recipe (it’s serves 10 to 12 as I like to share it with my neighbours, Lebanese style!) I will simplify it here to just doing the pudding:
- 8cups milk
- A little less then a cup of sugar
- 1 cup Semolina
- 8 grains of ground mastica
- 5 tsp. vanilla extract
- 3 tbs. rose water (to taste)
- 4 tbs. orange blossom water (to taste)
- Ashta (from Rashidi)
- Atter (sugar syrup)
Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat until its warm to the touch. Stir in the semolina and sugar, and continue stirring until the mixture reaches a gentle boil then add the mastica. The art, like most milk dessert or dishes actually, is in the continuous stirring.
Continue stirring and adding the rose and orange blossom water. You have to put these to taste, personally I like it quiet perfumed. Keep on stirring until it coats the back of a spoon well, and resembles a thin porridge (it will thicken as it cools). Let it rest and then fill in small containers. Traditionally it is cut in squares like brownies, but i prefer it like that.
When serving put the pudding first then the ashta on top with the ground pistachio and drizzle the atter on top. Sahtein!