Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Making (special) Znoud el-Sit in Mexico

It started out a fairly simple task: I wanted to make for my new, extended family, my favourite Lebanese sweets---Znoud el-Sit. For those unacquainted with them, they are pure bliss. They are filo pastry wrapped around clotted cream, deep fried and drizzled in rose-water sugar syrup.

Easy, I thought.

The first problem I found was that filo pastry is not available in Mexico. They have no Turks, Greeks, Maltese, Italians, French, or Pan-Slavic people here. This meant I had to make filo pastry. It takes a five year apprenticeship to make good filo pastry, and with my limited (I read three recipes, and watched two YouTube how-tos) training, I failed miserably. The best description of my "sheets" of filo pastry would be "dough".

The second problem was that Ashta, or Lebanese clotted cream, is not available in Mexico. This meant I had to make it myself. This wasn't a complete failure. The instructions are pretty easy: take 5 tins of Carnation Milk, two tablespoons of flour, and simmer, stirring, for five hours.

Having wrapped my dough around my ashta, I deep fried them (they looked like pigs feet), and took to making the sugar syrup. That was meant to be easy. Sugar, water, rose-water. Unfortunately, rose-water is not (really) available in Mexico. Resigned to this fact, I made my sugar syrup the old fashioned way--just sugar and water.

Susana's mother, though, rocked up, just as I'd finished the sugar syrup. She had rosewater!

In Mexico, rose-water isn't used in cooking so much as it's used in cosmetics, as a skin-cleanser. The bottle she brought was almost a litre, so I stirred in a few capfuls, and poured them on top of the Znoud, garnishing with crushed pistachios (available in Mexico).

It was then, having spent no fewer than 8 hours preparing this horrible meal, that I thought to taste the sugar syrup. I dipped in my finger, and gave it a good lick, only to bend over gagging: the rose-water was almost half soap.

Nonetheless, I served the (cleansing) Znoud to my new family for Christmas dinner, and several went for seconds. One asked for the recipe--I wonder what she'd have done if I explained the secret ingredient?

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