Food: Dessert sweet reminder of multicultural friends

Kate Lawson
The Detroit News

We were reading in the newspaper Sunday morning about President Donald Trump’s immigration ban and the ensuing demonstrations at airports across the country when the doorbell rang. It was our neighbor’s oldest son, Adnan, whose Muslim family is from central India.

He was bringing over a dessert that his mother, Tasnime, had made. Tasnime is a wonderful cook and loves to share her delicious creations with us. She sends them over via her sons who are both so sweet and smart and we have loved watching them grow from the time they first moved in about five years ago. They are just one of the many families that make up our great neighborhood.

Often Tasnime’s treats are unlikely but no yet delicious combinations of sugar, spices and nuts often combined with cream, sometimes pastry, shredded carrots and coconut. Tasnime writes down the ingredients for me and when I ask the name, it is usually something unpronounceable but no less delicious. We delight in them every time. But this particular dessert was by far the best we’ve ever sank a spoon into.

In fact, I’m pretty sure Adnan had not yet made it home before we devoured every last bite. When I texted thanks to Tasnime and to ask the recipe she told me it was an Egyptian dessert called Umm Ali (Ali’s Mother), a clearly Middle Eastern version of bread pudding (which happens to be my favorite dessert). No wonder we gobbled it in minutes.

Unlike American bread puddings, which typically use stale bread that’s first soaked in a sweet liquid, Umm Ali uses freshly baked puff pastry for an extra level of deliciousness. Sweetened condensed milk can be used in place of sugar and raisins and coconut are also added making for a divine dessert.

But delicious dessert aside, my husband and I were both struck by the irony of appreciating a Middle Eastern dish while Muslims across the country were being denied access to their homes, families and refuge.

Our neighbors are generous, kind and wonderful people. A couple of years ago, they returned to their homeland to visit relatives – the boys had not yet met their cousins and grandparents living in India. The idea that they would be denied entrance home after their visit is unconscionable. Granted, India was not on the list of banned countries, but we are concerned for them and have offered help should it ever be needed. We are comforted by the global outcry.

Kate Lawson is a retired Detroit News food writer. Reach her at

Umm Ali (Ali’s Mother) Egyptian bread pudding

Recipe adapted from Substitute one can of sweetened condensed milk and 3 cups of water for the milk and sugar if desired. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream if desired.

1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed (approximately 17 ounces)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup pine nuts

1/4cup chopped pistachio nuts

1/4 cup sweetened, flaked coconut

5 cups milk

1 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Unroll the puff pastry sheets, and place flat on a baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until puffed and golden brown.

Break the puff pastry into pieces, and place in a large bowl. Add the raisins, almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and coconut, and toss to distribute. Pour into a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish, and spread evenly.

Pour the milk into a saucepan, and stir in the sugar and vanilla. Heat until hot but not quite boiling. Pour over the mixture in the baking dish.

Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Turn the oven to broil, and broil for 2 minutes to brown the top. Remove from the oven and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 8.