Alaj (Arabic Honey Slice)

Makes 18-24 portions
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Indy Lifestyle Online

A kind of Middle Eastern panforte, this ancient Arabic sweetmeat comes from Spain courtesy of the Moors, and is simplicity itself to make. It is a bit of a fiddle skinning the blanched pistachios, and not absolutely essential if you can't be bothered. But, the resulting little nuggets of jade green are a joy to behold. Toast them for a few minutes brushed with a little oil in a really hot oven to make them nice and crunchy.

A kind of Middle Eastern panforte, this ancient Arabic sweetmeat comes from Spain courtesy of the Moors, and is simplicity itself to make. It is a bit of a fiddle skinning the blanched pistachios, and not absolutely essential if you can't be bothered. But, the resulting little nuggets of jade green are a joy to behold. Toast them for a few minutes brushed with a little oil in a really hot oven to make them nice and crunchy.

Similarly, it is worth shallow-frying the almonds to a golden brown - it makes for a toastier flavour, and a superior crunchy texture.

50ml vegetable oil
125g whole blanched almonds
30g blanched and peeled unsalted pistachios
250g honey
coarsely grated zest of 1/ 2 lemon and 1 orange
150g stale white bread, crusts removed
1 teaspoon orange-blossom water
1 teaspoon aniseed seeds, toasted and lightly crushed
2 sheets rice paper, each 24cm square
Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the almonds over a gentle heat until golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat with the pistachios.

Put the honey into a saucepan with the citrus zests and slowly bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, blitz the bread in a food processor to make coarse crumbs. Add the nuts to the hot honey, and then the breadcrumbs. Stir continuously for about five minutes. It will look very unpromising to start off, and after a few minutes it will begin to come together in a solid mass, and thicken to a stiff, almost glutinous paste. Keep stirring and turning, which will become increasingly hard work, until the five minutes is up. Then remove the pan from the heat and add the orange-blossom water and aniseed, stirring again to incorporate into the mass.

Turn the mixture out onto one sheet of rice paper, and pat it into a round disc about 20cm in diameter. Cover with a second piece of rice paper and press down gently to about a finger's width in height. You may find it easier to use a jar, or a rolling pin to roll the paste out to an even height. Neaten the edges with a knife and cool. Store in an airtight tin and slice off pieces to serve with coffee as a petit four.

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