A celebration of what is truly good about Summer, Eton Mess is the ultimate expression of the season in a jumbled mess of ripe, intensely red fruit and richly satisfying milkiness. Strawberries and cream with crunchy meringues in between. It doesn’t get much better than that.
This one however, is not an Eton Mess, but rather a Lebanese take on British tradition. And since the Lebanese are prone to turning a mess into something much more serious, I’ve decided to call this invention an Eton War.
In my opinion, the ingredient that replaces cream in this recipe is going to become one of the hottest items in the kitchen’s repertoire in the years to come, once western chefs are switched on to it – at which point, sadly, it will stop being thought of as a traditional Middle-Eastern ingredient, and the world will think it’s a molecular gastronomist’s invention. The ingredient is called natef, and it rocks. It is made by boiling soapwort which extracts its saponin content, and then by whipping the liquid which foams up into a cloud of whiteness. The foam is neutral in flavour and can be given sweetness by using a heavy sugar syrup. This is gently added to the mixture as you continue whipping, like you would with an Italian meringue. The mixture becomes glossy and velvety as the sugar syrup is added. The texture that results is unlike anything you’ve ever tried. It’s thicker and silkier than cream, more luscious and truly unique. A sweet, delicious shaving cream is the closest description I can give you.
To continue with the theme, I macerated the strawberries in orange blossom water and used pistachio meringues – pistachios are traditionally paired with natef in a dessert called karabij halabiyyeh. The result is different to an Eton Mess, but equally as crave inducing.
Soapwort can be found at traditional Chinese herbalists. For more detail on natef, including step-by-step instructions on how to perform this miraculous transformation, read Anissa Helou’s post here.