If you have a sweet tooth, then this article is right up your alley! The layered personality of Arab cuisine has various regional influences stemming from traditional Bedouin and Levantine food. However, the question that arises after every authentic feast is always, “What’s for dessert?” Just like their savory dishes, Middle Eastern desserts consist of multiple, perfectly-balanced flavors and textures. While it’s true that some of them can be a bit sticky-sweet for Western tastes, when they’re made correctly, they’re just as lovely to look at as they are to eat. Unfortunately, too many people are familiar only with Middle Eastern pastries that aren’t so well made. If you sample them far away from where they originate, they’re often made with old or stale nuts, they’ve sat around too long in plastic packages, or the cheeses aren’t exactly fresh.
So, to ensure that you get the freshest, sweetest, and most delicious dessert experience imaginable, here are a few popular Middle Eastern desserts that are guaranteed to please your palate:
Kunafa – كنافة
This is one of the region’s favorites and is available in many Arabian restaurants and shops that specialize in making this tasty treats. The dish is made up of a thick layer of white cheese and topped with crushed vermicelli noodles or shredded wheat. It’s best eaten piping hot from the oven and soaked in a plain or rose-flavored sugar syrup.
Katayef – قطايف
Some people might pronounce this word as kataifi, but that would be wrong as kataifi is a popular Greek dessert. Known by some as Arabic pancakes, they’re filled with cream and nuts and topped with syrup. Some might even bake them or fry them as an extra step. This dessert has been unchanged for centuries; however this hasn’t kept Nutella from spreading (pun intended) its influence as a filling inside them!
Baklawa – بقلاوة
Perhaps one of the best known desserts from the region, baklava takes on many delicious forms. Originating in Turkey, this multi-faceted dessert is crafted from filo pastry stuffed with an assortment of nuts and drenched in sticky, sweet honey
Basbousa – بسبوسة
A traditional Levantine cake, basbousa is an everyday dessert commonly eaten following family meals. Following a simple recipe, the cake is mostly made with semolina, and sometimes powdered coconut, then soaked in syrup and garnished with blanched almonds before serving. Mild-flavored and lightweight, it’s an easy dessert to both make and eat compared to other richer Middle Eastern sweets served up. Variations can include a honey glaze, the addition of either rose water or orange blossom water to give the batter a soft floral scent, or the inclusion of thick yoghurt to create a moister – and denser – cake.
Maamoul – معمول
Flour, dates, spices and honey are essential ingredients of most sweets of Arabia and every grandmother has a secret recipe that’s been handed down through generations. Likewise, the spiced date cookies called maamoul are sure to be found in heaping piles in every majlis (a room specifically for hosting guests). They are usually stuffed with date paste and crushed nuts and pressed into decorative molds before baking. Their buttery flavor is the perfect foil to a cup of strong, black, Arabian coffee they’re usually served with.
Halawet El Jibn – حلاوة الجبن
The people’s choice indulgence, halawet el jibn are cigar-shaped rolls of sweet cheese dough stuffed with clotted cream. A bit of a flavor snooze until you cut them into bite-size pieces and top them with pistachios and a dollop of rose petal jam. Drizzle on a fragrant syrup, and thank Lebanon and Syria for this exotic concoction of yummy!
Namoura – نمورة
This is one of those Middle Eastern sweets that can be easily replicated anywhere, no matter where you are from. Made from simple ingredients, it is rich and dense, with the semolina crumbling on the tongue, yet chewy and sweet, as it is soaked in sticky flower syrup. The pan is greased with tahini rather than butter, mellowing each bite.
Umm Ali – أم علي
Translating to “Ali’s Mother”, Umm Ali is a core dessert of Eid celebrations and other holidays. This deliciously creamy, bread and butter pudding is made slightly differently than the kind eaten in the West, with puff pastry or torn-up croissant layered in a large dish with pistachios, dried coconut flakes, and sultanas or pieces of dates. A mixture of milk, cream and sugar is then poured over the top and allowed to soak into the pastry mix before being baked. A hearty and warming dish, no celebration is complete without a bowl or two.
Awama – عوامة
The Ottomans knew their way around snacks, inventing this granddaddy of the donut. Awama is a traditional Levant sweet made of small fried dough balls that you dip in syrup. The name is Arabic for “floater” because the dough pops to the surface when being fried. One ball of this Damascene dessert has about 180 calories!
So, are you hungry yet? After compiling this list, we sure are! Arabic sweets have a habit of satisfying you like no other dessert out there, but be sure to check out our other articles at Kaleela.com after you finish eating.