Honey and cheese and nuts – oh my! A dessert lover’s guide to Middle Eastern sweets

How often do you start a meal having mentally ordered that incredible-sounding pudding, and by the time they bring around the dessert menu there is no physical way you could fit it in? Which leaves you the option of either always wondering how they get burnt caramel and banana pudding into pie form, or finding out to your detriment and putting the kibosh on any further plans for the evening. I don’t know about you, but I must have a naturally curious mind. It’s not greed. It’s just SCIENCE.

In the Middle East, people seem to understand that humans cannot be expected to control themselves. So they serve dessert in miniature.

Only problem is, these dishes are so tasty that the fact that most are served up in bite-size pieces may not be enough to prevent overindulgence. All in the name of cultural appreciation, of course.

Let’s take an armchair tour of some mouthwatering Arabic desserts.

Baklava

Baklava

Baklava’s origins are disputed, with a number of countries claiming to be the birthplace of what is possibly the Middle East’s most famous pastry. There are variations on the theme of nuts, dough and sweet syrup (walnuts, almonds or pistachio? honey or sugar?) but it doesn’t matter how you work it. Baklava is amazing.

Zainab fingers

Maakaroun, Lebanese.JPG www.samaracuisine.co.uk

These delicious deep-fried dough fingers, filled with soft cheese and covered with cardamom-and-lime or anise-and-orange-blossom infused syrup, are particularly popular during Ramadan. Their dainty size may mislead you into thinking that you’re just having a light bite. Don’t be fooled.

Umm ali

umm ali

Baklava meets bread pudding in this amazing Egyptian dessert.

Qatayef

' NAJJAR 4

Another Ramadan staple, qatayef is sometimes known as ‘Arabic pancakes’. The pancake is filled with nuts or cheese then deep-fried and drizzled with a fragrant syrup. Are we sensing a delicious theme?

Turkish delight

Luqum

Hold the nuts this time (although some will sneak the odd pistachio in). Turkish delight is another widely-known Middle Eastern sweet. These aromatic jelly cubes flavoured with rosewater or citrus are dusted with powdered sugar. The perfect Arabic-perfumed palate cleanser.

Bastani

pistachio bastani

Pastries not your thing? Well then, how about traditional Persian ice-cream made with vanilla, saffron, rosewater and pistachios? Sublime.

Kunafe / Konafa

Konafa

Layers of shredded pastry and sweet cheese filling, drowned in rosewater syrup and topped with pistachios. It really is incredible how many unique and delicious sweets can be made from a fairly uniform ingredient list! The vermicelli crunch really sets this one apart.

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