middle eastern sweets

Layali Lebnan


I really enjoyed this Lebanese dessert. The lightly flavored semolina cake was perfect with the rich topping of bananas and cream. I used redi-whip in a can to decorate the topping then sprinkled almonds that I coarsely ground on top. If you use that then you want to wait until serving to add your topping but everything else will be okay placed in the refrigerator until needed.

3 cups milk
1/2 cup fine semolina
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground mastic
1 tablespoon rose water
2 bananas
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups clotted cream, qashta or whipped cream
Honey, for servings
Course almonds, for garnish

1. In a saucepan on medium heat add milk, semolina, sugar and mastic. Stir well and bring to a boil. Allow to boil for 5 minutes stirring constantly.

2. Remove pan from heat. Add rose water and spread mixture into a 9-10 inch round pan (I used a glass pie dish). Cover the top with saran wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

3. The next day slice the bananas and place in a bowl with lemon juice. Place the slices on top of the semolina cake to cover top. Spoon the cream into a pastry bag with a star tip and cover bananas with cream.

4. Garnish the top with almonds and honey if desired.

Yields: 8 servings

adapted from sweets of arabia


Saudi Style Cheese Kunafa

cheese-kunafa-recipe kunafa-recipe

I have come across many great kunafa recipes since living in Saudi Arabia and I hope to be able to share most of them with you all over time. This version has baladi cheese which is a popular cheese throughout the Middle East. I absolutely love the stuff and tend to use it a lot in sweet recipes. If you happen to live in a country where you can not find it just substitute a soft, mild white cheese in its place. You will also be using one can of qasta another popular Saudi ingredient. If you cannot find that one as well you can use my homemade recipe here. You can also make this ahead of time and freeze. Just skip the baking part and when you’re ready all you have to do is pop it into the oven.

1/2 kg kunafa
1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons powdered milk
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 (170 grams) can qashta
2-1/2 cups shredded baladi cheese

1 cup sugar syrup
ground pistachios for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 300F. In a large bowl add kunafa and break a bit apart with hands. Pour butter over the top and wet strands.

2. Divide the strands in half. Grease a round (36cm) pan. Add half of kunafa strands into the pan and level with your hands.

3. In a small saucepan on medium heat add water, cornstarch and milk powder. Mix well until the mixture curdles then remove from heat, allowing to cool a bit. Add cheese, qashta and cardamom to pan, mixing well.

4. Carefully pour mixture on top of kunafa strands, leveling. Put the remaining strands on top also leveling lightly with your hands. Bake in the oven 15-20 minutes until golden.

5. Remove pan from oven and carefully flip onto serving platter. Pour syrup on top of kunafa and allow to soak for at least 30 minutes.

Nutty Pumpkin Basboosa

I had some pumpkin mixture remaining and had the idea that it would be nice to add into a typical Middle Eastern sweet. I really love plain basboosa so I decided to layer the two and add some ground nuts in between and on top as well. This was such a great dessert and believe it or not it’s not overly sweet. You can even serve the sugar syrup on the side instead of pouring on top if you wish. I used nuts that contained pretty much every nut and they were also a bit salty which was really good in the recipe and helped balance the taste out. This was a win and had everyone popping more and more into their mouths.

2 cups semolina
4 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin pie filling
1-1/2 cups ground mixed nuts
2 tablespoons of oil or tahini for pan

Sugar syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons rose water

1. Pre-heat oven to 350F. In a large mixing bowl add semolina, sugar, vanilla and baking powder. Stir in butter, eggs and milk into smooth.

2. Pour half of mixture into another bowl. Add pumpkin pie mix into one bowl and stir well.

3. In a 13’ x 9’ inch baking pan add oil or tahini then brush entire pan for greasing. Add the plain (without pumpkin) mixture into pan, smooth surface if needed. Sprinkle half of the nuts on top then carefully pour the pumpkin mixture on top, smoothing top.

4. Place pan into the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove and sprinkle the remaining ground nuts on top carefully flattening into mixture. Place the pan back into the oven and bake for a remaining 20 minutes or when toothpick comes out clean.

5. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan add sugar, water and rose water. Bring to a full boil then reduce to low-medium stirring every once in a while for 15 minutes. Set aside.

6. With a toothpick poke some holes all over the top of the basboosa then cut. Carefully pour the sugar syrup on top. Allow to sit for 15 minutes before serving.

Yields: 20 servings

* The peanut is the only nut grown underground.  Americans consume
3,750,000 pounds of peanuts daily in all forms including confections,
bakery items, soups, desserts, ice cream and mixed nuts.


I have wanted to try these cookies out for a while now and finally attempted them for Eid. I have come across quite a bit of Arabic recipes that involve cooking flour before using and the reason behind that is many Bedouins would cook the flour over the fire and use in recipes (ones that did not involve ovens) so even though they may not be baked the flour is still getting cooked. It can take a bit for the flour to turn lightly brown it did for me anyway on my electric stove. If you’re not sure just wait the flour will brown but be careful not to burn.

The types of molds you use are the wooden mammoul molds. They are quite handy and the cookie easily slips out of the mold. I have two versions and in the Middle East they decorate each mold with the same garnish since typically they use one mold for one flavor. These were really good and almost finished before Eid day even got here so I was really happy with the outcome.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped dates
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 cup clarified butter
Powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder for garnish

1.In a sauté pan on medium high heat add the flour stirring constantly until golden.

2. Sift the cooked flour into a large mixing bowl the add dates, cardamom, cinnamon and ginger, mix. Add butter then knead with hands until smooth and well combined.

3. Shape the dough into small balls the size of walnuts then carefully press the balls into the wooden molds, the tap out and place on cutting board or wax paper (large work surface).

4.  Sprinkle cocoa powder on half of cookies and powdered sugar on the rest.

Yields: approximately 15-20 cookies

Slightly adapted from sweets of arabia

(cookie molds plus cutters used for the pistachio Eid Cookies)
*Today, Saudi Arabia is the second largest producer of dates in the world.