middle eastern sweets


is one of the most loved desserts in the Emirates. I love this light tasting
dessert that leaves a linger of the Gulf favorites cardamom and rose water. Light
desserts are my go to in Ramadan because a day of fasting and a nice iftar can
only make one handle so much. You could also add ground cloves or a bit of
cinnamon while cooking if you would like however this is how I personally
prefer it.
2 cups milk
(I use full fat)
1/2 cup
1/2 teaspoon
ground cardamom
tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons
rose water
pistachios, for garnish
1. In a small
saucepan on medium heat add milk, sugar and cardamom. Mix well allowing sugar
to dissolve.
2. Add the
cornstarch and whisk until well combined. Continue to whisk for about 10
minutes until the mixture thickens like glue.
3. Reduce the
heat to low and add rose water, mix well cooking for a remaining 2 minutes.
Pour into serving ramekins, cover with plastic wrap (poke a small hole in top
to prevent sweating) and allow chilling in the refrigerator overnight.
4. The next
day after custard has set garnish with pistachios and serve.
Yields: 3

Pistachio Filled Dates


In Saudi some typical ingredients for filling and covering dates would be coconut, chocolate, sesame seeds and nuts. I made this mixture with pistachios and orange blossom water. We prefer to have light desserts during Ramadan since everyone is full from iftar and not in the mood for a heavy dessert. This plumb filled date is perfect Arabic coffee or habek tea.

20 dates, pitted (I used sukary)
1/4 cup pistachios
1 teaspoon orange blossom water
1. In a small food processor add nuts and orange blossom water, grind until a paste has formed.
2. Carefully open dates keeping closed side intact and with a small spoon fill with nut paste, pack in. Place on a serving platter and serve.

Sesame Seed Dates


This simple and easy recipe is hands down one of my favorites and my Ramadan sweet go to. I use fresh sukary dates (my favorites) in this recipe. Gulf Arabs are really innovative when it comes to dates and use them quite a lot. Luckily I love dates so this is perfect for me. I whip this up before I start cooking dinner, cover it and serve it after dinner with Saudi qahwa.

20 dates, pitted
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1. In a 4-inch skillet on medium heat add butter; allow melting then add sesame seeds and cardamom. Lightly toast until golden.
2. Carefully add dates into skillet and mix well, coating every date. Place dates into a serving pan.
Yields: 2-4 servings 

*recipe updated from 8/30/08


The first time I had the pleasure of trying dondurma I was in university in Chicago. A Turkish festival was being held right across the street from my school and my friends and I went over to check it out as soon as class was over. My friend Trae who had lived in Turkey for years told me that I had to try the ice-cream because it was something different and intriguing. She was right and from that day forward dondurma has been a treat I held dear unfortunately it’s very rare to find anywhere else in the world. In Lebanon and Syria they also make this exact ice-cream although it’s called a different name.

Dondurma is made from sahlep, flour which is made from orchids and mastic. These two ingredients are what make the ice-cream have a thick and chewy texture. I have been working on this recipe for quite some time trying to make it as close to what I remembered as best I could at home. This final batch was successful enough for me to share with you, I am pretty proud of it because it was everything in texture as it should be which is a chewy and thick make. Usually vendors will pull the ice-cream up and down all day with a large spoon, working it for the right pull. Obviously this is something hard for making at home but this is as close as you will get making it yourself. I decided to mold mine to be a uniformed block of ice-cream just for looks but do not let the simple shape fool you this ice-cream offers everything it should. 

2 mastic balls, frozen for 5 minutes
1/3 cup ground salep
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
ground cinnamon, for topping 

1. With a mortar carefully grind mastic until ground, set aside. 

2. In a small bowl add cream, salep and vanilla, whisk until blended and set aside.

3. In a 4-quart saucepan on low-medium heat add  milk, mastic and salep mixture. Whisk until combined then add sugar, mixing well. 

4. Continuing whisking the mixture so the milk does not stick to the pan but also use a ladle to scoop and pour mixture back into pan. This will stretch the mix. Continue doing these two things non-top for 25 minutes. 

5. In an 8x8inch baking square baking pan line with plastic wrap, carefully pour hot mixture into pan. Cover with another piece of plastic wrap and place into freezer. Every few hours, remove mixture from freezer and stir to mix up. After you do this 3-4 times cover and allow to freezer overnight. 

6. The next day remove dondurma from the freezer and slice individual servings then sprinkle with ground cinnamon, serve and place remaining dondurma back into freezer. 

Yields: 8 servings