Top 20 Exotic Middle Eastern Desserts to Try Right Now!
With its exotic spices and aromatic scent profile, Middle Eastern cuisine has delighted taste buds for centuries. If you are growing tired of the same old desserts after dinner, consider exploring new lands in your kitchen with these exotic Middle Eastern desserts.
This flaky, nutty treat is one of the most popular Middle Eastern desserts. It is not only popular in the Middle East, but also the surrounding Mediterranean region, as well as Central Asia. First, chopped nuts, such as pistachios, are sandwiched between buttered layers of flaky phyllo pastry. The dessert is then cut into diamond shapes and baked. After baking, a syrup infused with rosewater or orange blossoms is added on top of the pastry.
The history of baklava can be unclear at times, but many believe that the dessert became the most popular at the height of the Ottoman Empire. It has long been considered the national dessert of several countries such as Turkey, Greece, Albania, Serbia, and Romania. Throughout many regions of the Middle East, it is customary to serve baklava during religious celebrations, such as Ramadan.
Kataifi is another flaky pastry served throughout the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece. Kataifi is similar to baklava, except it uses shredded angel hair phyllo instead of whole sheets. The shredded phyllo is mixed with nuts and spices and then covered with a spice-infused syrup after baking. The traditional recipe serves the dessert as small rolls, but other recipes make nest shapes instead.
You can think of kunafeh as the Middle Eastern style of cheesecake. Shredded phyllo dough, known as kadaïf, is stuffed with soft cheese and then baked to crispy perfection on the outside. Once baked, the dessert is drizzled with a rose or orange blossom-infused syrup and then topped with nuts. The result is a dessert that is sweet and crispy on the outside while gooey on the inside! Historically, kunafeh was served to caliphs during Ramadan, and this practice is still in place today.
Originating from Shiraz, Iran, faloodeh is a Persian, sorbet-like dessert dating back to 400 BC. Thin, vermicelli-style noodles are mixed with a frozen rosewater-infused syrup and then topped with lime juice and pistachio nuts. The dessert can also be served alongside ice cream, and it is a popular summer treat at many ice cream shops in Iran and surrounding regions.
Umm Ali is a bread pudding dessert dating back to the Ayyubid dynasty of Egypt. First, phyllo dough is topped with pistachios, cinnamon, and raisins and then covered with milk or cream. Finally, it is baked until golden brown. The dessert can be served hot on cold. When translated, Umm Ali means “Ali’s mother”. Legend has it the wife of Sultan Ezz El Din Aybak prepared the dessert as a sign of celebration following the death of the rival responsible for her husband’s death.
Aish El Saraya
Translating to “bread of the palace”, aish el aaraya is a bread pudding similar to Umm Ali. The base of the dessert is made up of bread rusks covered with syrup. Next, the bread is topped with ashta (clotted cream) and then topped with pistachios. The dessert is usually served cool, and if you desire, you can have it with additional syrup.
Dating back to 7th century Persia, muhallebi is a type of milk pudding. Milk and sugar are cooked together and then thickened with either rice flour or cornstarch. The dessert is usually topped with rose water for fragrance and taste. Cinnamon, pistachios, and raisins are other popular toppings. The dessert is often served at festive events and religious gatherings.
Luqaimat translates to “bite-size” in Arabic. This sweet, dumpling dessert is especially popular during Ramadan and other festive events. Balls of dough are fried to perfection and then topped with syrup or honey. The dumplings can also be topped with cinnamon and various types of seeds, such as sesame and pistachio seeds.
Halawet El Jibn
Originating in Syria, this dessert is essentially a sweet cheese roll. Sweet dough is rolled out and then filled with a sweet, creamy cheese known as ashta. Next, the filled dough is rolled into log shapes. The dessert is then topped with a delicious rose or orange-infused syrup and crushed nuts. Halawet el jibn is popular during Ramadan, but it is perfect for any time of year.
Qatayef in Arabic means “pick up”. This dessert is a Ramadan staple dating back to the 10th century. Delicious, crescent-shaped pancake dumplings are stuffed with nuts and then fried to golden perfection. Before serving, the pancake is topped with a sweet syrup. Qatayef can also be stuffed with cheese, meats, and other herbs for a more savory dish.
Bastani sonnati is a delicious saffron-infused ice cream popularized by Akbar Mashti in the early 20th century. Milk, cream, frozen custard, and pistachios are infused together with fresh saffron for a distinctive yellow color. The dessert can also be served as an ice cream sandwich between two wafers.
Ghraybeh is the Middle Eastern version of the butter cookie that many people know and love. The recipe only requires three ingredients: all-purpose flour, butter, and confectioner’s sugar. The ingredients are mixed into a dough, chilled, formed into cookies, and then baked. Simply mix the ingredients into a dough, chill, and then bake. A more traditional style of the recipe uses only ghee for flavor, but other variations flavor the cookies with rose water, orange blossom, fruit, nuts, and seeds.
Also referred to as “namoura” or “hareesh”, this Ramadan staple is popular in many Middle Eastern countries as well as surrounding regions in North Africa, Greece, and Turkey. Basbousa translates to “just one kiss” in Arabic. The basic recipe consists of dense, moist semolina cake topped with sweet syrup and toasted coconut flakes. You can eat the cake plain or top it with nuts and cream. Sometimes, the syrup is infused with coconut, rose, or orange water.
Dating back to the 7th century, halvah is a dense, fudge-like dessert made from simple sugar syrup and tahini, a thick paste made from sesame seeds. There are many varieties of halvah throughout the Middle East and other regions. Many recipes use various flours, nuts, spices, and fruits for different tastes.
Similar to a milkshake, sahlab consists of milk sweetened with cinnamon and vanilla. The milk is thickened with a base such as rice flour to make a pudding-like texture. Next, it is topped with raisins, nuts, and coconuts. Many recipes also add rosewater for fragrance and flavor.
Balah El Sham
If you are familiar with churros, you will love this dessert. Fried dough is filled with vanilla cream and then topped with warm syrup. The result is a dessert with a perfectly crunchy outside and a fluffy, creamy inside.
Mesh Om Ali
This dessert is a type of milk pie consisting of phyllo dough with condensed milk and whipped cream. The surface is a bit crunchy, and the inside is creamy and rich. You can eat the dessert plain or serve it with ice cream and maple syrup for an extra special treat.
Dates are a quintessential part of Middle Eastern cuisine. Ma’amoul consists of butter cookies stuffed with a sweet, aromatic date filling. Traditionally, the dessert is made around the Easter holiday as well as towards the end of Ramadan. Many Jews in the region also prepare maamoul during Purim to celebrate Jewish history in Persia.
Dating back to ancient Egypt, kahk cookies consist of semolina flour filled with nuts and dates. Each cookie is shaped into a round, geometric design that is symbolic of the sun. As a holiday favorite, kahk cookies are loved for their unique shapes and textures as well as their rich, buttery flavor. The fillings vary by region, but the cookies can also be made plain with no filling. Normally, the cookies are served with generous amounts of powdered sugar
Commonly known as chickpea cookies, this dessert is a Persian New Year favorite. You may feel unsettled at the thought of chickpea cookies, but the cookies aren’t made with whole chickpeas. Instead, they use fine chickpea flour for the perfect texture.
The flour is mixed with exotic spices such as cardamom and then flavored with rosewater. After baking, the cookies are topped with pistachios or other nuts.