The rise in world cuisine has been phenomenal in recent years, with the food of many different cultures receiving attention in the mainstream.
One such cuisine is Middle Eastern food, which has seen a rise in popularity in recent years? But while many people might at least be able to name meals from this tradition, it is the desserts that continue to go underrated.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best Middle Eastern desserts out there!
A famed and much loved dessert throughout the Middle East, mouhalabieh is a chilled milk pudding, often topped with rose petals, rose water, pistachio nuts, and even a rose jam.
The consistency of this dessert resembles milk jelly, creating a rigid, springy dessert, which when sliced into contains jam, cream, and other tasty ingredients like cocoa and nuts.
These small Lebanese pastries are common throughout much of the Middle East, where they are also known as ‘warbat’.
They consist of thin layers of filo, flaky pastry, and are often filled with custard, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, or even sweet cheeses (also known as ‘ashta’).
These desserts have a long history in Middle Eastern culture, dating back to the time of the Ottoman Empire.
Still popular throughout Turkey and other areas in the Middle East, baklava rolls are small filo pastries, often filled with nuts and sometimes dried fruit – somewhat similar in principle to the filling of mince pies found in the United Kingdom and Europe around Christmas time.
Similar in taste to blancmange, mahalabia uses simple ingredients, has a short cooking time, and can be paired with any number of flavors and additional ingredients with ease.
However, traditional ingredients include cardamom, orange blossom water, rose water, and nuts to create a botanical, fresh flavor that is simply delicious.
Also known as basbousa, Egyptian harissa dessert is a semolina cake popular throughout much of the Middle East.
With ingredients such as shredded coconuts, raisins, and hazelnuts, this is a popular dessert enjoyed by many.
Also incorporating ghee/butter, sugar, honey, and milk, this is a wholesome, comforting cake perfect for serving with coffee, or afternoon refreshments.
Thought to derive from the Coptic Egyptian word ‘kenephiten’, meaning ‘bread or cake’, knafeh is a popular dessert throughout much of the Middle East, and is spun pastry called ‘kataifi’, which is then soaked in attar – a sweet sugar based syrup.
Traditional knafeh tends to contain cheese, clotted cream, pistachios, or nuts (depending on the region) and tends to be served in a wide, shallow dish.
Lokma are small pastries made from leavened deep fried balls of dough, and the finished articles resemble a donut in taste and consistency.
Often sweetened with honey or syrup, these are a popular sweet snack throughout the Middle East, and are thought to stem back to at least the 13th century, where they were a well loved dish in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq).
This Lebanese rice pudding dish remains very popular throughout the Middle East, and uses cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla to create a delightfully sweet dish that, while simple in design, is laden with flavor.
This firm favorite is often topped with dried apricots, lemons, rose water, orange blossom water, rose petals, or pistachio nuts.
Ghraybeh are Middle Eastern shortbread cookies, containing sugar, pistachios, and almonds for an extra crunchy texture.
Popular throughout the region, these are a simple yet tasty treat, that can be customized in any number of ways, and using any number of different nuts, dried fruits, or similar ingredients to create a dessert fitting for the occasion at hand.
While the name halva is widely used throughout the Middle East as a term for confectionery, the traditionally associated dish tends to be a paste based, semolina treat, made with finely ground seeds or nuts, and drizzled with honey or syrup for sweetness.
11. Layali Lubnan
Translating to ‘Lebanese nights’, layali lubnan is a semolina pudding dessert, served cold with rose syrup, cream, and chopped or crushed pistachios.
Traditionally used for breaking a person’s fast after Ramadan, this light and creamy dish has endured as a popular dessert throughout the Middle East, with its use even extending to the Levantine Catholics, who consume the dish during their Easter celebrations.
12. Fig Pastries
Extremely common throughout the Middle East, and around the world, these are perhaps the most commonly known dessert within Middle Eastern culture.
Using dried figs, cinnamon, orange zest, and orange juice, these are sweet, tangy, moreish little pastries that are the perfect snack for any occasion.
Considered the perfect dessert for Rosh Hashannah, or any other celebration for that matter, this honey-sesame cake is popular throughout Israel.
In many ways, this dish is the perfect coming together of sweet and savory, with the sesame seeds, and the salt creating a great dichotomy with the honey, vanilla, and brown sugar, while the inclusion of black coffee or tea creates a rich taste that really brings out the other flavors.
Usually consumed at Eid to celebrate the end of Ramadan, these date filled biscuits are incredibly popular as a seasonal treat all throughout Muslim society.
Made as either simple rounds, or in more intricate shapes depending on the occasion, these sweet treats represent everything great about Middle Eastern cooking.
A staple dessert throughout the Middle East, these small, stuffed and fried pancakes are a favorite on any buffet table.
Stuffed with crushed nuts, deep fried until golden brown, and then dunked in simple syrup, these truly are the perfect, comforting snack to be enjoyed with friends and family.
16. Mesh Om Ali
This sweet pastry dessert originated in Egypt, and quickly became a popular dish throughout much of the Middle East.
Incorporating a rich blend of pistachios, almonds, cashews, cinnamon, and fresh cream, this really is a simple yet indulgent dessert perfect for any occasion.
Also known as akras jouz alhind, these Lebanese coconut cookies are a firm favorite, and are perhaps one of the most well known and loved dishes on this list.
Combining coconut with sweet maraschino cherries, vanilla extract, and apricot jam, these are a perfect feel good snack.
18. Nan-E Nokhodchi
Made from chickpea flour, these cookies translate to ‘bread of chickpea’, and are usually combined with cardamom flowers and pistachio nuts to create a complex, delicious flavor.
Usually cut into the shape of a clover, these cookies are one of the Seven Sweets consumed during the Persian new year, commemorating the legendary discovery of sugar by King Jamshid.
Sahlab is a Middle Eastern milk pudding, usually served warm to provide a creamy, nourishing treat, to be eaten with a spoon.
Usually garnished with rose water, pistachio nuts, and slivered almonds, sahlab can also be served with honey, peanut butter, pralines, or salted toffee.
Somewhat resembling a pretzel in consistency and appearance, kaak is a Middle Eastern flatbread that can be consumed either sweet or savory.
Usually served in a teardrop shape with a hole in the center, these treats can be consumed on their own, or with your choice of dips and toppings, making them an extremely versatile street food.
Zlabia are essentially mini Middle Eastern funnel cakes, usually served in a rose water syrup, sprinkled with citrus zest, or powdered sugar.
Enjoyed throughout Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East, kataifi is dough wrapped around mixed spices, nuts, and honey syrup to create a sweet, dessert dumpling.
Perfect as canapes, or on the table at a family get-together, these delicious treats will leave you wanting more.
Also known as pistachio truffles, these are a semolina based, ball shaped treat, coated in powder pistachio and sugar, with an ashta cream center.
Indulgent, attractive, and incredibly moreish, these are the perfect treat or gift for a special occasion, or as a centerpiece at the table during a family get-together.
And there we have it, everything you need to know to make some of the best desserts in the Middle East!
These truly are hidden gems on the global scale, but for a truly delicious, wholesome after dinner treat, why not give some of these recipes a try? Something tells me you won’t be disappointed!