Dessert – Premier guide to Middle Eastern cuisine and culture Tue, 26 Apr 2016 00:32:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Sesame-Honey Fudge with Pistachio (Halaweh / Halawa) Fri, 25 Apr 2014 15:07:14 +0000 P1120781

Halaweh, (also called halawa, halwa, halva)  is a dense, sweet, nutty-tasting confection, made with many variations throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and  eastern Europe. It is a fudge made with tahini, or sesame paste, mixed with sugar that has been boiled to the hard-rock stage, and then formed into a block. You can find a number of flavors of halaweh in Middle Eastern grocers, including plain, chocolate, or pistachio.

But as a young girl, when I first encountered it while visiting my relatives in Bethlehem, I was mystified.

What is it, my sister and I asked shyly, when my cousins excitedly gathered around the kitchen, clamoring for a piece of the treat my aunt was offering.

Halaweh, they said, patiently for their foreign cousins. Here, try some!  A crumbly piece was pressed into my hand.

But what is it?  I asked.

It’s hilweh, they said, describing it with an Arabic word I was familiar with: sweet. My mother reassured me, telling me that it was made with tahini,  tasted like peanut butter, nutty and sweet. I was used to brightly colored candies, wrapped with foil or paper,  so this tan rectangle of crumbly fudge, sliced off a block, seemed strange to me. My sister and I nibbled our pieces, and then smiled, while our cousins circled us.

Mmmmm, we said.  Halaweh is sweet!

And sweet it is, especially now that I have found a lighting-fast, wholesome version of this treat!



The recipe that I am sharing with you today is a simple five-minute, no-cook version of this Middle Eastern sesame fudge that has all of the goodness of the treat, without any of the sugar.  Yes, no sugar! The traditional halaweh I grew up with was so sweet that today I find it cloying. Instead of sugar, I used a few spoonfuls of raw honey to make this batch, and I find the rich floral sweetness of honey to be a beautiful complement to the nutty creaminess of the tahini. This five-ingredient fudge takes only a few moments to stir together, so in the time it takes to make a sandwich, you can have a creamy, sweet-salty treat, full of wholesome ingredients. I like the addition of pistachios on top, not only because they are a traditional addition, but because I like firm crunch of a nut with the creaminess of the fudge.

No time to refrigerate? Just stir up the first four ingredients and eat by the spoon. This would also make a tasty sandwich spread (think Middle Eastern PB&J), or even delicious dip (try tart, green apple slices, or some sweet carrot sticks).  And if you want an even faster take on these flavors, check out our other post on homemade halawa, and learn how to combine various honeys, tahinis and molasses for other tempting sandwich spreads.

One more exciting bonus about this treat:  it avoids common allergens, so that almost anyone can enjoy this little treat.  It is naturally gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, sugar-free, soy-free, vegan, and if you omit the pistachios on top, nut-free as well.

P1120753Why Raw Honey

Honey is a sacred food in traditional cultures, and recognized both for its healing properties and its luxurious sweetness.  Honey was always seen as a gift from God (or the gods), as it is a sign of the lush bounty of nature, the good things of life, and for much of history, was the sweetest food a person could savor.

Today, we understand its healing properties a little better. Raw honey, as our ancestors ate it, is unheated, and unpasteurized, unstrained and unfiltered.  Because of this, it is a living food, full of trace minerals, antioxidants, enzymes,  and has antifungal, antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Raw honey has many medicinal uses – as a cough suppressant or throat soother, as a topical ointment for a wide variety of skin maladies, cuts and scrapes, and as a treatment for seasonal allergies. Ingesting trace amount of pollen in unfiltered honey can, over time, reduce a person’s immune-response.  It is also a great energy booster, since it contains both glucose, which metabolizes quickly, and fructose, which metabolizes more slowly.  In fact, I will forever be grateful for honey’s sweet energy, because a few teaspoons were the only thing I could hold down during a long and difficult labor, but just that little bit did give me enough of an energy boost to push through to the end.

For this halaweh recipe, you can certainly use any honey that you have on hand.  Since the recipe calls for very few ingredients, though, the purity (or otherwise) of the ingredients will effect the final taste.   If you can get your hands on raw honey, this is one lovely way to include it in your diet, as this recipe does not require you to heat the honey.

Sesame-Honey Fudge with Pistachio (Halaweh/Halawa)

by Jessica

Prep Time: 5 Minutes

Cook Time: None

Keywords: raw dessert snack dairy-free gluten-free low-carb low-sodium paleo primal soy-free sugar-free vegan vegetarian fudge

Ingredients (24 pieces)


(1) Since tahini naturally separates in the jar, make sure that it is fully mixed before measuring out your quantity of tahini. Place in a small bowl and stir vigorously with a spoon until the texture becomes smooth.

(2) Stir in honey, butter or coconut oil, and a sprinkle of salt, and stir until well incorporated. Taste and add more honey and salt, to taste.

(3) Line a loaf pan with parchment paper, and spread the fudge evenly. Press pistachios into the top, in rows, if you like.

(4) Refrigerate until firm, about an hour, and then pull out parchment paper, cut with a sharp knife, and serve immediately.

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Interview: Sukaina’s Dubai-based blog ‘Sips and Spoonfuls’ + her recipe for Eton Mess Trifle Wed, 01 Aug 2012 02:26:34 +0000 It’s been a while since we’ve posted an interview on here, but we’re coming back with a bang: today we’re sharing with you a fun interview with the supremely talented Dubai-based chef and photographer, Sukaina Rajabali. When I first came across Sukaina’s blog, Sips and Spoonfuls, I was simply awestruck by the exceptionally beautiful food photos that greeted me on her page. Sukaina’s passion is photography and it shows; her photos showcase perfect staging and matching props that effectively contrast with the food and make every scrumptious bite ‘pop’ on the page. I’m not exaggerating when I say that her photography surpasses the level of even some of the fanciest food magazines out there.

 As for the food, Sukaina uses fresh ingredients for all her recipes, something we at MidEats prize a lot! After having children, Sukaina ramped up her healthy eating habits to make sure that her lovely daughter, Maryam, and her infant son, Hassan, can grow up eating real foods, packed with nutrition and prepared with love (and a good dose of creativity to boot!) After reading through the interview with Sukaina, and checking out her featured recipe (it’s dessert  that features pistachios — need I say more?), hop on over to her site and browse to your heart’s content! 

– Heba of MidEATS

Interview with Food Blogger Sukaina Rajabali of Sips and Spoonfuls

We love to hear ‘blog birth’ stories! What sparked your interest in food, blogging and photography? 

If I’m honest, although I have always been interested in eating food, my interest in the actual preparation of food and developing recipes only surfaced in the last five years or so after moving to Dubai and having children. I wanted to make sure my kids had the best possible start with healthy homemade meals where I was in control of every ingredient used.

Sips and Spoonfuls is one of our favorite food photography blogs. Your photos are simply breathtaking … makes me want to slip into my computer screen and grab a bite out of that clementine custard! How did you get so good at it? Do you have any tips for beginners?

After the birth of my girl Maryam, I went through a patch of feeling disillusioned with my career and job prospects (I am an optometrist in a previous life!) or the lack of. I had always dreamed of being a stay at home mom and I was living that dream. Yet, I harbored feelings of failure, frustration and discontent. This blog was initially created to fulfill the void I had of not having a career, a life outside of home, a place where I could unleash my creativity.

Through this blog, I have found my true vocation, my true joy- photography. Every morning, I am excited to pick up my camera, cook foods that I haven’t before, capture foods in a way I never thought possible.

While we’re on the topic of photography, what is the greatest challenge to capturing the perfect picture? Is it lighting, props placement, food styling, equipment, or something else? 

Why thanks for the compliment. I initially took a beginner’s course to acquaint myself with a DSLR at Gulf Photo Plus. After that, I read many online articles and watched countless Youtube tutorials to enhance my photography skills. I carried my camera everywhere, taking photos of anything and everything that came my way. For anyone who wishes to get good, practice really does make perfect — so practice as much as you can. It also helps to get inspired by others who are good at their craft: I like to follow the work of various photographers who I find exceptionally talented, taking the time to carefully study their photographs, paying attention to styling, composition, lighting, shadows and their use of color and textures.

One of the biggest hurdles for me is working quickly whilst the food is fresh to capture the perfect shot. I usually have my 3-year-old trying to ‘help’ me and my 6-month-old squirming in the background, waiting to be fed. I try and plan my shoots well in advance deciding on composition, styling and props beforehand so that when it’s time to shoot, I waste as little time as possible.

What are your favorite seasonal ingredients … you know, the ones that you eagerly wait to see at the market? What are some of your favorite ways to use them in your recipes? 

One of my favorite seasonal fruits are strawberries. I think their fragrance, sweetness and color really shine through when they are picked in their season. Even though they are available year-round in Dubai, they really do taste their best from around sometime between January to May. I love eating them just fresh with some cream on the side and on the rare occasion that we have any extras lying around, I like to bake them into this Strawberry and Pistachio Cake.

You now live in Dubai, a place famous for its fresh fish. What are your favorite seafood dishes, and how do you like to prepare them? 

Yes! I love visiting the fish market and find the process of choosing fresh fish quite exhilarating. Fish can be delicate and should be prepared simply and without much fuss or too many spices. Currently, my favorite way to eat fish is rubbing on it a mint and coriander paste with lots of garlic and lemon. Then simply, grilling or barbecuing it. Here’s a simple recipe for Grilled Red Snapper to get you started.

What do you like the most, and the least, about blogging? 

For me, the best part about blogging has been finding a hobby and vocation that I truly love and enjoy: photography. I also love the social media side, connecting with readers, many of whom have become friends with on Twitter. On the contrary, social media can take up a lot of time which means less time with my family. So finding a balance is crucial and that is something that I’m still learning nowadays.

Since you have a two-year-old (and now a newborn!) and still manage to find time to cook, we’d love it if you can share some time-saving tips in the kitchen! What are some of your go-to meals for a busy day, that are also palatable to young children?

My go to meals usually involve pasta these days. Currently our household favorite is this creamy pea and mint spaghetti. It’s vibrant, fresh and full of flavor. I usually omit the mint for Maryam as she considers it ‘seaweed’, and I also add a few slices of birds eye chili for us. To save time, I love to recycle leftover foods, so for instance, if we have leftover roast chicken from dinner, I will shred that and add it to a salad for lunch. I also tend to have staples such as pizza bases, crumble and tart doughs in the freezer ready on the go.

We love preserving food traditions here at midEATS. What are your favorite food traditions?

One of my favorite food traditions may not sound like one at all but it’s eating all together as a family at least once a day without any distractions such as TV or phones. I love getting Maryam to set the table and involving her where I can in the food preparation process. Also, a tradition that I highly recommend for everyone to follow is to end every meal with something sweet, no matter how small. Even a small square of dark chocolate will suffice.

Name three kitchen tools you cannot live without. How do you use each of them? 

Some of my favorite kitchen tools would be my mandolin and Kitchenaid stand mixer. I tend to bake a lot and use my stand mixer practically every day.

What are your favorite Middle Eastern recipes on midEATS? What would you like to see us add to the site?

I am loving your recipe on Roast Chicken with Ghee, Zaatar and Pomegranate Molasses. It uses some of my favorite ingredients and since I even attempted to make a batch of pomegranate molasses at home, I cannot wait to make this.


Also, one recipe I would love to see on MidEATS is a delectable crepe made out of akkawi cheese that has a creamy filling with nuts and rosewater. It is only very subtly sweet and I would love to attempt this at home.

Featured Recipe from Sips and Spoonfuls: Eton Mess Trifle

One of my favorite dessert flavor combinations of all time is pistachios and rosewater: the two just go together so well! My no-bake pistachio cookies, which are gluten-free, grain-free and dairy-free, hit the spot every time I’m in the mood for that delicious combination. Sukaina’s featured recipe involves both pistachios and rosewater, and another favorite of mine: real whipped cream! Eton mess trifle is a traditional British dessert made of strawberries, pieces of homemade meringue and cream. The name sounds a little weird, but that’s because it’s traditionally served at Eton College’s annual student cricket game against Winchester College. If you’re curious about the history of this dessert, check out the post about it on Cakespy!

Sukaina makes it Middle Eastern with her addition of rosewater and pistachios; she says this about the process: “I decided to make this classic British dessert with a Middle Eastern twist. A splash of rosewater in the meringues and a scattering of pistachio nuts. You may leave both these out if you are so inclined. Meringues has also been on my wish list to both bake and eat for the first time.” If that doesn’t have you drooling … wow! Now for the recipe: 

Eton Mess Trifle (with a Middle Eastern twist)

by Sukaina Rajabali

Cook Time: 2 hours

Keywords: bake whisk dessert snack gluten-free low-sodium soy-free vegetarian pistachio cream strawberry rosewater trifle Middle Eastern British summer spring

Ingredients (5-6 trifles)

  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 pinches salt
  • 3/4 caster sugar
  • 1 tsp rosewater (optional)
  • handful chopped pistachio nuts
  • 10 ounces strawberries
  • 2 tbs caster sugar
  • 500 ml whipping cream
  • 4 tbs caster sugar
  • chopped pistachios for garnish


(1) Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Centigrade and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Tip the egg whites into a clean and dry mixing bowl and start beating at medium speed. Add the salt, and whisk until frothy.

(2) Whisking at high speed, start adding the caster sugar a tablespoon at a time, whisking 3-4 seconds between each addition. Whisk until stiff peaks form. The meringue will appear very glossy and puffy like clouds. It should not feel gritty (If it does, keep whisking until sugar has dissolved). Add the rose essence if desired and whisk for 30 seconds until incorporated.

(3) Scoop a large tablespoon of the mixture onto the baking tray, using another tablespoon to ease it onto the parchment paper. Leave a 1 inch gap between meringues. Sprinkle with pistachio and bake for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hrs, rotating after 1 hour. I baked mine for 1 hour and 20 minutes to achieve a crispy outer shell and a marshmallow centre. Bake for longer if you’d like it crispy all the way through. Turn the oven off and leave the door open. Allow meringues to cool in open oven. Break roughly by hand.

(4) Hull the strawberries and chop roughly. Add the caster sugar and allow to macerate for 30 minutes. Whiz into a puree. Beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form (I added sugar to mine but that is optional). Fold the strawberry puree into the cream roughly to create a marbled effect.

(5) To assemble the trifle, start with a layer of strawberry and cream followed by a layer of broken meringues and lastly, a sprinkle of pistachio nuts. Repeat layers 3-4 times and serve immediately.

(6) Makes 5-6 trifles depending on glass size. Unbroken meringues can be stored in airtight container for 2 weeks.

SukainaAbout the Cook

Hi, I’m Sukaina. I’m a freelance food writer and photographer and Sips and Spoonfuls is my blank space on the web to unleash my creativity.

This blog is a compilation of generations of recipes, tales of my family, my childhood as well as labours of my photography. It is filled with beautiful memories, beautiful meals and beautiful images.

You will also see tidbits of my two beautiful children, Maryam and Hassan, and my husband, Akber.

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Grain-Free Petit Fours Recipe (Gluten-Free Almond Cookies) Wed, 18 Apr 2012 20:28:04 +0000 grain_free_petit_fours_gluten_free_almond_Easter_cookies

Every Easter (and Christmas) when I was a child, my mother and I would bake kahk (sugar cookies made with ghee) and petit fours cookies. Petit fours (pronounced peu – tee – foor) is French for “small oven”, and it’s used to refer to the little homemade buttery biscuits that are often served with tea. It was a tradition in our household to make petit fours before every feast, and I looked forward to it more than anything … probably because we very rarely baked any other time during the year.

I had a plastic yellow table and bright red chair that I would set out in front of the little kitchen in our apartment, and I would gather all my plastic baking equipment in preparation of the big baking day. I’d organize my little rolling pin, tin cookie cutter shapes, and colorful baking pans on the table and wait for my mother to give me a little amount of simple flour-and-water dough to play with while she baked her famously delicious cookies. I cannot give my mother full credit for the recipe however, because it was my grandmother who taught her how to make kahk and petit four. It was a yearly tradition in my grandma’s house long before it became a tradition in ours. I’d spend hours shaping and reshaping the dough, making designs and pretending to have developed my own recipe. Once the real cookies were ready to be baked, I’d hand over my tray of star and tree shaped cookies to be “baked” too. Made of just flour and water, they’d come out as hard as a rock and were completely inedible, but it was still nice to find a way to participate in the festivities.

When I got married, I took up cooking as a creative outlet. After much experimentation, trial and error, and a lot of inspiration from my grandparents’ fail-proof recipes, I got a few things right. However, with baking, I didn’t have as much practice, nor did I have the patience to follow exact measurements. So often, my baking attempts were disasters. More recently, I’ve fallen in love with raw (no-bake) desserts, which have been a delicious relief for me. This Easter, however, I wanted to relive the old times, and bake cookies that were more traditional. But I broke up with wheat-based flours close to a year ago because of the gluten therein. I’m not allergic to it, but I find that I feel better when I’m not eating it. (Brenda, co-author of midEATS recently found out she is sensitive to it too). So I knew that I needed to use another type of gluten-free flour. Gluten-free baking with things like rice flour and xanthan gum isn’t accessible to me, so I chose a simple one-ingredient ‘flour’ instead: almond flour. For those avoiding gluten and grains, baking with almond flour is a welcome option. Almonds are healthy, natural and don’t require a lot of complicated preparation. In fact, baking over 30 petit fours cookies made with almond flour took me just 20 minutes … total. And as I mentioned, I’m a novice when it comes to baking.


You won’t believe how easy it is to bake these grain-free petit fours.

You can grind blanched almonds to make almond flour pretty easily, but knowing that I was going to experiment quite a bit with gluten-free baking, I bought a 5lb bag of almond flour from Amazon. It’s economical for the quantity, though I’m sure that grinding your own in bulk in a food processor might be cheaper (and fresher) if you have the time. I keep mine in the freezer, and only take out the amount I need a few hours ahead of time so it can lose its coolness.

Making these petit fours were much easier than I anticipated. All the ingredients I considered where available in my kitchen, so I didn’t need to go out and buy anything specific to make this happen. It’s as easy as bringing out a food processor, adding the ingredients, giving it a whirl, shaping the dough into little cookies and baking them for 8-9 minutes till cooked.


As you can see in the pictures, there are dark ones and light ones. They are the same exact cookie. The only difference? The dark ones were broiled for literally an extra minute for the top to brown. Most of my family liked the roasted taste of the dark ones more. The inside is still nice and chewy/doughy, but the outside is crisper. The lighter ones are melt-in-your mouth soft, but still hold together very well and are not at all crumbly.


I would say that this baking experiment was a huge success! I’m certain that with a little creativity, this basic petit fours recipe can be adapted to include extra spices, shredded coconut, chocolate, homemade jam between two cookies (as we used to do with petit fours when I was a kid), etc … the possibilities are endless. But this time, I ate them solo and plain, with a warm cup of black tea with milk in the morning … and they hit the spot every time!

Grain-Free Petit Fours Recipe (Gluten-Free Almond Cookies)

by Heba

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 7-9 minutes

Keywords: bake dessert almond flour Christmas Easter cookie Egyptian French fall spring summer winter

Ingredients (30-35 cookies)

  • 2 1/3 cups almond flour, lightly packed
  • 1/2 cup fat (I used 1/4 coconut oil and 1/4 grass-fed ghee – I loved the mixture, but you can use one or the other with the same results)
  • 1 pastured or organic egg, beaten
  • 5 tablespoons honey or 100% pure maple syrup
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons fair-trade vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon organic almond extract (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined salt


(1) Preheat oven to 350F.

(2) Mix the almond flour, fat and sweetener. In a food processor, mix the almond flour, fat (I used a combination of coconut oil and ghee), and honey or maple syrup.

(3) Mix the egg and extracts. In a separate blender, beat the egg, vanilla extract, almond extract, baking soda and salt.

(4) Combine the mixtures. Pour the egg-extract mixture into the processor with the almond flour mixture, and whirl until well incorporated.

(5) Shape petit fours. Shape 1 teaspoon-sized pieces of the dough into round cookies, and add to baking sheet, gently pressing down very slightly to flatten a bit. Space cookies at least an inch apart because they expand. You can make smaller cookies if you wish, or larger. These were about one and half to two inches wide.

(6) Bake petit fours. Stick baking sheet in preheated oven and bake for 7-9 minutes. If you keep for an extra minute, they get darker. For the darker cookies, I kept for 8 minutes, and then ‘broiled’ for a minute to get the top to brown. Since I was trying it for the first time, I wanted to test the texture of both the light and dark ones, and I’m happy to report that each was tasty in its own way. Be very careful and monitor the cookies carefully so they don’t burn.


(7) Leave to set. After baking, leave out on the counter to set for 5-10 minutes. Enjoy warm, with a glass of milk or tea. To store, keep in a sealed container on the counter for up to a week.


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Rosewater-Scented Pistachio No-Bake Cookies (Grain-Free & Vegan) Wed, 21 Mar 2012 02:30:04 +0000 rosewater-scented_pistachio_raw_cookies_vegan_gluten-free1

I absolutely adore pistachios. Something about their greenness and creamy taste is so fulfilling and reminds me of summer days spent watching old Arabic movies as a child. (I have a similar obsession with toasted pumpkin seeds – check this post for the homemade recipe.) My stubby little hands would crack open each pistachio shell in anticipation, eager to put another in my mouth to intensify the lingering taste left from the last one. And then there would be those stubborn pistachios that would be clasped shut with only a tiny little crack separating the shells — those were the worst. So uncooperative! A sturdy nutcracker lay on my grandparents‘ coffee table, waiting for opportunities like this one. Using the nutcracker while watching the movie was too distracting (the Egyptian actor Rushdy Abaza deserved my undivided attention, after all); so I’d just collect the stubborn pistachios in a separate plate, and continue with the snacking until the movie was over. Their time would come though … I’d use the metal nutcracker to open every last one. No pistachio left uneaten; that was my rule.

Little did I know at the time that I was addicted to one of the healthiest nuts around; its nutritional profile is amazing, and a recent study showed that only a handful of pistachios a day “can help destroy bad cholesterol, ward off heart disease and prevent cancer.” Not a bad deal, eh?


Since I love pistachios so much, I naturally love the flavor of pistachios in desserts as well. Middle Eastern, Armenian and Turkish desserts such as ma’amoul (Middle Eastern cookies stuffed with pistachios, dates and walnuts) are often made with a good amount of pistachios. Growing up, we usually had ma’amoul during gatherings or on occasions like Easter. When I came to the States, I had for the first time a pistachio-flavored ice cream — pairing two of my favorite things was a win-win for me, and I was a convert! A sort of nostalgia came upon me recently, and I was really craving a pistachio-based dessert. However, there were a couple of big issues: I’ve gone about 95% gluten-free since last year; I limit my refined sweets and grain intake; and I’m trying to fast from animal products for Lent. So, my craving had to be fulfilled with these restrictions in mind.


Enter: raw desserts. Over the past year or so, I’ve discovered the beauty of raw desserts. By definition, raw desserts are made of raw ingredients and are not baked. Before you start imagining me tricking myself into thinking raw apples qualify as a “raw dessert”, let me point you to a few successful recipes for awesome raw and almost-raw desserts I’ve made over the course of the past year: chocolate mousse balls, grain-free apple piegrain-free pumpkin pie, and chocolate pudding are just a handful. I like raw desserts for a few reasons: they’re absolutely delicious, very healthy, and very difficult to mess up. Making a raw dessert mixture is more akin to cooking than it is to baking, so precise measurements aren’t as dire, and reasonable substitutions (when it comes to nuts and fruits) are possible without ruining the recipe!

I decided that I would satisfy my overwhelming pistachio craving by making a pistachio-based vegan dessert that wouldn’t require any baking. “Just what would I pair it with?” I wondered. Then, it hit me: if I really wanted to emulate a pistachio-flavored Middle Eastern dessert, I needed to hunt down some rosewater. Now, before you crinkle your nose up in disapproval, let me explain: pure rosewater and pistachios are a match made in heaven. Kind of like chocolates and hazelnuts, the mixture just can’t be beat! Even if you don’t think you like rosewater, you really will like it in this recipe, because it’s so subtle and incredibly complementary. The brave souls out there can attempt making rose water at home, but for the lazy like me, a ready-made kind like this Damascus rosewater will suffice. If you decide to buy it, make sure you get a pure kind from actual roses; no artificially-flavored preservative-filled “water” for me, please!



The other ingredients didn’t require that much thinking. A sweetener was needed, so I went for the mild-tasting pure maple syrup (Grade B is thicker and more nutrient-dense than Grade A). You can also use raw honey, but some honey varieties have a more distinct flavor that you may not want interfering with the pistachio-and-rosewater taste. Also, keep in mind that honey is not vegan, because it comes from bees. Something to give it moisture and yet helps it harden when refrigerated was also necessary, so I added coconut oil and shredded coconut. A tablespoon of vanilla extract for flavor and little pinch of salt to balance it all out, and that’s it! It really can’t get any easier than this …



If you’re making this for a party or get-together, make sure you prepare the ingredients from the previous day. You will need to soak the pistachios, because unsoaked nuts aren’t well digested and the phytic acid therein can interfere with nutrient absorption. In my opinion, it isn’t absolutely necessary to soak, but it definitely doesn’t hurt. Think ahead and prepare the pistachios ahead of time. Once ground into flour, leave a few tablespoons for ‘dusting’ the cookies, and leave enough time — at least 3-4 hours, but overnight is better — for the mixture to harden in the fridge. Once you have assembled the raw pistachio “cookie dough” into flattened out cookies or balls (or really, any other shape you want), add shredded coconut and/or dried cherries or cranberries for garnish and put back in the fridge until ready to serve.


Have these with tea, with milk (either raw milk or homemade nut milk) or just by themselves. As a midday afternoon snack, an early morning dessert to jump-start your day, or as a final post-dinner bite to sweeten your mouth. Really, have them anytime you want! But I wouldn’t advise setting a platter of those in front of you while watching a movie … that can be disastrous, my friends; you may realize you inhaled about four or five in under five minutes!

So, I bet you’re wondering: did these no-bake pistachio cookies satisfy my craving and live up to expectations? Oh, you bet they did! They hit every sweet spot, and I was incredibly sad when the last one was eaten (all gobbled up by my family members and me in a matter of hours). But no worries; I’ll be making these soon and often!



Rosewater-Scented Pistachio No-Bake Cookies (Grain-Free & Vegan)

by Heba

Prep Time: soaking time + 1 hour

Cook Time: none – it’s raw

Keywords: raw dessert snack gluten-free low-carb low-sodium soy-free sugar-free vegan vegetarian pistachio rosewater Orthodox Christian Fasts cookie Middle Eastern spring summer winter fall

Ingredients (20- 25 cookies)


(1) Soak pistachios and dehydrate: If you have pistachios in their shells, crack them open and clean from their shells until you have about 2 cups. Alternatively, you can simply buy some shelled pistachios. Soak the pistachios overnight in warm filtered water with half a teaspoon unrefined sea salt. Rinse the pistachios, dehydrate in the oven until dry, but not roasted.

(2) Grind pistachios: In a food processor (I used a small bullet blender), add the dry pistachios and pulse until ground into flour. Take out a few tablespoons (3-4) of the flour and set aside. Keep the rest of the pistachio flour in the processor.

(3) Add other ingredients, blend and refrigerate: Add 4 tablespoons shredded coconut, 3 tablespoons pure rosewater, 1/2 cup melted coconut oil, 1/3 cup or so pure maple syrup, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and pinch unrefined salt, and blend until all ingredients are well integrated. Refrigerate mixture overnight for flavors to intensify and for mixture to harden.

(4) Dust with pistachio flour, garnish, refrigerate and serve: Take out mixture from fridge, use a tablespoon to scoop out a little less than a tablespoon of the mixture at a time and roll each piece in leftover pistachio flour. You can shape into flattened out cookies or round balls. I mixed it up. Garnish with shredded coconut or dried read cherries or cranberries for color contrast. Arrange on serving platter, add back to fridge to set, and serve with tea or as an afternoon snack. Enjoy!


*This recipe has been submitted to Very Good Recipes’ St. Patrick Recipe Challenge. This post has also been shared on Real Food WednesdaysWhole New Mom’s  Allergy Free Wednesdays, and Real Food Freak’s Freaky Friday.


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Interview: Ameirah’s Cairo-based blog + her recipe for Biscuit au Chocolat Wed, 08 Feb 2012 16:58:34 +0000 I’ll tell you a little story of how I ran into Ameirah online. I was surfing the web, trying to find out what the English words were for libb abyad (white pumpkin seeds) and libb asmar (smaller dark seeds also eaten in Egypt). You see, I am pretty much obsessed with eating libb. (I even took a bag with me on my honeymoon!) So, here I was, dying to find out what these smaller dark seeds were, so I can attempt toasting them at home, when I stumbled upon Ameirah’s post on toasting pumpkin seeds! Libb asmar, she shares, are watermelon seeds! Now, I’d have to wait until watermelon season (summer) to make my favorites, but I was thrilled that my quest for libb asmar led me to Ameirah’s blog, The Serious Eater. Libb, uniting Egyptians across the world! You see why I love it so much? 

I got even more excited when I learned that Ameirah lives in Cairo. Finally, a food blogger who lives in the motherland (Egypt)! She’s the first (and currently, only) food blogger I know of who lives in Egypt and blogs about traditional Egyptian recipes in English. I spent a few hours reading her witty posts, and decided to message her about MidEats. Happy to say she agreed to do an interview, featured below. Read to find out about her favorite traditional recipes, her observations on the changes in Egyptians’ food culture, the best places to eat in Egypt (this is advice from a real foodie, mind you!), and her experience with finding organic food sources in Egypt. 

– Heba

Interview with Food Blogger Ameirah Abou-Azama of The Serious Eater


What inspired you to start a food blog and share your recipes with the world?

It’s a bunch of things all together which finally led me to take the decision of starting a blog. During college and afterwards, my friends used to depend on me for recipes. I can’t count the times when I have received emails on how to cook a turkey, or frantic phone calls on how to save a broken cake. I needed a way to save my recipes as well as share them easily (recipes scribbled on little scraps of paper and backs of receipts weren’t really working). When my mom passed away, lots of her recipes went with her because she was never big on scrap-booking or keeping recipe cards. My husband and friends also kept on telling me to find a creative outlet for my cooking. Introducing Egyptians to new foods and food cultures, and showcasing traditional Egyptian foods to the rest of the world are both passions of mine and things I hope to continue to do on my blog.

As an Egyptian, I believe that throughout our history, we’ve always appreciated food. I want to rekindle this passion, and remind everyone of this lost art. The kitchen symbolizes to me warmth, nourishment and excitement. Cooking is easy and knowing what you are putting in your food is so important. “You are what you eat!”, as they say. It doesn’t have to be hours of slaving away in the kitchen; homemade food doesn’t necessarily mean complicated. But the satisfaction you will get from making your meals is tremendous.

So, The Serious Eater … what’s so serious about your eating habits? Jokes aside, what inspired the blog name? 

The name came from my strong bond with food; it’s no joking matter! To me the kitchen is a fun place, but essential in my life. In fact, I consider the kitchen my favorite place in the house. I spend hours in the kitchen. When I was a little girl, I would be caught mixing different spices and tasting to see how well they went together. I would stare at my mom with awe as she made food, and would always insist on helping (and stealing a taste here and there!).

In my family, food was a serious thing. It was essential to have breakfast, and bring a snack with you to school. We almost always had homemade cakes, cookies, and even breads in the kitchen. Lunch was a wholesome cooked meal, and we rarely had take-away or ate out. We celebrated with food, consoled each other with food, and even tried out new things in the kitchen when we were bored. To me, food has become an art, a way of self-expression.

As an Egyptian food blogger living in Egypt, you’re probably more aware of the Egyptian food scene than most Egyptians. Have you observed any changes in Egyptian traditional food culture over the past several years? 

Definitely! When I used to visit Egypt in the early 90s in the summer, we could rarely find ‘foreign/American’ ingredients that we commonly used in our kitchen. Broccoli, mushrooms, and iceberg lettuce, as examples, were never seen; however, veggies indigenous to Egypt like the superb, plump ripe tomatoes, and tasty raw peas were readily available.  Also, I remember it was even hard to bake cupcakes unless we brought our own cupcake paper cups from overseas! These were the difficulties my family faced in those times, as some of our own food favorites were not known in Egypt.

However, looking back, there were definite advantages: The food was much more traditional, and the ingredients were simpler. Also, the “diet craze” wasn’t here yet, so you could not even find skim milk. I remember the first fast food chains [a well known fried chicken place, and later a famous pizza chain], and how these were considered ‘very pricey’, a treat to most Egyptians. We made pizza at home, and always made our own kahk (a sweet pastry made with ghee, flour and sugar) and baskoot (traditional biscuits) in celebration of Eid El Fitr. It was actually considered somewhat weird if you didn’t make kunafa (a sweet vermicilli-like pastry) or your own Omm Ali at home, or if walked into someone else’s home with a store-bought dessert instead of homemade.

I think this was due to the fact that Egypt was still fairly isolated from the rest of the world during the early nineties. Satellite dishes were not yet popular, and there was no internet yet. New and foreign dishes were only seen in local newspapers and magazines. I remember TV Chef Mona Amer, who was popular then, try to introduce many new dishes, and how many a house wife would laugh and just deem it too odd for her dinner table!

Now, the scene is totally different. You can get all kinds of fruits and veggies, including avocados from the local vegetable guy! Broccoli, mushrooms, and iceberg lettuce are all grown locally now, and Egyptians have grown a sweet tooth for foreign desserts. Brownies, blueberry muffins and cheesecake are normal things to order at any café. I can get local wheat germ at an Egyptian health shop, and my most recent discovery was flaxseeds! The barrier between the foreign and the Egyptian dinner tables has been broken. Internet, television, and a greater interest in new foods has caused this boom. The Middle Eastern version of The Food Network, Fatafeat, which is available to watch for free on satellite, is now all the rave in the average Egyptian household.

On the downside, however, we have been plagued with chains upon chains of fast food, all with delivery options. People have abandoned the wonderful local food, and substituted home-cooking for pre-packaged, deep fried, “mystery meat” sandwiches. In my opinion, this has led to the insane rise in obesity in Egypt and almost every household has a family member who suffers from diabetes. What has saddened me the most is that now, in Ramadan, almost no one makes their own sweets. It has become socially acceptable to buy tasteless, expensive, store-bought kunafa, baklava, kahk and baskoot. When I mentioned that I made my own kahk this year, people just looked at me with pity that I spent so much time in the kitchen! To sum it up, now we have access to almost everything here in Egypt, which is a huge leap, however, we need to educate each other to try to pick the ‘good’ food and not the ‘bad’ … which is another reason to encourage people to get back into the kitchens!

Is food blogging getting as popular in Egypt as it is in the U.S.? In your opinion, what are the most prominent barriers to starting a food blog in Egypt?

Honestly, I don’t know of any other Egyptian food bloggers who write in English. I haven’t scouted the Arabic blog [or modawana as it is called in Arabic] scene. This doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there doing it; I just haven’t found/heard of them! Maybe the passion for cooking is just not there anymore, or maybe not a lot of people are searching, following and writing these types of blogs.

The first obvious barrier is the language. I write in English because it is my mother tongue, but I know there is a huge portion of the population who can’t understand it. The second issue, is, unfortunately, I feel that generally as Egyptians, we’d rather watch something than read it. I think in that sense, an Arabic video blog would be an easier way to reach the masses.

You’re half American, half Egyptian — how has your mom’s American cooking influenced the way you cook traditional Egyptian meals?

My mom was a serious cook. We ate a mix of both — very traditional Egyptian meals, and classic American food. She never, however, used hydrogenated oils or margarine. It was either olive oil or butter. We would use the natural ‘ghee’ (and never the so-called hydrogenated  “ghee”) only for making sambousek dough.  Compared to the rest of my Egyptian family, our food was less fatty. I used to cringe when we would be invited to dinner, only to find the fasolia [green beans] floating in 1 inch of orange grease. We also drank skimmed milk, or half cream, and always baked with far less sugar than most other people. I have kept up along the same lines because I am used to it, I guess. I am very sensitive to the amount of sugar in my food, and I even dilute my juices! I do however use eshta (heavy cream), but within reason.

What are your favorite ingredients to work with in the kitchen? 

Onion, garlic and parsley are my holy kitchen trinity. It’s amazing what those three ingredients (alone, or combined) can do to a simple dish, or even rev-up the taste on a plate of blanched veggies!

How easy/difficult is it to find locally-produced, fresh and organic ingredients in Egypt? Also, do most people buy frozen vegetables or fresh?

It is easy to find almost anything with the word ‘organic’ on it, but I highly doubt they are truly organic. The word ‘organic’ has been used on fruits, veggies, and other items to be synonymous with healthy, also, in my opinion, as an excuse to jack up the prices. There is no regulation on labeling food items as organic, or if there is, it is not closely monitored. Wadi Foods, Isis Organic, and some of Dina Farms‘ products are organic.

All eggs which are packaged have the word ‘organic’ on it, which I highly doubt is true. I have trouble finding organic poultry which is sad. Also, there is organic milk, but does that mean it is hormone free?

There are very few health stores and organic stores, and they do not sell much fresh food, other than veggies. They mostly have dried teas and supplements, or pantry items that are jarred or canned. Frozen vegetables are popular, especially for the time consuming things like moloukhiya and bamya (okra). I can honestly say that the frozen veggies in Egypt are far better than most I have tried throughout the world. You can even find Montana brand frozen moulokhiya in NYC!

In your opinion, what are the top three meals that every Egyptian needs to learn to cook from scratch?

  • Macaroni béchamel, two layers of penne pasta with a ground beef mixture in between, topped off with a béchamel sauce, and baked in the oven.
  • Mahshy, meat-and-rice stuffed veggies and vine leaves. You have to learn who to roll those vine leaves; it’s like a rite of passage for any Egyptian!
  • Hamam/Simman Mahshy, pigeon or quail stuffed with mixed rice, and then browned to perfection. This is one of my favorites, although many Americans cringe at the thought of eating pigeons.

What are your favorite Egyptian restaurants in Cairo? Take us where only a ‘real foodie’ would go … 

Every Egyptian family will have their opinion on this, but basically everyone has to try out at least one place in all of these categories:

  • A ful meddames and taameyya (falafel) place: El Shabrawy is the place to find the best ful and taameyya around. Their branch in Rehab city is far but worth the drive. It is an open air restaurant where you can get amazing variations on classic dishes, such as ful bil sogo’ (fava beans with sausage) and taameyya (falafels) surrounding a whole boiled egg or stuffed with red chili!
  • A mashawy kebab and kofta (grilled meats) place: El Dahan is hands-down the best kebab and kofta place in Egypt. Their ‘Hussein’ branch can be a pain to get to, since you have to elbow through all the tourists, but they have several other branches, including one in Mokattam and one in New Cairo.
  • A fish place: Asmak El Horriya and Arous El Bahr are both on my list. Now this is a point of dispute in my family; being from Maadi, as any Maadian will tell you, the best fish place is Asmak El Horriya. My husband, however, still makes the trip to El-Manyal, to go to Arous El Bahr, his childhood favorite. We’ll have to do a blind taste test to see who wins!
  • A koshary place: For those days you are roaming the streets for hours, or those broke nights as a student, you need a koshary placeKoshary El Tahrir [aka KT]: Most students of Cairo University or residents of downtown Cairo will tell you that they have lived off of this stuff at one point in their lives. KT makes the best koshary, thanks to their amazing tomato sauce which is thick and full of delicious tomato pulp.

What are your favorite Egyptian desserts?

I usually do not indulge in Egyptian desserts, except when they are in season, for my waistline’s sake! My absolute favorite is Omm AliI absolutely love this bread pudding dessert. It used to be a Ramadan favorite, but I enjoy it in the winter to warm me up. Here are a few other Egyptian desserts that I find most delicious:

  • Aashoura, a milk pudding with wheat berries in  it. I get the best local ashoura however from my childhood favorite labban (‘the milk guy’), Khalifa, in Maadi.
  • Sawabea Zainab (translated as Zainab’s Fingers), deep-fried grainy flour, then doused in syrup.  Atayef, mini pancakes stuffed with nuts and fried, then doused in syrup, and baklava with nuts. Sawabea Zainab are the only ones which I buy; the others I make at home during Ramadan.
  • Malban bi Ein El-Gamal (Turkish delight stuffed with whole walnuts, on a string) and coconut bars (the brown ones), similar to a peanut brittle but with large, brown-roasted, coconut pieces. These are in season now for Moulid El-Naby (Prophet Mohamed’s birthday celebrations).

Cooking veggies “Egyptian-style” usually involves tomato paste, as in this delicious kousa (zucchini) with ground beef recipe. Do you like veggies like bamya (okra), fasolia khadra (green beans) and besilla (peas) cooked in red sauce or in another seasoned broth? What are your favorite vegetables?

This is a hard one! I love vegetables, and I love tomato sauce. As a child, my two favorites where fasolia khadra (green beans), and fasolia (black eyed peas). Now, I would prefer bamya (okra) with lots of garlic, and kousa (zucchini).

What are your favorite posts on MidEats? 

Ones which I am dying to try, and have never tasted before as they are not usual to the Egyptian dinner table include the Caramelized Onion and Olive Tart and the Curried Mishat. This one – the Cooked Spinach with Chickpeas in Red Sauce – I absolutely fell in love with, because I love spinach, and I love hummus, but never though to combine them! I did try spinach and soy beans (whole, dried ones) once, which was amazing, but I must try this, especially since it has tomatoes!

Featured Recipe from The Serious Eater: Biscuit au Chocolat (Baskoot bil Chocalata)

Here’s another recipe from The Serious Eater that made me swoon. And gave me flashbacks! I grew up in Bahrain, where there was a small Egyptian community. We would often have large get-togethers and potlucks, where each lady would be in charge of a particular meal. One of my favorite tantes (aunts) would always bring a big pan of biscuit au chocolat — creamy chocolate fudge packed between layers of perfectly crunchy biscuits. It was my absolute favorite dessert, and I haven’t eaten it in over 15 years. I think I’m overdue for a treat!

The best thing about this dessert recipe? It’s a no-bake cake — perfect for MidEats bloggers who don’t fancy accurate measurements and cooking times that are particular to baking. Also, it has s-i-x ingredients! How’s that for simplicity? One day, I plan to make even the biscuits from scratch (there I go trying to complicate recipes again), but until then, I’ll go ahead and try out Ameirah’s super-easy and delicious version! 

Biscuit au Chocolat (Baskoot bil Chocalata)

by Ameirah Abou-Azama (The Serious Eater)

Keywords: dessert low-sodium nut-free soy-free vegetarian cacao French


  • 400 gm tea biscuits or Marie biscuits (This is approx, depends on what you find)
  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup cocoa


  1. In a large bowl, break the cookies with your hand. Do not use a food processor; we don’t want to make cookie dust, only cookie pieces.
  2. Heat the milk, add in the butter, then the sugar, allow to warm but not froth. Stir continuously. Add in the cocoa.
  3. Pour the chocolate mixture over the broken cookies, and mix with a spoon until incorporated. Allow to set for about a minute.
  4. Line a loaf pan (or any other pan, but make sure it’s not too big for the mixture) with cellophane (cling wrap). Make sure you use enough for it to hangover all sides about half of the size of the pan. You might need to use two pieces next to each other.
  5. Now pour in the choco-cookie mixture, cover with the pieces of cellophane that are hanging over the sides, and press down on the loaf and wrap it tightly.
  6. Put in the fridge for at least 4 hours to allow it to harden.
  7. Slice and serve cooled. Enjoy!



About the Cook

Ameirah_The_Serious_Eater1Ameirah’s love for the kitchen started at a young age when she used to sit there for hours on end watching her mother cook some fantastic meals and desserts. Now she wants to share her passion for the kitchen, and revive the lost art which is cooking, by trying to bridge the best of two worlds, her Egyptian and American heritage through her quirky blog and her small kitchen in the heart of Cairo.

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Citrus Cardamom Rice Pudding (Roz bi Laban) Mon, 05 Dec 2011 06:49:31 +0000

This recipe has a special place in my heart.  It is how Heba and I met, so it symbolizes the beginning of midEATS! She was in search of a healthy rice pudding recipe, and I had just been laboriously making the 5th version of rice pudding for the week. She found my personal blog, she tried it, she emailed me, and then it was match made in heaven – ha! But seriously, this is how Heba and I met in the blogosphere.  Crazy how life will introduce you to people that may lead you to a path you never imagined!

Anyway, prior to this recipe, I had never made rice pudding properly.  The rice was either undercooked, or the texture was a gluey mess.  I was on a mission to get it right, and I realized just how many errors I had made along the way. First off, the type of rice that you use is very important.  Arborio rice, and short-grain Egyptian rice, tend to be very starchy.  Accordingly, you need to omit corn starch to prevent eating a glob of sweetened glue.  For long grain rice, there isn’t as much starch, so if you don’t use corn starch, you end up with soupy rice pudding.  No fun either.  I also had tasted very creamy rice pudding, only to realize that those were made with rice powder and not rice at all! These tend to taste more like muhallabiyya (a corn starch pudding), that is very delicious, rich, and creamy – but not the rice pudding my tummy was after.

I decided to try making a classic Egyptian-flavored rice pudding.  Usually, these only are flavored with cinnamon and rose-water.  The latter is an acquired taste, of which in my 30 years I haven’t yet acquired, so I try to avoid it at home.  I decided to try using cardamom but didn’t want it to taste too flat.  Thus, I added some fresh citrus zest, using lemons and oranges that I had in my fridge.  You can really get creative with how you flavor rice pudding.  Try adding coconut, pistachios, almonds, or even hazelnuts.  But, if you are feeling particularly Masriyya  (Egyptian), then try this version.  Warms a belly good!

Citrus Cardamom Rice Pudding (Roz/Ruz bi Laban)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

1 cup arborio rice or short grain Egyptian rice
2 cups water
3 cups of warm skim milk (pop in microwave for 1 minute)
1 1/2 cups of organic sugar
1/2 tsp cardamom extract
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp rose-water or orange blossom water (optional)

(1) In a pot, add 2 cups of water and the 1 cup of rice on high heat.  Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, and cover.
(2) In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Stir well to dissolve the sugar.
(3) When the water has all been absorbed into the rice (approx. 15 minutes), add the contents of the mixing bowl.  Let the mixture come to a slow simmer over low heat. Cover. You do not want it to boil, otherwise it will boil over and make a mess. (Trust me, this is no fun to clean up…)
(4) Stir frequently – maybe every 10 minutes or so.  After 30 minutes, you will notice that the mixture has thickened. It will continue to thicken as it is cools.  If you like your rice pudding thicker, then let it simmer a little longer before removing and placing into serving bowls. Also, if you want it a bit more creamy, adding more milk is the fix. Give it a taste test to make sure the rice has cooked, and has no bite to it.
(5) Ladle into small bowls. Top with nuts, coconut, or nothing at all. Serve warm or chilled.  Enjoy!

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Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding) Sun, 20 Nov 2011 09:38:21 +0000 I recently had the opportunity to write a guest recipe for The Runcible Spoon, which is a local food ‘zine in Washington D.C. It is completely a D.I.Y magazine, that is community driven and promotes eating healthy local foods.   Its co-founder, Malaka Gharib, has an amazing talent for not only cooking, but also for drawing the amazing illustrations in the ‘zine.  Malaka whips up a mean fetta hamra (our version is here) as well as all sorts of Far Eastern dishes, thanks to her half Egyptian, half Filipino heritage.  Below we share my recipe for Om Ali, as originally published in The Runcible Spoon’s 6th Edition.  For the background story on Om Ali, check page 9 of the ‘zine out! 

– Brenda of midEATS  

Om Ali (Egyptian Bread Pudding)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

3-4 croissants (or any old pastry, or 6 sheets phyllo)

1 cup unsulphered coconut

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

1/2 cup chopped pecans

1/4 cup cranberries

1/4 cup organic sugar (omit if you use sweetened coconut)

3 cups organic milk

3 cups of cream

3/4 cup organic sugar

1 tsp orange blossom water

1/4 tsp almond extract


  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Take the old croissants and break them into pieces (If you are using left over phyllo, be sure to lightly toss in a pat of butter.) Put in the oven for about 10 minutes. You want the bread to be lightly toasted, and slightly crusty. Once you remove the bread, raise the heat to 375 degrees to prepare for the Om Ali.
  3. In a bowl, mix together the coconut, nuts, cranberries and raisins. Remember, if you are using sweetened coconut, omit the sugar. Set aside.
  4. In a pot, heat over medium-high heat, the milk, cream, 3/4 cup of organic sugar, orange blossom water, and almond extract. Do not bring to a boil, but heat it just long enough so that the sugar dissolves.
  5. In a deep casserole dish, place one half of the bread at the bottom. Top with half of the coconut mixture. Repeat the layers with the remaining bread and then top with the leftover coconut mix. Cover with the milk mixture (you may have milk leftover).
  6. Place in the oven. Cook for approximately 20 minutes. If all of the milk seems to be absorbed, you can add the remaining sweetened milk.
  7. Serve warm, and ENJOY!
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Spiced Apple Compote with Cardamom and Cloves Fri, 11 Nov 2011 20:23:37 +0000 Spiced_Apple_Compote5

Autumn is my favorite time of year to cook seasonally.

Though we are Egyptians at heart, used to the dichotomous hot summers with mildly cool, rarely damp winters, we still completely revel in the defined four seasons prevalent on the East Coast of the U.S. Though it signals a turn to cooler weather (of which we aren’t very fond), autumn is a favorite in our household because of the heart-warming and filling meals, strikingly vibrant colors of nature, and the spicy drinks and scents that fill the air. Something about the fall inspires me to get creative in the kitchen; and more than any other season – probably because of the vibrant rustic colors – I feel compelled to look to nature for inspiration, prompting me to cook seasonally.


Check out how I digitally stylized this picture I took of fall apples on a Middle Eastern table

Buying seasonal, locally-produced food has been a developing hobby, born out of the conviction that the current model of agribusiness is largely unsustainable (Did you know that fruits and vegetables shipped across the world have to be plucked from the tree before they’re ripe, and then ripened artificially using man-made ethylene gas? That’s in addition to the large amount of pesticides often used to grow conventional produce. And I didn’t even begin to mention the environmental impact of shipping apples from New Zealand to the States…) In an effort to bypass all this mess, I elect to purchase as much of my produce and meats as possible from local farms. While this isn’t always easy to do in the cold winter months, the rest of the seasons provide ample harvest. Even though I haven’t yet gone apple picking in a local orchard, I am satisfied just talking to the farmer who picked them himself at the farmers’ market.


A ripened apple, picked from local orchards in the fall.

In America at least, the conventionally-grown crop that receives the most pesticide is apples:  “Topping the 2011 dirty dozen list is a tree fruit that always makes the list: Apples. (Apples ranked No. 2 in 2009 and No. 4 in 2010.) more than 40 different pesticides have been detected on apples, because fungus and insect threats prompt farmers to spray various chemicals on their orchards. Not surprisingly, pesticide residue is also found in apple juice and apple sauce, making all apple products smart foods to buy organic.” (Daily Green). In an NPR interview, Michael Pollan explains why this is the case:

“If you plant all genetically identical Delicious apples [as is done in modern times to control for the sweet taste that people crave] and they are genetically identical, they’re supremely vulnerable to pests and that is why apples are the crop that receives the most pesticide. In a cider orchard, where you have so many different genes and different combinations, certain ones are bound to be resistant to this disease or that disease and we’ve lost that diversity and that really hurts the apple.”

In light of this information, I always try to buy only organic apples that are grown locally.

The thing about buying locally is this: you have to get used to having a lot of the same type of produce around for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. We try to buy enough to consume raw (it’s healthier to eat fresh fruit than it is to cook it, of course), but sometimes a few forgotten apples start to show signs of aging. Apples take quite a while to ‘go bad’; but if left for several weeks outside on the counter, they start to bruise a little bit. There’s certainly nothing wrong with removing the little scratches and bruises and eating it raw, but if you’re not a fan of the often mushy texture of old apples, you can easily turn them into dessert.


This apple hasn’t received too much love (hence the light bruises and scratches). But it can be salvaged by turning it into dessert!


Even though apples actually originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago, they’re not as popular nowadays in that region. Apples are called toffah in Arabic, and they’re actually starting to be imported in Egypt, usually from the U.S. I would love it if they were grown once again on Egyptian soil.

For Middle Easterners who haven’t really heard of apple pie until the American staple became as ubiquitous as the burger, French-inspired ‘compote’ was the most popular and easy way to turn some bruised apples into a delicious morning dessert, and incidentally it is the ideal blend of a recipe that is both seasonal and traditional! Typically, Egyptians don’t add too many spices to their apple compote, but since I absolutely adore the taste of habbahan (cardamom) in desserts, I added some of that to this recipe, along with some irfa (cinnamon) and qoronfil (ground cloves).


Compote is very simple to make. All you need to do is to slice, cut and core the apples, and place in water with some sugar and spices to boil. The whole process takes less than half an hour from start to finish. Over the past couple of months, I have also been eating a lot less sweets. I drink my coffee and tea with no sugar (or substitute) whatsoever and it tastes great! At the end of the day though, I still have a sweet tooth, and I try to manage that by eating a wide variety of fruits whenever the mood strikes. However I slice it, though, some days just call for a dessert celebration! For these desserts, I use either natural sweeteners like raw honey or 100% pure maple syrup or Rapadura sugar, the purest and least processed type of sugar available in the world:

“Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heat, whilst being stirred with paddles, then sieve ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heat, or spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar.  It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents […] Because Rapadura is dehydrated at a low heat, the vitamins and minerals have been retained. It still has the natural balance of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, and contains components essential for its digestion. It is metabolized more slowly than white sugar, and therefore will not affect your blood sugar levels as much as refined sugars. The more refined the sugar, the more it raises your blood sugar” (Quirky Cooking).


Notice the uneven texture of pure rapdura sugar, where the sugar crystals and molasses haven’t been separated.

Of course, I try not to use even Rapadura often, because it’s still sugar! But if I’m making a dessert, then I opt for the least processed kind available.


Without further ado, below is the recipe for apple compote. Enjoy!

Spiced Apple Compote with Cardamom and Cloves

by Heba

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Keywords: boil breakfast dessert vegetarian vegan soy-free low-sodium low-carb gluten-free apples sugar cardamom cream compote fall winter


    For the Compote

    • 4 organic Gala apples, peeled and sliced
    • 1 cup of filtered water
    • 1/2 teaspoon of whole cane sugar (I use Rapadura)
    • 5 cardamom pods, cracked
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
    • a few drops of fresh lemon juice

    Serve With …

    • a few tablespoons of grass-fed heavy cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream (preferably homemade using full-fat milk and cream, and a small amount of natural sweetener like raw honey or pure maple syrup)
    • a handful of shelled pistachios, chopped
    • a handful of walnuts, chopped

    Cooking Directions

    (1) Cut Apples. Peel and chop apples into fourths, and then slice each fourth into thirds lengthwise.




    (2) Add spices. Add to pot with spices (cardamom pods, cinnamon, ground cloves, and sugar) and add 1 cup of filtered water.


    Choose organic spices, since conventional ones are often irradiated to increase shelf life.

    (3) Boil mixture. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until most of the water evaporates (this usually takes about 15 minutes). Apples should be softened but still retain their shape.


    (4) Add to jar. Remove from heat, add to a sterilized glass jar and leave outside to cool. Once tepid, place in the fridge.


    Make sure to sterilize the jar by pouring hot water on it. Dry it before adding the compote.

    (5) Serve with tasty toppings. Add cream or ice cream, and top with chopped shelled pistachios and chopped walnuts.


    The pistachios add a delightful Middle Eastern taste to the dish.



    Look at this beauty!

    Happy seasonal eating!

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    Nectarine and Plum Crumble Mon, 22 Aug 2011 11:25:52 +0000 Yes, I know. This is the second crumble I have posted on midEATS. I read somewhere that crumbles are the lazy man’s pie 🙂 This is definitely true for me, as I am not a baker, and have zero patience to make a pie crust from scratch. Many of the store-bought pie crusts are filled with trans-fats and other questionable ingredients.  Thus, I prefer a crumble – it takes just a handful of ingredients that I always have in my pantry to result in a delicious dessert. This recipe also doesn’t have any distinct Middle Eastern flair to it, but I will go so far as to say the use of almond extract adds a bit of Mediterranean flavor to the dish. So why is it on midEATS? Because it’s damn good – that’s why! The reason I chose the combination of nectarine and plums is quite simple – my kids at the grocery store had grabbed a small box of mixed fruit from Spinney’s and it somehow made it into the final shopping cart. Go figure. We had way too many fruits in the house, and during Ramadan we don’t eat that much fruit. However, much to my surprise, I found a ton of recipes online that used these two ingredients. Apparently baking stone fruits is a great way to bring out the flavor, particularly when they aren’t ripe enough to eat on their own. By the way, you can easily substitute your favorite gluten-free all purpose flour in this recipe, particularly since this isn’t really baking in the traditional sense of the word. I know many of you fear the word “bake”, but trust me, if I can make it, my twin 2 year-olds can make it.  It is that simple! Nectarine and Plum Crumble Inspired by Over the Hill and on a Roll Prep Time: 15 minutes Bake Time: 1 hour and 30 minutes For the crumble topping: 2/3 cup cold butter 1 cup organic sugar 1 1/4 cups organic all purpose flour (gluten free, if you need) 1 tbsp cinnamon 1/4 cup whole milk 1/2 cup oats (gluten free, if you need) 1/4 tsp almond extract (1) Combine the butter, sugar, and flour using a pastry blender. I use this because I do not have a stand mixer (again, not a baker!).  It works great and gives you an upper arm workout at the same time! (2) Once you have only little clumps of butter, add the milk, cinnamon, oats and almond extract. Continue to mix well. The crumble will (surprise) be crumbly yet moist. For the Filling: 2 nectarines, sliced into 8-10 slices 4 plums, sliced into 6-8 slices 1 orange – juiced (approx. 1/2 cup of orange juice) 1/2 cup organic sugar 2 tbsp organic all purpose flour (gluten free, if you need) 1/4 tsp orange extract (optional) (1) Combine all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Make sure all of the pieces are nicely coated in the sugary goodness. (2) Place all of the filling into the bottom of a pie dish, or pyrex dish. (3) Take the crumble and cover the entirety of the fruits. (4) Bake in a 180C (350F) oven for approximately one and a half hours.  [NOTE: the juice overflowed a bit and started to burn in my oven.  Be sure to place  a pan underneath to catch any stray, flying juices…] (5) Serve warm with a big ol’ heap of vanilla ice cream.  Enjoy!

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    Cardamom Pear Crumble Wed, 29 Jun 2011 09:41:34 +0000

    Cardamom Pear Crumble

    So, we don’t really serve “crumble” in the Middle East, but as someone born and raised in the Midwest, we ate them a lot for dessert. We would go to the orchard in the fall, collect bushels of apples, and then come home to make a crumble. I wanted to make a Middle Eastern version. I wanted to stay away from the typical rose water and orange blossom water. I saw someone once poach pears with cardamom – aha! Perfect – combine pears with cardamom for the perfect Middle Eastern crumble! The white chocolate was a random addition, but it works. You can omit it if you don’t have any on hand.

    I have made this quite a few times since my first attempt – and it always turns out great, and is always a big hit. I have put them in individual mini crocks, and also in a large pyrex pan. You should estimate at least 1 pear per person when making this. This recipe serves 4.

    Cardamom Pear Crumble

    by Brenda

    Prep Time: 20 minutes

    Cook Time: 35 minutes

    Keywords: bake dessert vegetarian vegan soy-free low-sodium gluten-free pear cardamom oats sugar

    Ingredients (serves 4)

      For the Pear Filling

      • 4 bosc pears, peeled and diced
      • 1/2 stick butter
      • 1/2 cup organic sugar
      • 1/2 tsp cardamom powder (cardamom extract works well too)
      • 1 vanilla bean pod (or 1/4 tsp vanilla extract)

      For the Crumble

      • 1 1/2 cups of oats (gluten-free)
      • 1 cup gluten-free flour
      • 1/2 cup brown sugar
      • 1 stick of butter
      • 1/2 cup chopped white chocolate discs (or chips) (optional)


      (1) In a saute pan, melt half of stick of butter over medium heat.

      (2) In a large bowl, combine the diced pears, sugar, and cardamom. Make a long slit in the vanilla bean, and, using the tip of your knife, remove the inside of the vanilla bean, and add it to the bowl. Add the entire contents to the melted butter on your stovetop. I usually throw in entire vanilla pod into the pan for good measure. Stir well so the pears are coated in the butter and sugar.

      SONY DSC

      Cookin’ the Pears

      (3) Let the pears cook over the heat for approximately 15 minutes. Stir the pear mixture periodically. Remove the vanilla pod at the end and discard.

      (4) In a large mixing bowl, combine all of the crumble ingredients, except the white chocolate. Mix well with your hands until the mixture is dry, but clumpy and damp. If it is too wet, you can add some more oats and flour. If too dry and crumbly, add a little water.

      (5) If you like, add some white chocolate into the crumble, and mix well again.

      (6) In a lightly buttered pan, add the pear mixture. Top with the crumble.

      Assemblin’ the Crumble

      (7) Bake in the oven for approximately 25 minutes. Serve warm, and, if desired, with vanilla ice cream. ENJOY!

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