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Skip the Baklava and try these other Arabic desserts instead…
The Arabs have a long list of contributions to astronomy, science, and technology which have led to modern-day necessities like surgical tools and eye-glasses. On the sweeter side of things, they have introduced scrumptious Arabic desserts so tasty they’ll have you wishing you had discovered them sooner.
Arabs make up 5.5% of the world’s population. There are nearly 430 million Arabs world-wide. The Arab world is compromised of 22 Arabic speaking countries in Africa and Western Asia, according to The Arab League – a council representing Arab nations. Some are well-known like Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq and others are lesser-known like Oman, Somalia, Mauritania and Sudan. 
Though differences exist in the customs, cuisines, and cultures of each individual country, Arabs are united in the profound warmth and hospitality exhibited toward visitors in their home.
In fact, hospitality and generosity are essential Arab values. Whether it be a friend, family or a passing traveler – it’s not uncommon for hosts to go above and beyond for guests, serving them copious amounts of food, followed by an endless stream of tea and traditional Arabic desserts.
If your mouth hasn’t started watering, it will soon! Ready?
Tastebuds, Meet These Sweet Arabic Treats
Kunafa is one of the most popular desserts in the Arab world and is often sought-out at parties and gatherings for its crowd-pleasing taste. It’s a lovely shredded wheat pastry dessert filled with a sweet cheese or rich sweetened cream and baked until lightly crispy. It’s often topped with ground pistachios and simple syrup and served warm for the maximum cheesy (or creamy) experience.
Kunafa can be prepared in several ways, depending on the country or occasion. Variations of this crispy treat include bite-sized rolls stuffed with an assortment of nuts, longer tubes wrapped in shredded wheat with and filled with heavy cream and topped with ground pistachios, or served with a dollop of sweet cream or even ice cream!
Pairs well with: Cardamom Tea
Basbousa is translated in Arabic as “just a kiss” and is an appropriate name for a dessert so light and delicious you’ll feel like you’ve been kissed by an angel. It’s a moist, semolina sponge cake topped with slivered toasted almonds, infused with shredded coconut, lightly flavored with either orange blossom or rose water and sweetened with a simple syrup or honey. Many variations incorporate yogurt into the batter for added moistness.
This popular Arabic dessert is fairly simple to prepare (takes approximately 15 minutes, not including bake time) and would be the perfect treat to get the kids involved with or have them attempt it on their own. Yes, it’s that easy. Try the recipe tonight!
Pairs well with: Light or medium roast coffee
Maamoul is perfect for those who do not like their desserts too sweet. This buttery, date-filled shortbread inspired cookie is quite possibly the most commonly found dessert during Arab festivities and holidays including Easter, Hannukkah, Christmas or Eid (a holiday observed by Muslims). An NPR feature on this popular Arabic dessert describes a picturesque scene of several women gathering in a kitchen a few days before a holiday to prepare Maamoul for neighbors, friends and family. This tradition is practiced in present-day and has been treasured by many families for generations. 
The versatile cookie can also be stuffed with ground walnuts, pistachios or mahlab– a spice prepared from the inner kernel of cherry pits. Similar to many Arabic desserts, a splash of rose or orange blossom water is added to the dough for an aromatic touch.
Pairs well with: Turkish coffee or warm milk
Read More: 17 Hanukkah Food Recipes To Satisfy All Your Cravings
Roz Bel Haleeb, translated as ‘rice with milk’, is the Arabic equivalent of rice pudding. Nearly every country in the Middle East (and around the world for that matter) has its own spin on this classic, creamy, versatile dessert. In Lebanon, spices like anise, caraway, and cinnamon are infused into the pudding. In Egypt, it is typically served chilled and topped with a mixture of nuts, golden raisins and shredded coconut. In Iran, a rosewater and saffron-spiced rice pudding is enjoyed during festive occasions.
Like many Arabic desserts, Roz Bel Haleeb is simple to prepare. If you have milk, rice, sugar, sweetened condensed milk and a thickening agent like cornstarch readily available, you have all the ingredients you need to make a basic rice pudding. The beauty of this universal treat lies both its simplicity and versatility – toppings are tweaked based on each country’s customary spices and flavorings.
Pairs well with: Moroccan tea
Zalabia is as fun to say as it is to eat! Doughnut lovers won’t be able to get enough of these deep-fried doughy balls of goodness. Similar to beignets, these sweet bite-sized fritters are fried in oil until they reach a beautiful golden hue and are drenched in honey or a simple syrup right before serving. They are usually served plain although sometimes a generous coating of powdered sugar and/or cinnamon sugar is dusted on top to liven them up a little.
Alternately called Luqmat al-Qadi (say that three times fast!) in the Arab world, the dessert’s history is rooted in ancient times, though its origins are unclear. One article claimed it dates back to ancient Greece, describing the dessert as a prize for winning the first Olympic games. While another claimed it was discovered in medieval Iraq in the 13th century. 
Like many Arabic desserts, similar versions of Zalabia are enjoyed by cultures outside of the Middle East. Several countries along the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas have their own spin on this no-frills, tasty dessert.
In Greece they are called Loukoumades and are served with a cinnamon-infused honey syrup and dusted with powdered sugar (among many other inventive toppings). In Turkey, they are called Lokma and are sweetened with a lemony syrup and topped with crushed walnuts or sesame seeds. Italy’s version is named Struffoli and like other countries, the dough balls are soaked in a honey syrup and topped with a sprinkle of cinnamon as well as orange rind bits and nonpareils sprinkles. 
Pairs well with: Chai Latte
Whether you choose to stick to baklava or venture out and try one of these classic Arabic desserts, your tastebuds will not be disappointed. Try making the Basbousa and, in true Arab spirit, share it with neighbors, family and friends. You may just discover your favorite go-to dessert the next time a craving strikes. Bon appétit! Or as they say in Arabic, “Sahtain”!
WANT TO READ MORE?
Keep satisfying your sweet tooth with these Fun Desserts Your Kids Can Make With You.
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