Iconic Middle Eastern cookbook author Arto der Haroutunian in his latest cookbook describes people in the Middle East as having “made supreme the art of creating delights from very little and in doing so have enriched their world with wafer-thin pastries, luscious halvas, crunchy biscuits, exotic fruits and cool, refreshing sorbets.”
For Andrew Mettert, director of dining services with Aladdin, a member of Elior North America family of companies, at the University of Dubuque (UD) in Iowa, adding Middle Eastern desserts to the menu is a reflection of the school’s diverse population.
“Our campus is very diverse, representing students from 40 states and 20 countries, including Saudi Arabia,” says Mettert (left, with the new Saudi sweet dates). “We continuously work with these groups of students to gain a better understanding of what they like to eat and how their foods are authentically prepared.”
Recent offerings have included an Arabic food bar with tabbouleh, falafel, chicken shawarma and baklava for dessert.
“It’s easy to add variety and a cultural experience to your menu by incorporating something as simple as a new dessert item,” he says.
A new Middle Eastern dessert, Saudi sweet dates, have just been added to the rotation, an item Mettert says “turns everyday food into international food with just a little bite.”
At Warren Wilson College in Asheville, N.C., Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food plays a big part in the veggie-centric menus created there. Baklava is the go-to dessert in that lineup.
At Boston College’s Syrian dinner earlier this year, Syrian butter cookies were featured as the dessert item. Frank T. Bailey, executive chef, says the cookie recipe, which uses only clarified butter, flour and sugar, “makes a super-crumbly cookie, almost like shortbread, that melts in your mouth.”
Meet these desserts from the Middle East
Kanafeh: Cheese pastry soaked in sweet syrup, popular throughout the Arab world, especially in Palestine, this savory-sweet treat has been called “when baklava meets mozzarella sticks.”
Tahinli corek: Turkish bun that’s twisted and filled with sweet sesame paste, although it’s a not super sweet.
Gaz: Iranian (sometimes called Persian) sweet, sticky, chewy nougat with bright green pistachios inside. It’s so heavenly, this dessert also goes by the Biblical name “manna.”
Simit: Turkish bagel-shaped bread coated with sesame seeds, poppy seeds and/or flaxseeds, traditionally served as a snack.
Halvah: Israeli term used broadly to describe desserts that start with a base of nut butter like sesame-tahini.
Date-walnut brownies (pictured above): Spicy-sweet with Middle Eastern workhorse ingredient dates, these aren’t your everyday brownies.
Created by Chef Rob Corliss for the Almond Board of California, these mini bites of almond butter and warm spices can be changed up with different spices and sesame seeds for a Middle Eastern spin.