Sweetening the deal? Traditional Arabic desserts get revamped

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Beehive sweet buns are honeycomb-patterned buns soaked in sticky honey syrup.
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Kunafa is spun shredded wheat filled with inventive ingredients.
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Basbousa is a popular dessert.
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These dumplings are especially popular in the Gulf.
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Umm Ali is much-loved across the region.
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Qatayef is a favorite across the region.
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Baklava is getting a makeover.
Updated 17 June 2017

Sweetening the deal? Traditional Arabic desserts get revamped

Arabic desserts have always conquered the hearts of fasting Muslims in the Middle East with their rich ingredients and tantalizing appearance. Many Middle Eastern treats are linked to the holy month of Ramadan, when hardly a day passes without a sweet dish taking center stage on the table. Some of the most famous traditional Arabic delights have been given a modern twist in recent years, either for change or out of creativity.

Avocado Kunafa

Traditional: Spun shredded wheat filled with cream, cheese or nuts and soaked in sugar syrup.

Modern twist: Adding creamy avocado.

Recently, an Egyptian restaurant took the Internet by storm after announcing the creation of an unusual kunafa made with avocado paste. This is not the first time the Etoile bakery has introduced an attention-grabbing variety of kunafa flavors — mango, pomegranate and blueberry kunafa all make an appearance on the menu. Red velvet and chocolate kunafa are also popular.

Beehive sweet buns

Traditional: Honeycomb-patterned buns with cream cheese filling soaked in sticky honey syrup.

Modern twist: Getting cheeky with chocolate, peanut butter and jelly.

These sweet buns are no longer cheesy as chocolate has taken over. Instead of filling the buns with cheese, many people attempted to think outside the box and be a little adventurous with their ingredients. The results include delicious chocolate-filled buns that have been soaked in condensed milk. The other twist might not be as popular as the widely-loved peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The cherry syrup-soaked buns are filled with chunks of peanut butter mixed with jelly.


Traditional: Deep-fried or baked half-moon-shaped pancakes filled with cheese, nuts or cream and soaked in sugar syrup.

Modern twist: Sweetening it up with chocolate.

As if deep-fried pancakes were not rich enough, chocolate and coconut are now added to the calorie-rich recipe. A Bounty chocolate bar is placed inside the pancakes before being fried and served with hot syrup.


Traditional: Plain, sweet dumplings dipped in honey or sugar syrup.

Modern twist: Finishing it up with a cheesy ending.
Crunchy on the outside and soft and airy in the middle, these dumplings are finally getting a creamy touch. Tiny pieces of unsalted cheese are placed inside the dough, which is then deep-fried and generously soaked in syrup or honey.


Traditional: Sugary cake made of cooked semolina soaked in syrup.

Modern twist: Adding a generous helping of Nutella or cream.

This Egyptian cake used to be all about almonds and sometimes coconut but that is no longer the case. Nutella is placed between two layers of semolina and baked. The updated version of this sweet treat is served without syrup.


Traditional: Flaky pastries made of many layers of paper-thin dough filled with groundnuts and drenched in syrup.

Modern twist: Softening it up with cream and orange syrup.
Once believed to be the dessert of royals due to its hard-to-obtain ingredients, classic baklava is getting a modern revamp. Instead of chopped nuts, cream is added to the paper-thin dough layers and topped with crumbled pistachio and sticky syrup or honey. Another twist includes the replacement of traditional sugary syrup with sweet orange syrup.

Umm Ali

Traditional: Equivalent to bread and butter pudding, this dessert is made with puff pastry combined with heavy cream, dried fruits, nuts and raisins.

Modern twist: Using a croissant instead of bread? Ooh la la!
This dessert has witnessed several waves of change over the years with cornflakes sometimes used instead of the light and flaky puff pastry. However, the addition of a buttery French croissant, topped with dried fruits, nuts and raisins and generously covered with either hot milk or heavy cream, has wowed diners across the region.

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Family favorites: Toto’s famous spaghetti and meatballs soup

Updated 21 May 2018

Family favorites: Toto’s famous spaghetti and meatballs soup

This hearty dish is the middle point between spaghetti and meatballs and soup. It is a family favorite in my household, my kids love it and ask for seconds — and thirds sometimes! As any mother of picky eaters knows, this is a dream come true and I promise you, this soup will have your kids slurping from the bowl.

I was first introduced to this delicious meal by my mother-in-law, whom we affectionately call Toto, and ever since then, it’s become known as Toto’s famous spaghetti and meatballs soup in our home.

It is perfect for a satisfying iftar dish, so why not try it today?



Store bought spaghetti (Toto makes hers from scratch. If you can do that, kudos to you, if not just use store bought spaghetti).

Two peeled potatoes cut into large cubes.

Half-a-pound of minced meat.

One onion, chopped finely.

Six ripe tomatoes and two  tablespoons of tomato paste.

Five garlic cloves, crushed.

A handful of chopped coriander leaves.



Combine the tomatoes and tomato paste with one liter of water in a blender, with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the mixture into a big pot on the stovetop and bring it to a boil, then lower the heat to let it simmer.  

In a separate bowl, add the minced meat, onions and garlic, with a dash of salt and pepper. Mix until well incorporated and roll into small meatballs.

Cook the meatballs through in a sizzling, oiled pan. Transfer the meatballs into the pot with the simmering tomato soup.

Add the peeled potatoes that have been cut into chunks into the soup.

Let it cook for 10 minutes and add the spaghetti. Continue to cook the dish until the spaghetti is al dente and serve with a garnish of freshly chopped coriander leaves.