Lebanese pastries are a pure delight. Originally, our ethnic pastries used to be very sweetened. Today, and since a decade or so, they are made with lesser sugar. Lebanese sweets are a landmark in our country’s culinary journey, and are among the best in our region and have landed a world renowned fame for some families who have been in the business for generations.
The sweetest aspects of the Middle East would have to be its world-famous desserts, often characterized by their rich syrupy taste, nuts, and lack of cream. Knefeh bil jibin, one of my favorite desserts, is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet, sugar-based syrup, typical of the regions. It is a specialty of the Levant.
There is something about festivities that render the air around our household full of joy mixing with the aromas of butter, sugar, rose water and nuts, as the smell dissipates from the kitchen into the rest of the house. Religious traditions and love of family become the essence of the month of March. Ma’amoul are the holiday cookie par excellence in this part of the world; every family has the designated maamoul maker and in mine we luckily have my mother who would make them and decorate them by hand. These light golden crumbly sweets are very popular in the Middle East, and although they are particularly associated with festivals, it is not uncommon to find ma’amoul around the house at other times as well.
In Lebanon, we practically have a different kind of dessert for every occasion. Meghleh to celebrate the birth of a child, Snayniyeh for teething, Maamoul for Easter, Awwamat for Ghtas, killaj for Ramadan, a’mhiye for Barbara, and. Every dessert’s name hides a little story behind it. Snayniyeh is derived from “snan”, which means teeth and this scrumptious dessert is usually prepared to celebrate the appearance of a child’s first tooth.
Days before a woman is about to give birth, the whiff of cinnamon and caraway start filling the house with their comforting aromas full of warm spicy notes. No Lebanese baby can be welcomed into this world, without the proper and best Meghlé. This dessert is a rice pudding made from rice flour, sugar and cinnamon with ornaments of desiccated coconut flakes, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and pine nuts making it one fancy dessert reserved for such delightful occasions. It is infused with the warming flavors of cinnamon, caraway and anise. This exotic dessert is a taste of our culture, and insight into our spice-filled way of life.