Browsing Tag:

middle eastern


How to Make Creamy Ashta

ashta and fruit and nuts in a parfait glass

Ashta is a popular middle eastern dessert that is made from homemade ricotta cheese and a thickened milk custard. You can add sweetener, and flavouring including vanilla or orange blossom water or rose water. Ashta is slang for kashta, which means clotted cream. Ashta is used for many fillings of middle eastern desserts. It is the most sublime exotic dessert that you can make at home in a snap. This recipe for Creamy Ashta with Strawberry and Bananas is delicious for breakfast, a midday snack or a dessert. Or all three. Your choice.

I love to learn about traditional dishes from all over the globe. But, I have to say that I particularly enjoy learning new sweet dishes. Because nothing finishes off a good meal better than a lovely eye-appealing dessert.

cheese curds in cheesecloth

This is what the ashta looks like while the curds are draining in the cheese-cloth lined colander.

cheese curds in a bowl

The curds will be small and have a milky aroma.

custard in a bowl

Next, make a custard that will get mixed in with the curds.

ashta in a bowl

MIx together the curds and the custard. It will still be a bit lumpy. While some people like their ashta a bit lumpy, other people only like it very smooth. You can put this mixture into a blender or food processor and blend it until it becomes smooth.

ashta in a ceramic bowl

This is my ashta after I pureed it. It still has some lumps in it, but I prefer it that way.

ashta and fruit and nuts in a parfait glass

Serve your Creamy Ashta with fruit. It is traditional to serve with nuts on top.

ashta on a glass plate with nuts and fruit on top

My friend, Eiman, who taught me how to make this lovely dish, serves her Ashta flat on a plate with fruit and nuts sprinkled on top. It looks very pretty this way.

Ashta makes a lovely summer dessert. Although this would also work well for breakfast.

Delicious Vanilla Ashta with Strawberries and Bananas

Serves: 6
Cooking Time: 20 minutes


  • Homemade Ricotta Cheese
  • 3 litres of whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • Thickened Milk
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 Tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 tsp Vanilla (or other flavouring, or's still delicious)



Bring the 3 litres of milk to a boil.


When the milk starts to boil, add the vinegar.


Turn the heat down to low-medium.


Stir the mixture. The milk will start to curdle. It will smell very vinegary at first.


Continue to stir until the milk is fully curdled and the liquid is more clear. It won't go completely clear.


Line a sieve with cheese cloth, or use a strainer, if it's fine enough.


Pour the liquid through the sieve. Now it should smell more creamy.


Leave this to drain while you make the thickened milk.


Put the cornstarch and sugar into a pot.


Add the milk and vanilla or other flavouring.


Stir on medium heat until the milk starts to thicken.


Once the milk is thickened, turn the heat off.


Stir the curds that are draining in the sieve into the milk/cornstarch/sugar mixture.


Use a whisk and mix really well.


There will be small bits of curd throughout the mixture, this is fine.


Some people prefer their ashta more creamy.


To make it more creamy, place the ashta in a blender, food processor or use a hand-held blender.


Blend until the mixture is more fine and creamy.


Place in a container in the fridge for a few hours, until cold.


How to Serve Ashta


You can eat Ashta plain, as is.


You can layer it like a parfait with strawberries and bananas. And top with chopped nuts. (Almonds or pistachios are very nice).


Or you can experiment with other fruits such as blueberries, kiwi, mango etc.


Or you can serve it on a nice platter, like my friend Eiman.


To do this: spread the Ashta evenly on a flat platter. Arrange chopped fruits over top.


Sprinkle with chopped nuts and/or coconut.


Serve cold.


Delicious! Enjoy!


Egyptian Basbousa Cake Recipe

egyptian basbousa cake on plate

I love this Egyptian Basbousa Cake. From the texture of the semolina, to the sugar syrup and the nutty almonds on top. It is for sure, one of my favourite cakes to make and serve to my family.

I bake this cake when I’m feeling nostalgic about my travels in Egypt. Many years ago, my best friend Bonnie and I took off from Canada for a year long travel adventure. We had planned and saved for our trip for many years; we cut out travel stories from the newspaper and collected travel tips from friends. Bonnie and I were only 19 years old but we were ready for a big adventure.

It was a beautiful spring day when we landed in London, England.  We spent a few weeks in that lovely old city before continuing our travels through the United Kingdom, Europe and into northern Africa as well.

Europe is a fascinating place to travel at any age, but when you’re 19, it’s magical. We enjoyed all the art museums, comfortable, punctual trains, and the beautiful old buildings, but my favourite part was the food:  Austrian coffee, italian pizza and gelato in little cups, french croissants, greek baklava and egyptian falafels: all were breathtaking.

Over the course of twelve months, we sampled many delicious dishes and sweets. And my cooking at home is still influenced by that trip so many years ago. This year, while happily remembering our travels, I made one of our favourites sweets from our trip: Egyptian Basbousa Cake. We sampled many slices of Basbousa Cake while we travelled from Cairo to Luxor and to Hurghada on the Red Sea.

Basbousa Cake is a very popular dessert in the middle east. Many countries in this region make their own variation: Revani from Northern Greece, Ravani from Southern Greece and Hareesa from Jordan, the Maghreb and Alexandria. The names may be different, but the cakes are very similar.

egyptian basbousa cake with a bowl of semolina, a lemon and a jar of honey on a wooden table

Egyptian Basbousa Cake is super easy to make as it only requires a few basic pantry ingredients.  Traditionally made with semolina, it has a surprising wheaty aroma and taste. I have also made it with cream of wheat cereal, and while it has a coarser texture, I still really like it.

Basbousa is luxuriously sweet, with a cold lemon-scented sugar/honey syrup poured over the hot-from-the-oven cake. This technique also makes the cake super moist.  Because it is a very moist cake, it doesn’t slice as neatly as other cakes, but is so so delicious. A traditional finishing touch to the cake is to place whole almonds in the centre of each slice.

egyptian basbousa cake in a tin

This cake will keep for serveral days. It is excellent with tea or coffee. It would also be an excellent addition to an afternoon picnic on the beach. If you want to ramp this cake up a notch, served it with a dollop thick whipped cream.

Egyptian Basbousa Cake

Egyptian Basboussa Cake

Serves: 16
Cooking Time: 30 minutes


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups semolina (you can also use cream of wheat cereal)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup of yogurt
  • syrup
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.


Grease a 9 x 9 baking pan.


Whip the butter and sugar until well blended and a pale yellow colour.


Add the eggs one at a time.


In a separate bowl, mix the semolina and baking powder and soda.


Add dry mixture and yogurt to butter/sugar mix, alternating between the dry mix and the yogurt.


Pour into greased pan.


Bake in oven for 30 minutes, or until cake tester comes out clean and the cake is slightly golden on top.


While the cake is baking, you can make the syrup. Combine all of the ingredients in a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring lots to help dissolve the sugar. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Then pour the syrup into a heat resistant bowl or very large measuring cup. Place the bowl in cold water to cool down the syrup. You could also place the container with the syrup in the freezer until the cake comes out of the oven.


Once the cake has come out of the oven, pour the syrup over the hot cake, until it is all soaked up. You may not need all of it, but you will be surprised how much it soaks up. Let the cake cool in the pan until cold.

recipe is slightly adapted from Tess Mallos The Complete Middle East Cookbook


Persian Barberry Rice: sweet, salty, tantalizing, amazing

Feeling bored with plain rice? You will want to try this.

Persian Barberry Rice is exotic, buttery and piquant with dried barberries dotted throughout the dish. It is a much needed change to a bowl of plain steamed rice that our family often eats. It is traditionally prepared for Nowruz (Persian New Year), but can be eaten any day of the year.

The first time that I had Barberry Rice was a few years ago in a Persian restaurant that I visited with four colleagues from work. We were all from four very different corners of the globe; Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Canada and Iran, which made the evening very fun.

Three of us, not familiar with persian food, didn’t recognize any of the dishes on the menu. They were completely foreign to us. We all sat there for a very long time, drooling over the descriptions of dishes such as fesenjan (a chicken stew with pomegrantates and ground walnuts), gorbeh sabzi (beef stew with dried lemons and kidney beans) and baklava (filo pastry layered with honey and ground nuts), which we did all recognize.

Sarah, who grew up in Iran, was our epicurean translator. She read the menu over carefully and then told us what we should order. “You should order the chicken kebab”, she said. “You’re going to love it”. There were a few options on the bottom of the menu such as, zereshk polo (basmati rice with barberries) , shirin polo (rice with carrots, nuts and raisins) and baghali polo (a mixture of basmati rice with dill and fava beans). I asked her which one would be best to try. ‘Try zereshk polo. It is so delicious. You will love it.” And love it I did.

What are barberries?

Barberries are small tart berries, similar perhaps to a cranberry, but much smaller and more tart. They grow in Europe, North America as well as the middle east. They are very popular in Iranian dishes.

How do I use barberries?

Barberries are very versatile. You can use them in salads, granola and rice dishes. Wash and soak the barberries first, to plump them up a bit before cooking.

Can I substitute something else for the barberries?

You could substitute dried currants soaked in lemon juice, but barberries are super easy to find, so I would try to find them first. They are plentiful in Middle Eastern Grocery Stores. If all else fails, Amazon also sells them.

When is Barberry Rice traditionally served?

Barberry rice is served on the first day of spring for the Persian New Year (Nowruz). It is a very traditional dish. But you can also make this any night of the year. It’s a very popular dish.

Persian Barberry Rice is very easy to make. While the basmati rice is cooking, you can sauté the rinsed barberries in butter. This plumps up the dried berries. Once the rice is done, add a dollop of butter on top of the cooked rice and stir through. Spoon the rice into a serving bowl, sprinkle with the buttery barberries and voila!…rice is ready!

persian barberry rice in a bowl
Serves: 4-6
Cooking Time: 30 minutes


  • 1 1/5 cups of basmati rice, rinsed until the water runs clear
  • 1/2 cup dried barberries, rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp butter



Rinse the basmati rice until the water runs clear.


Soak the rice in cold water for 30 minutes.


Bring 3 cups of water to the boil.


Add the basmati rice and turn the heat down.


Let the rice simmer for about 12 minutes, until tender, and no water is left in the pot.


Place 1.5 Tbsp of butter on top of the cooked rice.


While the rice is cooking, saute the rinsed barberries in butter, for 2-3 minutes.


Stir the butter into the cooked rice.


Spoon the rice into a serving bowl.


Sprinkle the buttery barberries on top of the rice.


Gently stir the berries into the rice.


Serve with salt and freshly ground pepper.