Today's guest post is by Steffi Teowira, who writes for Wego — the top travel search website in the Middle East. She's an expert on Middle Eastern cuisine, so I asked her to share with us some of her favorite Middle Eastern desserts that are naturally vegan!
A lot of Middle Eastern foods are naturally vegan, which makes the region a hidden gem for vegan travelers. If you have a sweet tooth, even better! Middle Eastern desserts and sweets are perfect for capping off a rich feast, or they can also be enjoyed on their own.
While dairy and honey feature prominently in many recipes for traditional Middle Eastern desserts, here are several that are vegan by nature and just as tempting. Pick a destination in the Middle East with Wego and indulge!
This hearty Turkish dessert of sweetened pumpkin or butternut squash makes for a perfect addition to a winter meal. Tender slices of the squash are cooked in sugar and cloves, then sprinkled with crushed pistachios or walnuts.
Another version of this classic candied dish is ayva tatlısı. It calls for quince cooked in a similar style, except that the fruit is then filled with apple meal or raisins. It’s often served topped with kaymak (cream), so just as to leave off the kaymak in order to make this Middle Eastern dessert vegan.
Vermicelli in an icy dessert? It does sound quite intriguing, doesn’t it? Faloodeh is a sorbet-like treat that blends cooked rice noodles with frozen rose water syrup. It’s served with lime juice or cherry syrup, and sometimes ground pistachios.
Crunchy, cooling, sweet and fragrant, this traditional Middle Eastern dessert from Iran is a delight for the senses. It’s a refreshing dessert to have after a meal and perfect company to help beat the heat while you go around sightseeing.
Lokum, or Turkish delight as it’s known to most Westerners, is a popular gift and a treat that’s often offered to guests in Turkey. The delightful confection is basically jellied sweets that come in a variety of hues, exotic flavors and pairings.
The traditional version looks like delicate powdered cubes that often reveal shades of their flavors: pink for rose, or black for licorice, for example. These days, premium varieties include chocolate-covered lokum, lokum with coconut dusting, and some that are stuffed with nuts or chopped dates.
Whichever creative variation you pick up, true traditional Turkish delight is made with cornstarch as a thickening agent instead of gelatin, so this Middle Eastern dessert is vegan. [TNV: You can also find this sweet treat in Greece, where it’s known as loukoumi.]
Meghli is a Lebanese version of rice pudding, but, unlike the typical rice pudding made with milk, this one is entirely vegan. And in fact, it doesn’t even really contain rice in the strictest sense of the word.
It doesn’t have the creamy, ivory look of rice pudding, either — it looks more like a smooth chocolate pudding.
Meghli is actually a dessert that combines rice flour, water and sugar, cooked until the mixture thickens and garnished with nuts or coconut flakes. It gets its earthy shade and distinct flavor from spices like cinnamon, caraway and anise.
The sweet pudding is prepared for special occasions, particularly whenever a baby is born. Among the Lebanese Christian community, meghli is also a staple at Christmas Eve dinner, since Christmas is, after all, a celebration of the birth of baby Jesus.
You will find many different names for Middle Eastern desserts of fried dough topped with simple syrup all throughout the Middle East and North Africa, from awamat in Lebanon to zalabia in Egypt. Lokma is the Turkish variety.
While the small balls of dough are usually finished with sweet syrup, a sprinkling of cinnamon, nuts, and sesame sometimes makes an appearance as well. Crunchy on the outside and sticky to the touch, one bite gives way to the pillowy inside.
Try to stop at one bite! This snack is that addictive. Honey is used by some vendors as a coating, so inquire beforehand to be sure.
Some describe it as a dried fruit salad, while others call it a compote. Either way, khoshaf (also spelled “khushaf”) is a delicious Middle Eastern dessert made of nuts and dried fruits soaked in water for hours until the liquid becomes syrupy.
Khoshaf is a popular dish for breaking the fast during the month of Ramadan, because of the shot of energy from the sugar. Needless to say, it’s naturally pretty sweet, but some recipes even call for additional sugar or use apricot syrup as a marinade.
Delicious and healthy-ish, cezerye is a dream snack. This sweet treat, a specialty from southern Turkey, is primarily made by cooking grated carrots in sugar and adding nuts afterwards.
Other more elaborate recipes may include a collection of spices, too: cloves, turmeric or cinnamon. The caramelized carrot paste is then given a coat of desiccated coconut flakes or more chopped nuts.
Have you tried any of these vegan Middle Eastern desserts? Have you discovered others in your travels that aren’t listed here? Let me know in the comments below!
About the Author
I am the resident writer and content marketing specialist at Wego. I have always been a reader first, writer second, with a special interest in food, history and travel. I'm fascinated by the many roles food takes on and its evolution in different societies and periods of time.