Sesame Halva

halva arial 3

In the Arabian Nights, sweetmeats are mentioned many times and simply refer to confections made with sugar or honey. Halva, or halwa, a common dessert in the Middle East and surrounding regions, often made from nut butters, is mentioned in at least a few stories in regards to sweetmeats. I went through a few trials of making this very simple tahini (sesame paste) version and found the recipe below to work best for me (watching this video from ureviews helped a bunch!).

Sesame Halva

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1/4 Cup Water
  • 1 Cup Tahini
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 1/4-1/3 Cup Chopped Nuts such as Pistachio or Almond (optional)

Line a small loaf pan with parchment paper & spray with non-stick spray. Make sure your tahini is stirred/shaken up well & then pour 1 cup of it into a small pot & warm up on low heat. Stir in the pinch of salt & vanilla. If using nuts, stir them into the tahini or sprinkle a layer on the bottom of your paper-lined pan.

In a second small pot, over medium heat, heat the sugar & water until the sugar is melted (swirling, not stirring) & the temperature reads 255-260ºF on a candy thermometer (hard ball stage). Scrape the tahini into the sugar pot & stir until thoroughly combined & then quickly pour into the prepared pan. Spread evenly & sit on the counter to cool. Cover with foil & place in the fridge overnight. Cut off slices to serve.

halva sliced
halva pieces
Listen to the episode! Fiction Kitchen Episode 9: Arabian Nights

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labneh flat bread

Though not specifically mentioned in the Arabian Nights, I imagine labneh–a common and tasty yogurt cheese–could be found on the feast tables amid the fruits, breads, and dainty meats.


  • 1 Container Plain Greek Yogurt
  • 1/2-1 tsp. Salt
  • Fresh or Dried Herbs (optional)
  • Olive Oil (optional)

Sprinkle the salt into the container of yogurt & stir to combine. Place a mesh strainer over a small bowl & drape a cheese cloth or flour sack cloth over the strainer. Scoop all of the yogurt into the cloth & twist it up & give it a squeeze to get the preliminary liquid (whey) out. You can save the whey in a jar in the fridge & use it as a substitute for water in cooking, or you can throw it out. Place the bowl, strainer, cloth, & yogurt setup in the fridge & let sit for a day or two, occasionally squeezing the cloth to help get the whey out. The longer you keep the yogurt in the fridge, the more solidified it will get.

Remove the yogurt mixture from the fridge & use it as a spread or dip, stir in some chopped, fresh herbs, or roll the mixture into small balls & then roll the balls in fresh or dried herbs (I use za’atar, a Middle Eastern mix). If you make it into little balls, place them in a glass jar or other container & cover them with olive oil. Serve with toast or flat bread, an appetizer platter, or however you’d like!

labneh balls closeup
Listen to the episode! Fiction Kitchen Episode 9: Arabian Nights

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sharbat closeup

Sharbat is extremely simple to make. In the Arabian Nights it’s described as flower water with ice (or snow) plus sugar sprinkled on top. Alternately, it can be made by making a syrup with the flower water, and then pouring a little bit of that into a glass and adding water and ice.

Simple Sharbat

  • 1/2 Cup Willow Blossom Water or Sweet Prier
  • 1 Cup Snow or Shaved Ice or Several Ice Cubes
  • 1 tsp. Baker’s Sugar (fine granulated sugar)
  • 1 Tbsp. Mint Water (optional)
  • 2 tsp. Grenadine (optional, for color)

Combine the ingredients in a medium to small glass & enjoy! If you’d like to use a large glass, simply double the ingredients or use 1/2 cup flavored water + 1/2 cup plain water.

Sharbat Syrup

  • 1 Cup Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Water
  • 1 Tbsp Flavor Water such as Rose or Orange Blossom (or 2 tsp. Rose + 2 tsp. Orange Blossom)
  • Sprinkling of Lemon Juice

Heat the sugar & water in a small pot over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Turn the heat to low & stir in the flavored water & sprinkling of lemon juice. Simmer for about 5 minutes more. Remove from heat & pour into a clean jar. Allow to cool before securing the lid. Store in your pantry or cupboard.

To make sharbat, pour a little bit of the syrup into a glass (about 1-2 Tbsp. or more depending on glass size) & then pour in some water & plop in the ice. Serve with a long spoon to stir it all up. You can also simply add a little syrup to the simple sharbat recipe above.

sharbat light pink Sharbat arial pink
Listen to the episode! Fiction Kitchen Episode 9: Arabian Nights

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Minty Split Pea Soup


In The Prince and the Large and Lonely Tortoise the Tortoise, in her lovely human form, attends the feast and pours rice swollen in butter over her hair, which turns into pearls, and a thick green soup which turns into emeralds.

This reminded me of a Middle Eastern soup I’ve made several times, this elegant soup with split peas and mint. I feel that it’s pretty representative of the region, with the ubiquitous lentils and very common mint. It’s perfect for this wintery weather, but you could make it with fresh peas come spring.

Minty Split Pea Soup

From Artichoke to Za’atar: Modern Middle Eastern Cooking by Greg Malouf and Lucy Malouf

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 small head butter lettuce, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint
  • salt & white pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups split peas
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 handful fresh mint, chopped
  • salt & white pepper
  • whipped yogurt and chopped mint for garnish

In a soup pot, heat olive oil on medium heat. Saute onions and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the chopped butter lettuce and saute until wilted. Add mint, a generous pinch salt, and a sprinkle white pepper, and stir well.

Add split peas and vegetable stock, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Simmer for about 40 minutes or until split peas are soft. Add mint, and cook another 3 or 4 minutes.

Puree in a blender (hold a tea towel over the top so it doesn’t explode) and pour back into the pot. Taste and adjust seasoning (add more salt) if necessary.

Serve hot with a dollop of whipped yogurt and a sprinkle of chopped mint.

Listen to the episode! Fiction Kitchen Episode 9: ARABIAN NIGHTS

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Arabian Nights

Arabian Nights B&N

Diana and Carrie discuss the Arabian Nights, including Scherezade’s awesomeness, hedonism vs. moderation, random guests, bedouin hospitality and some light shape shifting.



Intro Music Clip: “Zeina” by Mohamed Abdel Wahab
Outro Music Clip: “Arabian Nights” from “Aladdin,” by Alan Menkin

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