Today marks the start of Eid al-Fitr, a three-day holiday signaling the end of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month. According to culinary historian and former Times food writer Charles Perry, “ ‘Fitr,’ or the ‘breaking of fast,’ is traditionally associated with sweets.”
We’ve compiled three recipes to commemorate the holiday. Two recipes -- milky rice pudding (muhalbiyat al-ruz) and cardamom-saffron sponge cake (‘igaili) -- are from Sarah al-Hamad’s upcoming cookbook “Cardamom and Lime: Recipes From the Arabian Gulf,” celebrating the rich cuisines of the Arabian Gulf -- Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. We’ve also obtained the recipe for ashta, a fragrant custard-like cream, from Dolly Chammaa of Sunnin Lebanese Cafe (locations in Westwood and Long Beach).
Introducing her pudding, Al-Hamad notes the popularity of milky desserts in the Middle East and describes regional variations thickened alternately with rice, rice flour and even corn flour. In this recipe, Al-Hamad uses soaked rice that’s partly pureed in a blender before it’s cooked. This gives the pudding a textured yet silky feel. It’s a simple recipe; the pudding’s not too sweet and subtly perfumed with cardamom and rose water. Prepare it up to a day ahead, and serve chilled with a sprinkling of chopped pistachios.
The light, airy texture of the sponge cake showcases the sweet dates, walnuts and sesame seeds added to the batter. It’s very aromatic, liberally spiced with cardamom, saffron and turmeric.
Chammaa’s ashta is a fragrant and lightly sweetened pudding that’s reminiscent of clotted cream. Made from half-and-half that’s steeped with mastic -- the aromatic resin from the Mediterranean tree of the same name -- then boiled with rose water and orange blossom water, it’s a wonderful component of a dessert buffet. Chammaa serves it topped with banana, chopped pistachios and honey, or with baklava. Other combinations of fruits and nuts -- late plums, perhaps, with walnuts or almonds -- would be equally festive.
Eid Mubarak, blessed Eid!