In recent years, Mediterranean cuisine has exploded in global popularity due to its many health benefits. That sounds great, but what exactly are we talking about when we refer to ‘Mediterranean cuisine’?
The famous Mediterranean diet boils down to the fresh, unprocessed ingredients, bold flavors, and heart-healthy dishes that the people around the Mediterranean Sea eat. Some of the most important elements of the Mediterranean diet are herbs and spices, legumes, fruits and veggies, grains, and olive oil.
The popularity of Mediterranean food stems from the fact that in January of 2023, the cuisine was recognized as the best diet in the world for the sixth year. More of a lifestyle, the Mediterranean diet is relatively easy to adopt and apply to other cuisines. Not only is it healthy, but it’s also delicious.
Speaking of tasty, we’re here to focus on the sweet side — and arguably the best side — of Mediterranean food: desserts.
Here are a few of our top favorites. Grab your apron, and let’s dive in!
Baklava is a delicious pastry popular in the Middle East. Although it’s hotly contested whether the sweet treat originally came from Turkey or Greece, baklava was perfected under the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.
Let’s figure out how to make baklava. With our tips under your belt, your kitchen will smell as sweet as the ancient palaces of Turkey.
- Phyllo dough: We recommend making your own phyllo pastry dough to produce the best possible results. If you would rather save time, head to the frozen section of your local grocery store.
- Nuts: The most common nuts used in baklava are chopped walnuts, pistachios, or a mixture of the two. Hazelnuts and pecans are also acceptable.
- Butter: Melted butter enhances the rich taste of the dessert and helps the sheets of phyllo pastry stick together.
- Cinnamon: When we think baklava, we think warm and rich. Cinnamon, a traditional Mediterranean ingredient, is the secret to baklava’s warmth.
- Simple syrup: One of the best parts of baklava is the sticky, syrupy coating that tops it. Water, sugar, vanilla extract, and honey make for an excellent simple syrup that tops the pastry and melds its unique flavors together.
Like the ingredients of baklava, the preparation is fairly simple.
- Layer the phyllo dough with nuts and cinnamon, adding butter between each layer.
- Cut the baklava into diamond or square shapes and bake.
- Make the simple syrup. Once the baklava is out of the oven, pour the syrup over it.
It would be challenging not to enjoy one of the most famous desserts worldwide, but we’ve got a few pointers for you so that you get extra satisfaction out of your delicious baklava.
- Let the baklava cool before serving it. Baklava has a lengthy shelf-life, so you can enjoy it for a few weeks — if you can make it last!
- Baklava is super sticky, so consider serving it and storing it in cupcake liners or other individual containers.
- Because baklava can be frozen, it’s a great dessert to make ahead of time for your next gathering.
Did you know? The word ‘tiramisu,’ which comes from the local dialect in Treviso, Italy, means ‘pick me up.’ The dessert — a decadent sponge cake with ladyfingers and layers of mascarpone, espresso, and cocoa powder — originated in 1800.
Here’s how to make the heavenly dessert.
- Egg yolks, sugar, and mascarpone: White sugar is cooked with egg yolks and mixed with thick Italian mascarpone to create a sweet, creamy filling.
- Milk: Whole milk helps to thin the filling so that it is spreadable.
- Cream: Instead of buying store-bought whipped cream, give your tiramisu a unique twist by making your own. All you have to do is beat heavy cream using a mixer until stiff peaks form.
- Vanilla: Another classic Mediterranean flavor, vanilla extract will send your homemade whipped cream over the edge.
- Coffee and rum: The rich, one-of-a-kind tiramisu flavor comes from soaking ladyfingers in strong coffee spiked with rum. The coffee-rum mix can also be drizzled over the ladyfingers.
- Ladyfingers: As the name suggests, these small sponge cakes are shaped like thick fingers.
- Cocoa powder: Dusted on top, the cocoa powder creates an impressive, fresh-out-of-the-bakery effect.
There are four basic steps required.
- Make the filling.
- Make the whipped cream.
- Soak the ladyfingers in spiked coffee.
- Assemble the tiramisu and dust it with cocoa powder.
Several common variations of traditional tiramisu call for Kahlua or marsala wine instead of rum, and cake mix instead of ladyfingers. Tiramisu-flavored cheesecake and tiramisu-inspired chocolate mousse are two popular modern twists on the dessert.
Kanafeh is a unique Middle Eastern dessert with a crispy shell of kataifi pastry (a.k.a. angel hair) on the outside, gooey cheese on the inside, a drizzle of rosewater or orange blossom syrup, and crushed pistachios on top. The name ‘kanafeh’ comes from the Arabic word ‘kanaf’ (to seek shelter).
Let’s dive into the ingredients and preparation of this delicious dessert.
Despite its impressive artistic presentation, kanafeh requires surprisingly few ingredients.
- Shredded phyllo dough (kataifi): This can be found at a Middle Eastern store.
- Akkawi cheese: Akkawi cheese is available at most Middle Eastern stores. Alternatively, a mix of ricotta and mozzarella makes for a great filling, too.
- Ghee or butter: Traditionally, kanafeh is made with ghee but both work.
- Simple syrup: Mix sugar, water, lemon juice, and rosewater to form a simple syrup that tops the pastry.
- Milk and cornstarch: These ingredients are combined to make the pudding layer.
- Pistachios: Crumbled pistachios sprinkled on top of the pastry provide a satisfying crunch with every bite.
Preparation is pretty easy, too.
- Make the simple syrup.
- Heat the oven and thaw the shredded kataifi dough in the fridge.
- Shred the dough even more.
- Add melted butter and food coloring to the dough.
- Layer the pan with the mixture of dough, melted butter, and food coloring.
- Layer cheese and more shredded dough.
- Add cooled simple syrup and pistachio nuts on top.
Remember that kanafeh is best hot, so dig in as soon as it’s out of the oven! Traditionally, the dish is served with a cup of unsweetened tea or bitter coffee to balance the sweetness.
You can also adjust the dish’s sweetness depending on your preference by choosing how much simple syrup to top it with.
At the first Greek Olympic games in 776 B.C., loukoumades made their debut appearance. Believe it or not, the Greeks offered the honey-dusted doughnut-like treat, resembling golden tokens, to champions of the Olympic games.
After originating in Greece, loukoumades spread to Turkey, Egypt, Persia, and Italy. Let’s dive into the ingredients and preparation.
Most recipes call for the following ingredients.
- Water, sugar, and yeast: Mix these ingredients to activate the yeast for step one of making the dough. The yeast must be active and dry.
- Milk, flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil: Stir these ingredients into the activated yeast to finish making the dough.
- Vegetable oil: This comes in handy for frying the dough.
- Honey and cinnamon: Together, these ingredients make for a warm, inviting topping.
Preparing loukoumades is pretty simple, especially if you’re already comfortable with deep-frying.
Here are six quick steps.
- Start making the dough by mixing the water, sugar, and yeast.
- Add milk, sugar, flour, salt, and olive oil to the dough mixture.
- Allow the dough to rise.
- Form small balls of the dough and fry them in a pan over medium heat.
- Allow the fried loukoumades to drain.
- Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with cinnamon.
In some variations of the recipe for loukoumades, chocolate sauce is used to replace the honey-cinnamon topping. If you have a chocolate sweet tooth, you can make the sauce by combining dark chocolate, caster sugar, and water.
In other variations, chopped walnuts or almonds are added to the loukoumades after they are fried and coated in honey and cinnamon. It’s up to you whether you want a little crunch.
5. Pastel de Nata
Known in their home country of Portugal as ‘pastéis de nata’ or ‘pastéis de Belém,’ these custard tarts are a delicious, world-famous dessert.
Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém is the main producer of the original recipe, selling over 20,000 daily. With their signature flaky crust and rich molten filling of sweet, spiced custard, it’s no wonder pastel de nata has become a staple of Mediterranean cuisine.
The recipe might seem complicated, but we promise the final product makes it all worth it.
The ingredients are as follows.
- Flour, salt, water, and butter: First, you will mix these ingredients to make the dough.
- Flour, milk, sugar, cinnamon, water, vanilla, and egg yolks: These ingredients are combined to produce a show-stopping custard.
- Confectioners sugar and cinnamon: Once the pastries come out of the oven, mix the confectioner’s sugar and cinnamon and dust them on top for a sweet garnish.
And here are the steps!
- Assemble the dough by mixing flour, salt, and water.
- Let the dough rest. Then, roll it into a square and spread butter on ⅔ of the square.
- Fold the dough onto itself, starting with the unbuttered section. Pat it down and pinch away air bubbles.
- Roll and fold the dough twice more. Spread more butter on the dough.
- Roll the dough into a log, cut it in half, and allow to chill.
- Make the custard by bringing the ingredients to a boil, whisking briskly, and straining the mixture. Then allow it to cool, covered.
- Press pieces of pastry dough into each well of a mini muffin pan. Then fill with the cool custard.
- Bake at high heat, allowing the pastries to brown on top.
- Finally, coat the pastries with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
There’s no way you can go wrong serving up your pastel de nata — it’s bound to be delicious! Nevertheless, it helps to know a few insider tips to enjoy them to the max.
- Pastel de nata is best enjoyed warm — within a few hours of baking. This will ensure that the pastry is crispy and the custard is smooth.
- Definitely don’t use a spoon to eat the custard. One of the best parts of these pastries is that they are finger food.
- The more ‘marbling’ on top of the pastry, the better!
The Global Appeal of Mediterranean Sweets
To recap, we discussed five of the most popular Mediterranean desserts: baklava, tiramisu, kanafeh, loukoumades, and pastel de nata. While some are easier to prepare than others, and many come from different parts of the Mediterranean region, these desserts are true to their Mediterranean heritage, as each has a wide array of natural flavors.
At Luna Grill, our desserts, like all of our meals, rely on the natural flavors of the Mediterranean. Plus, we offer desserts for people with all sorts of dietary needs and preferences, staying true to the family-first Mediterranean mentality.
Our baklava is rivaled only by our gluten-free chocolate fudge brownies and non-GMO salted caramel cookies. Stop by and try some for yourself!
Mediterranean diet and life expectancy; beyond olive oil, fruits and vegetables | National Institute of Health
Why the Mediterranean diet is so popular. And smart. | Novant Health
A history of tiramisu, the coffee-infused Italian classic | National Geographic