With Eid Al Adha around the corner, there’s no better time to whip up and savour a batch of your favourite Arabic sweets.
But if you’re looking to satisfy that sweet tooth without really packing in the calories, there’s plenty you can do to make your homemade treats a little healthier, says Ghada Makarem, founder of The Healthy Treats.
Makarem launched the online concept, alongside Amrou Masri, to change the perception of Arabic sweets and create snacks that can be enjoyed in a guilt-free manner. The result is The Healthy Treats's selection of classic Arabic dishes - think Dates Maamoul, Basbousa and Sfouf - made with unprocessed ingredients. It also offers dairy-free, sugar-free and gluten-free menu options.
“Arabic sweets have long been seen as the ultimate indulgence, full of refined sugar, flour and processed fats, giving them a reputation of being bad for your health, especially in large doses,” says Makarem.
“However, you don’t have to deny your cravings for Arabic sweets to live a healthy lifestyle – sometimes all it takes is to simply adjust the way you do sweet.”
So, for healthier options this Eid, here are Makarem’s top tips:
You don’t need sugar for Arabic sweets
The next time you find yourself reaching for cups of sugar, take a step back and think about natural sweeteners. Using honey or maple syrup not only gives a silky sweet quality to any treat, they also add a gooey consistency, making each cookie or cake soft, rather than hard and crumbly. Apple sauce or mashed banana can also make great sugar substitutes.
Say no to processed white flour
Use natural almond flour or oats instead. Too much processed flour can increase your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, inflammation and obesity. Therefore, it’s important that you take into account what you can do to modify your baking recipes.
While almond flour is much higher in total fat content than most other flours, you’ll get a great dose of unsaturated fat, so it's not something to shy away from completely. Meanwhile, oats and oat flour offer a much slower and nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates, giving you energy that is released slowly throughout the day.
Take stock of fatty ingredients - and make healthy swaps
Swap unnecessary fats for ingredients that are natural and nutritious. Not every cake or cookie needs large amounts of butter or heavy cream – in fact, some of the best cakes remove these completely. Yoghurt is a great option to replace cream. Vegan? Swap your eggs for flax seeds. Whether you sneak a few spoonfuls of ground flaxseed into your batters or craft a flaxseed egg, incorporating this superfood into your baking will turn a regular cookie into a super healthy treat. Flaxseeds promote healthy digestion, help lower cholesterol, and also cut your risk of diabetes.
Go natural to retain that traditional Arabic flavour
Retain the flavour of traditional Arabic sweets by using real pistachios and dates, instead of flavourings. Dates give everything a delicious caramel taste and texture, while pistachios offer a sweet and nutty consistency. They are also a great source of healthy fats, fibre, protein, antioxidants, and various nutrients, including vitamin B6 and thiamine. Add cardamom to your Dates Maamoul – this will not only make the recipe more nutritious, but will also give the cookies a special taste that goes brilliantly with coffee or karak.