Coming up on my fourth year of taste-testing my way through Jordan – where the seasonal foods of the Levant pack a triple punch of being delicious, healthy and affordable – I amp up the smart-eating quotient by always avoiding desserts, filling up on marvelous mezzes and entrees because regional sweets leave me flat.
Knafeh (hoisted on you at every turn) is sticky, local ice cream is plastic-y, and an array of bread puddings seem lifted from the pages of Brit boarding school cookbooks. And someone please explain the appeal of Turkish Delight?
An English food writer has shared a recipe for a simple cake with emphatically Middle Eastern ingredients that might just get me to step away from the fruit bowl. Check out Diana Henry’s orange and pomegranate cake recipe, one of the featured desserts in her latest cookbook, “A Change of Appetite: Where Healthy Meets Delicious” (Mitchell Beazley, £25).
Ingredients for the cake:
50g (1¾oz) wholemeal breadcrumbs
100g (3½oz) ground almonds
175g (6oz) soft light-brown sugar
2 tsp baking-powder
finely grated zest of 1½ oranges
215ml (7½fl oz) olive oil, plus more for the tin
4 eggs, lightly beaten
Ingredients for the syrup:
juice of 1 orange
100ml (3½fl oz) pomegranate juice (pure juice, not ‘pomegranate juice drink’)
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp runny honey (let Miriam steer you to the real deal!)
Garnish with seeds from ½ pomegranate (Karin shows you how to get them out of the shell – and fast – link here)
Mix together the breadcrumbs, almonds, sugar and baking-powder. Add the zest, 215ml (7½fl oz) olive oil and eggs, and stir well.Pour the batter into an oiled springform cake tin 20cm (8in) in diameter. Put it into a cold oven and set the heat to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until the cake has browned and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Meanwhile, gently heat all the syrup ingredients together. Stir a little until the honey has melted, then increase the heat and simmer for five minutes. You should end up with about 100ml (3½fl oz) of syrup.
When the cake is cooked, pierce the surface all over and slowly pour on the pomegranate syrup, allowing it to sink in. Leave to cool completely in the tin. It will sink a little in the middle, but don’t worry – this makes a lovely dip in which the pomegranate seeds can lie. Scatter the seeds on top just before serving.
Henry suggests serving this uber-moist cake with a dollop of Greek yogurt – which is unavailable in Jordan markets. Maybe improvise with some labneh instead!
Image of orange and pomegranate cake from Laura Edwards and The Telegraph