middle-eastern dessert recipes

Summer's most glorious make-ahead dessert: Cardamom-scented milk custard with apricot gel and crushed pistachio

My friend Greg Stinson is one of the best cooks I know. Part of it is his impeccable taste. He also has a finely tuned instinct for what flavors will shimmer brightest right now, this second, this season. And he knows what flavors will sing together.

And so when he was shopping for a dinner whose dessert would be cool, soft cups of cardamom-scented milk custard (that much he knew) and he happened on some blushingly beautiful ripe apricots, Greg's instinct kicked in and he took the custard idea from good to great. He'd capture that wonderful fresh apricot flavor in a gel on top of the custard, one that would be soft enough to ooze saucily into the cool, lightly sweet, exotically perfumed pudding. He divined just the right garnish, too: crushed toasted pistachios. 

How lucky am I to have Greg as a friend? Lucky indeed! That dessert was the captivating finish to dinner at the home of Greg and his husband Tim Simmonds a couple weeks ago.  It began with flatbreads (handmade by Greg) topped with juicy slices of sun-warmed tomatoes from Tim's garden. Next came beautifully spiced chicken kebabs, saffron rice (with a nice bit of crunchy tadig on the bottom!) and a lovely salad of chick peas, okra, tomatoes, eggplant and onion. It was all wonderful. 

And then those custards: so cool, lightly sweet, creamy and rich (but not too), just amazing with the vibrant apricot saucy gel that tasted like a sun-drenched orchard. On top of it, they were gorgeous in their green glasses on Greg and Tim's table.

I know what you're thinking. Yes, if you're lucky you can still find apricots in the market. The dessert, which channels the flavors of Turkey or Tunisia with its cardamom scent, pistachio crunch and apricot exclamation point, is ideal for making head – perfect for a laid-back late summer dinner party. 

It took Greg a couple of tries to nail the dessert, and not surprisingly he didn't measure things or write down what he did. "But Greg!" I protested, "this could be a smashing Cooks Without Borders dessert!" He walked me through what he did and the approximate amounts he used. I took a couple stabs at home and the recipe is now ready for you:

The custard – and eggless one – is easy to make, and sets up quickly in the fridge. Pour it into pretty heat-proof cups or ramekins. Then quarter the apricots – no need to peel them – and cook them down with a little sugar and fizzy prosecco till they're soft and translucent. A spin in the food processor and a trip through a fine sieve and you've got your gel to pour over the custards. Let them chill till after dinner, then top them with toasted crushed pistachios and serve. 

What can we say but three cheers for Greg?!