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Traveling Abroad Through Middle Eastern Style Ice Cream

posted on: Sep 16, 2020

Traveling Abroad Through Middle Eastern Style Ice Cream

By: Blanche Shaheen/Arab America Contributing Writer

As homes have now morphed into schools and home offices simultaneously, they have now turned into incubators of stress. The home is now ground zero for home school sessions, homework projects, tests, office conference calls, short-order cooking around the clock, with additional activities like a virtual instrument, art, and physical activity lessons. The boundary between home and the often stressful obligations outside the home have blurred, so trying to destress has become more challenging for many as cabin fever mounts. 

In times like these, little family projects can reclaim the home as a tranquil place, add cheer to the day, and build cherished memories. Preparing a meal or treat together as a family is an opportunity to share thoughts and feelings with one another in a protected space, and a chance to tune out the outside world. One simple activity popular with both children and adults alike, is making and eating ice cream.  Now I am not saying that we should all drown our sorrows in ice cream when things get tough (even though I have done this too many times to count). But once in a while, activities like this not only create a protected space to bond, but introduce educational opportunities to learn about other countries. One of my most cherished ice cream memories was at Rukab’s Ice Cream Parlor in Ramallah, Palestine. This iconic shop has been serving ice cream since 1941, with their signature ice cream that stretches like mozzarella cheese because of the gum arabic they add to the recipe.

Traveling Abroad Through Middle Eastern Style Ice Cream
Rukab’s Ice Cream Parlor

I decided to recreate this memory at home and educate the children in my family at the same time. An ice cream treat that comes close to Rukab’s ice cream flavors is Bastani Sonnati, otherwise known as Persian ice cream. Now this particular ice cream originated back in 500 BC, and is flavored with rose water and saffron. If served as a sandwich, the ice cream is tucked between two wafer thins, then rolled in either crushed pistachios, rose petals, or both. I was on a mission to recreate the flavors of this ice cream in my home while educating the children about Rukab’s Ice Cream and the Persian Empire. The children didn’t realize they were getting a mini-history lesson, and they had so much fun they forgot all about their homework obligations and the pandemic for an afternoon.

Traveling Abroad Through Middle Eastern Style Ice Cream

Now you can make this special ice cream at home with only 3 base ingredients, and no ice cream maker required. Thin wafers make great ice cream sandwiches, but if they are not available near you, you can use any kind of cookie or biscuit you prefer. This recipe is smooth and creamy with exotic flavors that allow you to travel across the world though your palate without having to fly anywhere.

There are 2 optional ingredients that can take your ice cream to another level.  One is Gum Arabic and the other is saffron. You can now find Gum Arabic online in powder form, which is a type of plant-derived fiber. Gum Arabic is comparable to an edible “glue,” a natural thickening agent and binder that helps hold ingredients together. Using just a dash of saffron gives the ice cream a unique flavor–unlike anything you would find in an ice cream store.

Bostani Sonnati

Traveling Abroad Through Middle Eastern Style Ice Cream


1 cup heavy cream (NOT half and half)

1 can condensed milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 – 2 tsp rose water

Dash of saffron (optional)

1 tsp Arabic gum (optional)

Wafer thins, and crushed pistachios or freeze dried strawberries for rolling the sandwiches

Whip the heavy cream, vanilla, and optional Arabic gum and saffron until stiff peaks form. Fold in the condensed milk gently until well incorporated. Freeze for 4 hours. To make sandwiches, put about 1/3 cup ice cream between 2 wafers, roll into the crushed pistachios or strawberries, and freeze for another hour or two. Eat immediately after serving.

Blanche Shaheen is a journalist, host of the YouTube cooking show called Feast in the Middle East and cookbook author. For more authentic and classical Middle Eastern recipes, you can now purchase her brand new cookbook: “Feast in the Middle East, A Personal  Journey of Family and Cuisine” by clicking HERE: 

To  check out her cooking video tutorials and other recipes follow Blanche on



Instagram: @BlancheMedia

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