A lovely introduction to the tastes and customs of the region’s desserts.

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Books for Cooks

We recommend: “Sweet Middle East” by Anissa Helou (Chronicle Books, $24.95.)

What’s special: By profession, Helou is a culinary researcher and cooking instructor as well as a tour guide. All those professional skills are at play in the latest of her well-received Middle Eastern cookbooks, a 64-recipe journey from Turkish fritters to a Syrian nut cake to the saffron-caramel wafers Helou encountered at an Iranian hotel for sweetening tea.

Helou, born and raised in Lebanon, provides a lovely introduction to the tastes and customs of the region’s desserts, including a list of ingredient sources. Given present-day conflicts and politics, her descriptions of exquisite flavors and welcoming kitchens feel particularly valuable.

Turkish Saffron Rice Pudding

Makes 6 servings

½ teaspoon saffron threads

2 tablespoons rose water

Heaping ½ cup Calasparra rice or other short-grain rice

¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 tablespoon slivered almonds

1 tablespoon slivered or chopped pistachios, plus more for garnish

Pomegranate seeds for garnish (optional)

1. Put the saffron threads to soak in the rose water.

2. Rinse the rice under cold water to get rid of some of the starch and put in a saucepan. Add 5 cups water and place over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Add the sugar. Turn the heat to low and let simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the rice has expanded and is very soft.

3. Add the nuts, saffron — rose water mixture and another ¼ cup water. Simmer for another 5 minutes. The rice should be like a thin porridge; it will thicken as it sits. Divide equally among six individual bowls or pour into one large serving bowl. Let cool to serve at room temperature, garnished with more pistachios and pomegranate seeds, if desired.