Lokma or luqmat al-qadi, as some Arabs call it, is one of those desserts that are made across the Middle East. Most people’s interest is instantly piqued when they hear deep fried dough. The recipe dates back to at least the early medieval period and the 13th-century Abbasid Caliphate, where it is mentioned in several of the existent cookery books of the time, including Kitab al-Tabeekh where it is called luqam al-qadhi (plural of luqma).
What is lokma or luqmat al qadi?
Lokma (Turkish), also known as luqma (Arabic: لقمة), loukoumádes (Greek: λουκουμάδες), and other names in other languages, are pastries made of yeast leavened and deep fried dough, soaked in syrup or honey, sometimes coated with cinnamon or other ingredients.
Luqaimat – لقيمات- is a well-known dessert with the Arabs. The Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrian, and Jordanians call it luqmat al qadi – لقمة القاضي– and they make it in a completely different way than Gulf countries, although they all look the same.
Etymology of lokma or luqmat al qadi
Lokma means “mouthful” or “morsel”, from Arabic لقمة luqma (plural luqmāt). In Arabic, the word awameh translates to “to float” or a “lifebuoy”. This is due to the fact that when fried, the dough puffs up and floats on the surface of the oil. Luqmat al-qadi, literally translates as “judge’s mouthful”.
What is the origin of lokma or luqmat al qadi?
Every culture has their play on this straight forward, humble sweet dessert. The original version originates from Iraq, and was later made popular by the Turks (lokma), the Arabs (zalabyieh), but it also influenced similar recipes in Greece (loukoumades), France (beignet), North Africa and every country around the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The honeyed treat has proliferated throughout many cultures, with reference to it by famed historian Abd al-Latif al-Baghdadi as early as the 13th century. The voluminous cataloger of Egyptian culture called them “luqmat al-qadi”.
Clearly, luqmat al-qadi has mixed origins. It is considered to be the oldest recorded dessert in the world. In ancient Greece, these deep fried dough balls were served to the winners of the Greek Olympics.
The Greek poet Callimachus was the first to state that these deep fried dough balls were soaked in honey and then served to the winners as “honey tokens”.
Over the years, this same recipe spread out all over the ancient world. Local variations were prepared in Greece, Turkey, Egypt and other ancient states too.
What are the variations?
In the Arab Countries
Today, in the Gulf countries, luqaymat is sometimes spiced with cardamom or saffron. In the Levant, they are called awameh (عوامة) and in Egypt zalabya (زلابيا).
Lokma is a staple food for Turkic and Mongolian cuisines. It is served without any sweet syrup or honey. It was cooked by palace cooks in the Ottoman Empire for centuries and influenced by other countries cuisines of the former countries of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans, Middle East and the Caucasus.
In Turkey, it has a ceremonial meaning and is generally not consumed as an everyday dessert. Traditionally, forty days after someone passes away, close relatives and friends of the deceased cook lokma in large quantities and serve to neighbors and passersby.
People form queues to get a plate and recite a prayer for the soul of the deceased in return after eating the lokma. It is also sold by street vendors during festivals.
They are commonly spiced with cinnamon in a honey syrup and can be sprinkled lightly with powdered sugar. Lokum is called zvingoi (σφίνγοι) by the Greek Jews, who make them as Hanukkah treats. The term, from the Arabic for “sponge”, was likely originally the name of an older Byzantine pastry, and was later used by the Romaniotes as the name for lokma.
Variants of lokma around the world
Various other kinds of fried dough with syrup are found in the Mediterranean, the Middle East, and South Asia, from the Italian struffoli (the most similar in preparation to lokma) and zeppole to the Indian jalebi and gulab jamun.
How to make lokma
The best part of this dessert, other than the taste, is the fact that the ingredients are staples everyone has in their pantry, and you are therefore not required to buy any special ingredients.
The concept is simple, a yeast dough that is fried in oil and then dipped in a flavored syrup. The standard syrup is flavored with orange blossom water, rose water, or lemon, the usual suspects in Middle Eastern desserts.
Some recipes ask for yogurt, others for baking powder and milk. Gulf countries use flour, dry yeast, saffron, and cardamom only.
The deep fried dough balls are not sweet, therefore the sweet syrup must be poured on top of it or the dough balls soaked in it.
The exact appearance of the lokma varies. Some people prepare round dough balls while others may prepare doughnut shaped varieties that are cooked in the same way.
Whichever way you decide to shape your luqmat al-qadi, I am sure it will taste equally delicious.
This lokma recipe is validated by our expert in Iraqi cuisine Nawal Nasrallah. An award-winning researcher and food writer, Nawal is the author of the definitive cookbook on the Iraqi cuisine Delights from the Garden of Eden.
The luqmat el qadi, also called lokma in Turkish or loukoumádes in Greek, is a pastry made from batter fried and soaked in syrup or sometimes honey, famous in the Gulf countries, Egypt and the Levant countries.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour , sifted
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- ½ cup warm water (at 95 F / 36˚C)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- ¼ cup warm water
- 1 cup water
- 2½ cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons rose water
- A few saffron threads
- Mix the flour, yeast, sugar, and water.
- Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for 20 minutes.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the flour and cornstarch.
- Dig a well in the center and add the leaven.
- While kneading at low speed, gradually add water.
- After incorporating the water, add salt and knead at medium speed for 5 minutes.
- Cover the bowl with a cloth and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place for 1 hour.
- While the dough is rising, prepare the syrup.
- Mix sugar, water, lemon juice, rose water and saffron.
- Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes before turning off and let cool.
Heat a large volume of oil in a deep skillet to a temperature of 350 F (170°C).
- Punch the dough and then, using a teaspoon, previously dipped in oil, take a little piece of dough, form a ball and add to cooking oil.
- Fry the dough balls for a few minutes, stirring constantly with a skimmer or spoon, until golden brown.
Be sure to keep the temperature of the oil at 350 F (170°C).
- Soak the hot luqmat el qadi directly into the cold syrup.
- Allow to absorb and drain in a colander or on a wire rack if necessary.