This sweet is really sweet so not too be indulged in too often. Though, frankly, give me a box of delicious loukoumi and I could happily eat it in a day. If, as it is rumoured, it was invented for the grumbling wives of the Sultan’s harem, then put me in that harem and I won’t grumble a bit. It’s a favourite sweet all over the Middle East and Greece and, of course, travels the world with every visitor to their shores. I always bring home a few boxes as presents for the family. I really have to use willpower with my own box, especially as I’m a diabetic. However, the odd chunk now and then is fine. (Diabetes Type two is about measure, taking care and a balanced diet. An odd bit of sugar now and then isn’t Instant Death.)
The sweet was said to be originally from Turkey, hence Turkish Delight was the general name here in the UK. The Turks call it Lukum and the Greek form is Loukoumi, both of which names sound so delicious and oriental. In fact it’s supposedly derived from the Arabic rahat-al-lukum which means ‘contentment of the throat’.
Too true, delicious contentment!
It’s still called Rahat Lukum in some areas of Greece. There are a lot of Turkish recipes, apparently more than Greek ones, which is no surprise, but the Greeks have adapted the recipes to their own tastes over the years. Basically the same ingredients are used for the jelly – cornflour, water, sugar boiled up – but all sorts of delicious additions can be made; mastic, ouzo, pistachios, almonds, mixed nuts, lemon and the favourite for most people, rose flavoured which looks delicious and has that lovely colour and scent of roses. All these delightful cubes are dusted with icing. They cling to your mouth and renders speech well nigh impossible. That’s contentment of the throat all right.
In Greece it is served to visitors on a little tray with a glass of water, the traditional Greek welcome to their home. Greeks can’t bear to have a visitor leave without offering something tasty or sugary. And you do need the water…loukoumi is so clingy and sweet!
A favourite when I was young was gliko souzouki or ‘sweet sausage’ – which is another form of loukoumi. Nuts were strung together on a string and constantly dipped into a jelly called moustalevria made from grape juices, mixed with a little thickening such as semolina till a sausage shape was formed. Then you cut off the amount you wanted. I used to haunt a Cypriot shop in Archway, London who sold this. The proprietors always laughed a lot when I came in and asked for a huge chunk. (Maybe my funny English accent and attempts at Greek didn’t help.)
Apparently Churchill, Picasso and Napoleon loved this stuff. So I’m in good company.