Ghraybeh is a crumbly shortbread cookie made in different parts of the Middle East to enjoy during celebrations throughout the year and for sharing with family and friends during the holidays.
I can recall my Lebanese Christian friends making ghraybeh to share during Christmas time. On the Islamic Eid holidays, ghraybeh is included as part of an assortment of baked cookies and is usually the first I reach for to enjoy with a cup of tea. What’s special about these desserts is the communal involvement where different generations of a family would get together and prepare the baked goods throughout the day in time for the festivities.
This simple recipe has historical records that date all the way back to the 10th century, where the ghraybeh shortbread was included in one of the oldest Arab cookbooks called Kitab al-Tabih.1 Since then, variations of the originally almond-containing recipe have existed in different regions, such as in the Levant, the North African countries, Iran, and Kuwait.
These recipes take the basic form of the classic shortbread cookies and add nuts, spices, and flavorings such as pistachios, peanuts, orange blossom water, rose water, cardamom, and saffron. The added herbs in this recipe increase the vitamin and mineral content being consumed and bring a more dynamic flavor while enjoying the added health benefits.
How to Make Ghraybeh, a Middle Eastern Shortbread Cookie
This classic Lebanese-style shortbread cookie is so simple to make, it only takes flour, sugar, and butter as the base and the combination of herbs that makes it a real showstopper. This may be the most buttery, soft, melt-in-your-mouth herbal treat you’ve chanced upon, and what better way than to share in this delight at a holiday gathering paired with a hot herbal tea.
Ingredients you’ll need…
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (can substitute with almond or chickpea flour)
- ½ cup of icing sugar
- 1 cup butter (or shortening) at room temperature
- 1 tsp rose water
- 6 tbsp dried rose petals (makes approximately 1 tbsp powdered)
- ½ tsp powdered cardamom
- 3 tbsp dried nettle leaf (makes approximately ½ tbsp powdered)
- 3 tbsp dried gotu kola leaf (makes approximately ½ tbsp powdered)
- Pistachios and dried rose petals for toppings
- Mix together the butter and icing sugar with a blender until well combined. Divide the mixture in half in order to make two batches of the ghraybeh.
- Add 1 cup of flour to one bowl and 1 cup of flour to another bowl.
- Powder all of the herbs and sift in the rose petals, cardamom, and rose water into one bowl of flour, and sift the nettle and gotu kola leaves into the other bowl of flour. Separately mix the contents of each bowl.
- Incorporate the butter-icing sugar mixture into the two bowls of flour in equal portions and mix each until you get a smooth, play-dough consistency and shape into a ball.
- Cover the ball of shortbread with plastic wrap or a lid and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.
- Take out the shortbread dough, and have some butter on hand to cover your hands in to make the process easier. Roll out each batch to 12 (bite-sized) balls for a total of 24.
- Next, take each ball and roll it out to a cylinder shape approximately 5 inches in length and curve the ends to stack on each other to form a rounded teardrop shape and seal with a pistachio or rose petal topping. Another traditional way to prepare this ghraybeh is to flatten the ball of shortbread dough with your thumb and add a topping to the center to create thumbprint cookies.
- Bake the shortbread cookies on a sheet of parchment paper lining a baking sheet at oven temperature 350°F for 8-10 minutes and allow to cool for up to 10 minutes on a separate rack. You can enjoy the ghraybeh alone or with a side of rose petal honey. They also make for the perfect tea time treat!
- Note: Cookies can be stored on the counter in a tupperware, which is what I do, but refrigerating would help them last longer if they aren’t being eaten within 3 days.
Yield: 24 servings
The Benefits of Gotu Kola
Gotu Kola, Centella asiatica, is best known as a brain tonic, acting as a cognitive enhancer and aiding memory retention. It is also an adaptogen that can ease the body out of increased cortisol (stress hormone) release and reduce feelings of mental fatigue. As a vascular tonic, this herb can strengthen the integrity of blood vessels and improve microcirculation, specifically in the brain. The whole herb has culinary relevance in Sri Lanka where it is eaten as a salad green.
The Benefits of Nettle
Nettle, Urtica dioica, has such a plethora of micronutrients, it is well worth sprinkling it into anything and everything. Nettle contains Vitamins A and C, zinc, iron, potassium, and amino acids. It can reduce systemic inflammation in the body while providing nourishment to the tissues, which in turn strengthens areas with injuries needing healing.
The Benefits of Rose
Rose, Rosa spp., is a nervous system tonic that puts the body in a calm state and eases feelings of anxiety and depression. It also works dually as a heart tonic that is able to support with grief and boundaries when that extra protection is needed. As an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic, rose may be able to relieve pains experienced with arthritis, mouth lesions, and menstrual cramps.
The Benefits of Cardamom
Cardamom, Eletteria cardamomum, is an herb you may find in a typical spice cabinet that is uniquely aromatic and tasty and does a lot for the digestive tract. It is a carminative, stimulating digestion and reducing gas and spasms in the stomach.
Here are some frequently asked questions about ghraybeh…
Can the ghraybeh be frozen?
Yes, it can keep well frozen in a tightly sealed container for up to 1 month and defrosted at room temperature.
What can be done if the dough is too sticky or too dry, breaking apart?
If the cookie dough is too sticky, you can try sprinkling in a bit more flour. If the dough is breaking apart with an overly crumbly texture, scoop up some butter in your hands to roll the stiff dough until it has softened.
Can I use another form of sugar instead of icing sugar?
While you surely can use a more coarse sugar or less fine powdered sugar, the icing sugar is what creates the unique optimal texture for the ghraybeh where it has a crumbly, softer texture and is less grainy.
Can I substitute the all-purpose flour with a gluten-free flour?
You certainly can, as other traditional forms of ghraybeh from different countries have used almond flour, chickpea flour, and sorghum flour as a substitute. Though it is not gluten-free, another common all-purpose flour substitute is semolina.
Can I use other herbs I have on hand?
You can try experimenting with other herbs to include in this recipe, such as saffron, lemon balm, lavender, and chamomile, as long as the herbs can be easily powdered in order to maintain the texture of these delicious cookies.