Middle Eastern cuisine is diverse, delicious, and healthy, with a whole lot of herbs and spices adding flavor to the dishes. Most of them are vegetarian like hummus, foul meddamas, and falafel, made with various vegetables like eggplants and tomatoes, chickpeas, lentils, and beans. The meat dishes usually have chicken, lamb, or beef and are mainly skewered and grilled. Cheeses and yogurt also form a part of the cuisine and are enjoyed as appetizers or side dishes. The variety in flavors, textures, and colors make Middle Eastern cuisine popular worldwide.
Hummusis a lip-smacking classic Middle Eastern dish having mashed chickpea as its main ingredient. Flavorings of garlic, lemon juice, and tahini (a sesame seed paste) along with a drizzle of olive oil also go into it, giving it a garlicky, tangy, and savory taste. Its smooth and creamy texture makes hummus an excellent accompaniment with pita bread, vegetables, or fried meat. One can also relish it as a spread in sandwiches or burgers.
Manakeesh is the Arabic version of pizza made with a flat, round bread topped with cheese, meat, or za’atar, along with a combination of herbs and sesame seed. It has a flavorful taste with a soft interior and crispy outer crust. Manakeesh is usually eaten for breakfast or lunch accompanied by fresh vegetables, cheese, and a hot cup of Arabian tea.
Halloumi, a Ramadan delicacy, is an authentic Middle Eastern cheese made with goat or sheep’s milk. Once grilled, it attains a soft and slightly chewy texture instead of completely melting down like other cheese. Adding seasonings like za’atar and olive oil gives the salty cheese a flavorful taste. It is best served with salad or can also be enjoyed as an appetizer with an extra sprinkle of olive oil.
Though originating in Egypt, foul meddamas is prevalent in the Middle East and is particularly a favorite Lebanese breakfast. It is a simple and easy-to-make stew comprising fava beans, chickpeas, and spices. Creamy and not overly spicy, it provides the right balance of flavors and textures. It is best enjoyed with pita bread, though one could even pair it with fresh veggies and lemon juice for a wholesome vegan meal.
An iconic Middle Eastern dish, falafel is made with a combination of chickpeas, herbs, and spices like cumin and coriander. A sprinkle of sesame seeds adds to its crunchiness and nuttiness. The mixture is shaped into balls or small patties and deep-fried. Hearty and protein-rich, they are a favorite among vegetarians besides being a hot item sold by street vendors all across the Middle East. A common way to enjoy falafels is to stuff them into a slice of pita bread and add salads and a drizzle of tahini. One can also relish them with sides like hummus, baba ghanoush, and fresh vegetables.
A famous yet simple traditional Middle Eastern salad, Tabouleh includes finely chopped vegetables like cucumber and tomatoes, fresh parsley, and bulgar. A drizzle of olive oil and citrusy lime juice also goes on top of it for its dressing. Its refreshing flavors make it an ideal accompaniment with grilled Arabian kebabs or any other meat dish.
Moutabal or baba ghanoush is a delectable eggplant dip prepared with a combination of tahini, roasted eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, and seasonings like salt and pepper, and olive oil. The taste is a blend of garlicky, tangy, nutty, and smoky flavors. The soft and creamy textures make it an ideal dip for vegetables and pita bread.
Fattoush is a refreshing summertime salad having a blend of fresh herbs, tomatoes, radishes, and cucumber together with bits of leftover crunchy pita bread. If you do not have leftover pita, you can toast, fry, and season it at home. All the ingredients are then tossed in a lemon vinaigrette made from lemon, olive oil, and garlic. It is then sprinkled with a traditional tart spice called sumac. Crunchy and citrusy, fattoush is a great side dish on the Arabian mezze table.
Shanklish is the Middle Eastern version of blue cheese prepared from cow or sheep’s milk. It is a part of the mezze platter, mainly served in Lebanese and Syrian households and restaurants by mashing it and adding in a mixture of diced tomato, parsley, and onions. Its flavor and texture depend on the age of the cheese. The more aged the sanklish is, the more pungent and less creamy it will be.
Shawarma is a delicious traditional dish prepared from pieces of marinated chicken, mutton, lamb, or beef, stacked together in large quantities on a vertical rotating spit. As it continues turning slowly, a heat source keeps cooking the meat. Once done, shavings are cut starting from the outer layer, cooked first. Tender and juicy, the meat tastes heavenly with all the spices like cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and paprika adding to the flavors. The most common way to relish it is to place them in a pita along with some pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, and garlic sauce.
Shish tawook is a traditional skewered chicken dish that is mainly a favorite in Lebanon. Chicken pieces are marinated with spices like cinnamon and paprika, yogurt, lemon juice, and garlic. Once placed in the skewers, it is grilled to completely let the meat soak in the flavors and become incredibly tender. The lemony and garlicky chicken dish is best served with rice and grilled vegetables or stuffed inside pita bread.
Dolma is a Middle Eastern dish, though it has a Turkish name that translates to filling. It consists of neatly rolled grape or cabbage leaves with a stuffing of a combination of either rice and meat or rice and vegetables. The rolls are often cooked in tomato gravy to make it tangy and juicier. However, various preparation and stuffing methods exist all over the Middle East. The tender insides melt in your mouth quickly, leaving slightly sweet, tangy, and earthy flavors behind to relish.
This delectable meat dish has several versions worldwide. Koftas in the Middle East are mainly a combination of ground lamb or beef, onion, garlic, and spices like cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and pepper. They can be shaped in round balls, flat patties, or cylindrical forms and grilled, fried, or baked. Juicy and flavorful, they are best enjoyed with a garlicky yogurt dip or wrapped in pita bread along with salad and sauces.
Quwarmah Al Dajaj is a rich and aromatic Kuwaiti curried chicken dish with traditional spices like ginger, garlic, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika. Lemon rind and tomato sauce also go in the gravy preparation to give it a touch of tanginess. It is served hot with rice and salad.
Mansaf is a Middle Eastern lamb dish that is also considered the nationaldish of Jordan. The tender and well-seasoned pieces of meat are cooked in fermented goat or sheep yogurt sauce called jameed. It is grandly served in a large platter by spreading fragrant rice all over a thin flatbread that forms the base and finally topping it with lamb meat. Chopped parsley and pine nuts are sprinkled to enrich it further. Its varied flavors and textures make it a perfect dish for get-togethers and special occasions.
Kebab karaz, also known as cherry kebab, is a Syrian dish that has a blend of sweet, sour, and savory flavors. The kebab, prepared from a mixture of ground lamb meat, spices, chopped parsley, and onion, is cooked in a tart cherry sauce. The juicy kebab karaz can be served hot by sprinkling parsley and pine nuts.
Masgouf is the national dish of Iraq in which freshwater carp is slowly grilled aftersplitting it into almost two parts, seasoning, and smothering it with tomato sauce. It acquires a smoky flavor that tastes appetizing when served with lemon and pickles.
Shorbet Adas or lentil soup is one of the popular dishes of Lebanon, also enjoyed as a comfort food all across the Middle East. It is easy to prepare and has the goodness of vegetables like onions, carrots, and potatoes. Simple spices like cumin and turmeric provide the right balance in flavors. A bowl of warm shorbet adas during iftar is indeed satisfying.
If craving for a healthy yet tasty breakfast, then shakshouka is your answer. It is a simple egg dish made with a combination of tomatoes, herbs, and spices, topped with poached eggs. The flavorful and satisfying dish, originating in North Africa, is quite popular in the Middle East. To enjoy a wholesome meal, you can dip slices of bread into it as well.
Mejadra is a hearty pilaf cuisine with a combination of rice and lentils and spices, especially cumin. Fried onions are scattered on the top to provide the perfect crunch while relishing the soft, aromatic spiced rice. One can enjoy it with sides like grilled fish or vegetables.
Sabich is a tastythe main course platter and well-known street food in other Middle Eastern countries prepared with pita bread. It contains a stuffing of fried vegetables, and a drizzle of tahini and amba, a spicy mango sauce. The blend of all the flavors bursting inside the mouth on the first bite itself is indeed heavenly.
These baked pastries have delicious filliings that differ in various Middle Eastern countries. It is called böreks in Turkey, where a combination of spinach and cheese mixture goes inside the dough. In Israel, it is known by the name of bourekas, which mainly has a stuffing of cheese or sometimes even meat. They are best served at room temperature with tahini sauce and pickles.
This delectable and wholesome stew is a part of Iranian cuisine but enjoyed all across the Middle East. It is made with chicken and spices like cinnamon, turmeric, and nutmeg and enriched with ground walnuts and pomegranate. The vegetarian version has chickpeas in it instead of chicken. Fesenjoon is rich, tangy, and earthy with thick, creamy textures that make a hearty meal when served with steamed rice and yogurt.
Hindbeh is a Lebanese cuisine whose name translates into dandelion. Its leaves are boiled and then fried in olive oil with onion and garlic. The sweetness of caramelized onions and garlicky flavors balance out the bitterness of the dandelion leaves. It is mainly served as a part of a mezze by squeezing lemon on top and enjoyed with flatbread and chickpeas.
Kashk-e Bademjan is a well-known dish in Iran comprising two primary ingredients, bademjan or aubergine and kashk or dried buttermilk. The flavors of the savory aubergine blend well with the creamy and slightly sour kashk, creating a perfect appetizer or dip for fresh, warm bread.
Kushari , also known by the name of koshari, is the national dish of Egypt. Its origin is old enough, dating back to the 19th century. As the country faced an economic crisis during that time, this dish was prepared by combining the leftovers to create a hearty meal. It includes rice, pasta, chickpeas, lentils, topped off with a spicy tomato sauce and crispy fried onions. Today, the diverse flavors and textures have made it a favorite among many.
Mandi is a traditional Arabic dish originating in the Hadhramaut region of Yemen, which includes a combination of tandoor-cooked meat, rice, and spices like cumin and coriander. The tender meat is usually lamb, chicken, or beef, attaining a smoky flavor. It is served with flavorful rice prepared with cardamom, cumin, turmeric, and cloves and sometimes enriched with nuts and sultanas. The sumptuous meal is mainly served during special occasions like weddings or religious celebrations.
Maqluba is a Middle Eastern dish consisting of lamb or chicken meat, vegetables like aubergine, cauliflower, and potato, along with long grain basmati rice. The meat and vegetables are placed beneath the rice in a pot and cooked on low flame to allow the flavors to blend slowly. Just like its name, which means inverted, the pot is turned upside down on a serving dish to create attractive layers. An ideal way to enjoy it is by teaming it with yogurt and salads.
Shish Barak are delectable dumplings stuffed with flavorful minced meat. They are shaped like tortellini and slowly cooked in a yogurt sauce flavored with garlic and dried mint. The savory flavors of the meat filling go perfectly well with the sour, garlicky, creamy sauce.
These are some of the tastiest and most comforting food that you could try. With many vegetables going into them, they are also some of the best options for a healthy and wholesome meal.
Best Middle Eastern Vegan Foods: Foul Medammas, Hummus, Moutabal
Best Middle Eastern Street Foods: Sabich, Falafel, Tabouleh
Best Traditional Middle Eastern Foods: Shawarma, Tabouleh, Hummus
Best Middle Eastern Side Dishes: Tabouleh,Hummus, Fattoush
Best Middle Eastern Rice Dishes: Mandi, Kushari, Maqluba
Best Middle Eastern Breakfast Foods: Foul Medammas, Shakshouka, Manakeesh
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