Come take a delicious journey of the exotic Middle Eastern cuisine. From mezze, a large selection of small dishes, to the scrumptious desserts offered in every region, Middle Eastern food is a feast for all the senses. So pull up a cushion, break some flatbread, and get ready to taste the amazing flavors of the Middle East!
1. Exploring the History and Popularity of Middle Eastern Cuisine
Spice-filled Wonders: Middle Eastern cuisine is truly a feast for the senses. From sacks of cinnamon and cumin to asafetida and saffron, this cuisine is known for its vibrant, flavorful dishes. It’s no wonder that many of the dishes have become incredibly popular across the world.
An Ancient Cuisine: The origin of Middle Eastern cuisine dates back centuries. It has been heavily influenced by Arab, Persian, Turkish, and Mediterranean cultures and has been adapted over time. The flavors that developed from all these cultures have evolved to create a sophisticated and unique style of cooking.
A World of Mezze: If there is one key feature in Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s the mezze, a type of small dish. Think feta and tangy pickles, Lebanese mezze such as baba ganuj or hummus, creamy feta spinach dip, and zesty tabbouleh. Eating a mezze isn’t just about the food, but also about the larger experience of sharing these small dishes among a group.
Out of This World Dishes
- Shawarma: This thin cut lamb, beef, or chicken is marinated for hours in spices and slowly cooked. Wrapped in pita bread, it’s a popular street food across the Middle East.
- Kofta: These meatballs spiced with cumin, coriander, and allspice are often served with lamb, beef, or chicken.
- Kebabs: Small cubes of chicken, lamb, or beef spiced with herbs, pepper, and sometimes garlic, are cooked on a skewer over an open flame.
- Falafel: Deep fried balls of chickpeas are a delicious vegetarian favorite. This popular street food is traditionally served in pita bread with tahini sauce.
Sweet Syrups and Desserts: Finally, a lot of Middle Eastern desserts are just as popular as savory dishes. Baklava is a sweet pastry made with layers of filo pastry and chopped nuts. The dessert is soaked with sugary syrup and is often served with ice cream. Mamoul are another type of dessert popular in the region. This pastry is filled with walnuts, dates, or pistachios and is sweetened with syrup.
2. An Introduction to Mezze and its Classic Dishes
Classic Dishes: Mezze is a typical Middle Eastern meal composed of many savory dishes, perfect for sharing with friends and family. Famous mezze dishes include:
- Hummus: A creamy dip made from mashed chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, and spices.
- Fattoush: A refreshing salad of chopped vegetables, herbs, and crunchy toasted flatbread.
- Stuffed Grape Leaves: Vine leaves stuffed with a flavorful filling of rice, ground beef, and herbs — a staple in any mezze platter.
- Tabbouleh: A salad made of bulgur wheat, chopped tomatoes, parsley, mint, onion, and lemon juice.
- Shawarma: A popular dish of marinated lamb or beef grilled on a vertical spinning skewer.
These classic mezze dishes—along with an assortment of warm and cold appetizers such as falafel, olives, and cheese—are a fantastic way to explore Middle Eastern cuisine and experience the flavors of the region.
3. A Taste of Street Food from the Middle East
- Falafel – a crispy – fried ball of chickpeas, herbs and spices with a lemony vinegary sauce;
- Hummus – this sublime dip is made with soaked, pureed chickpeas blended with tahini paste, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and spices;
- Shawarma – thin, succulent slices of marinated beef, lamb, chicken, or turkey wrapping pita bread and filled with tomatoes, onion and garlic sauce;
Middle Eastern cuisine has a tantalizing variety of street foods. From aromatic falafel and hummus to the savory shawarma, this delicious fare has something to please every palate.
Falafel is the classic street food of the Middle East. Made of mashed chickpeas and herbs, it is shaped into small balls, fried until golden brown and served with a vinegary lemon sauce. Hummus is another popular street food. One of the most loved chickpea recipes in Middle Eastern cooking, it is wonderfully creamy and flavorful, perfectly paired with toasted pita.
Shawarma is a notable Middle Eastern street food favorite that can be enjoyed in many different forms. Thin slices of marinated beef, lamb, chicken and/or turkey are wrapped in pita bread and topped with tomatoes, onion and garlic sauce. It is delicious and filling.
No trip to the Middle East is complete without a selection of the local fare, and it makes for a delicious, and often underestimated, culinary journey. So next time you find yourself in the Middle East, be sure to sample some of this delicious street food.
4. Authentic Ingredients and Aromatic Spices of Middle Eastern Fare
Middle Eastern cuisine boasts of a blend of authentic ingredients and aromatic spices that make it a feast for the senses. From sumac to za’atar, and from saffron to cardamom, each Middle Eastern dish is unique in its taste and flavor. Here are some of the classic ingredients and spices that make Middle Eastern cuisine so special:
- Sumac: It is popularly used as a flavorful coating on many Middle Eastern dishes, such as kibbeh and falafel. Sumac adds a lemony flavor and tartness to these dishes that take them to a completely new level.
- Za’atar: This popular spice blend is made up of a blend of dried oregano, thyme, sumac, and sesame seeds. It’s an integral part of many classic Middle Eastern dishes, such as hummus, and can also be used to season salads and vegetables.
- Saffron: It is widely used in Middle Eastern cooking and is often found in many classic dishes. Saffron adds a slightly sweet, earthy flavor and a vibrant color to dishes such as couscous and rice.
- Cardamom: Used traditionally for its medicinal properties, cardamom is a popular spice used in Middle Eastern cooking. It adds a distinct flavor and aroma to dishes such as kebabs and stews.
These ingredients and spices are just a few of the many that make Middle Eastern cuisine so unique and flavorful. A visit to any Middle Eastern restaurant will reveal a veritable feast of mezze and much more.
5. The Eternal Appeal of the Rich and Savory Flavors of Middle Eastern Cuisine
The flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine have been beloved by many for centuries now due to their immense rich flavor complexity and their savory appeal. With dishes like Kebabs, Baba Ghanoush, Hummus, Falafel, and Tabbouleh, there is certainly no shortage of variety and adventure in regards to Middle Eastern meals. Indeed, one of the main staples of Middle Eastern cuisine is mezze–an array of small dishes served as an appetizer.
Mezze, derived from an Arabic term meaning ‘to taste’, is as much of a cultural experience as it is a tasty gastronomical delight. Common dishes served as part of mezze are:
- Muhammara: A spicy red pepper and walnut dip.
- Foul mudammas: A stew of fava beans, tomato, garlic, and lemon juice.
- Labne: Strained yogurt with olive oil and herbs.
- Stuffed grape leaves: Dill-seasoned rice wrapped inside grapevine leaves.
Most mezze dishes are quite light and are served cold or at room temperature. This is to balance out the heavier meat-based elements that usually come later in Middle Eastern meals. Meats like Lamb Kebabs are often accompanied by salads like Fattoush or a Pita sandwich. Pita breads are usually served with dips and sauces that enhance both their flavor and texture.
With the wide variety of small dishes that encompass Middle Eastern cuisine, there is no surprise as to why it has maintained its appeal through the ages. From exotic vegan options to juicy meat dishes, the flavors of the Middle East can be enjoyed by one and all.
6. Recommended Middle Eastern Dishes to Try at Home
The diverse flavors of Middle Eastern cultures represent a unique, savory cuisine. From bright and tangy mezze dishes, to slow-cooked stews and kabobs, here are some must-try Middle Eastern dishes to add to your home cooking.
- Hummus: This classic spread can be served with bread, chips, and vegetables, for a savory treat. Take it to the next level by adding roasted onions, fresh herbs, or even caramelized scallions.
- Tabbouleh: This light and fresh green salad is full of bright flavors like parsley and mint. It’s great on its own but can also be served as a side with fish, chicken, and other proteins.
- Fasolia: This hearty dish is full of flavor and texture, with smoked paprika, diced tomatoes, and a mix of beans typically used. It’s great served with rice or a crusty loaf of bread.
- Baba ganoush: Eggplant and smoky tahini come together for this creamy dip. Serve it up with warm pita bread or use it as a spread on sandwiches.
- Kibbeh: This Middle Eastern classic combines bulgur wheat and ground beef, and is shaped into patties or balls. It’s great for pan-frying and served with a yogurt and cucumber side-dish.
- Shish Kebab: This favorite is perfect for outdoor grilling. You can use any mix of vegetables you like, and serve it up with a side of steamed rice, or healthier quinoa instead.
The flavorful spices and ingredients of Middle Eastern dishes will tantalize your taste buds. Whether you’re looking for a savory side-dish or a hearty main course, these recommended dishes make the perfect addition to your mezze spread. If you have yet to experience the incredible flavors of Middle Eastern cuisine, you are truly missing out! Whether you’re a die-hard culinary enthusiast or just looking to explore your taste buds, it’s time to cast the whole world as your oyster, and let the mouth-watering flavors and aromas of Middle Eastern delicacies take you on a culinary adventure like no other!