Try them only once, and you’ll be hooked for life…
Middle Eastern cuisine is one of the most varied, tantalizing, and excitable experiences you can have at any dinner table. It is, however, a broad category that covers an immense amount of dishes. From earthy spices to sticky sweetness, tangy fruits to flatbreads dripping in the finest olive oil, it really does have something for everyone.
This article could easily be 20 pages long. I think you should be trying as many different Middle Eastern dishes as you can. But that’s not what we’ve done here. Instead, you’ve got a far shortened list of foodie favorites from Middle Eastern cuisine.
Up there with the greatest (and most popular) of Middle Eastern dishes, Shawarma—an absolute must-try.
What is shawarma? It’s delicately spiced pieces of meat, usually chicken, lamb, or beef, that is charcoal grilled to perfection. Most shawarma is served with bread, salads, and sauce to your taste.
Want a cooling yogurt to extinguish some of the spice? You’ve got it. Want to turn up the heat? Chilies can be added to your heart’s desire. The beauty of shawarma is that you make it however you like. Read more to find more useful information.
Tempted to rustle up some of your own shawarma at home? It’s a surprisingly simple recipe to get a handle on. Chances are you already own the ingredients in your pantry.
The spice mix is a blend of dried cilantro, cumin, cardamom, paprika, chili, salt, and pepper. Add a bit of oil, lemon juice, and freshly minced garlic and you’re there!
The base of the cooling yogurt sauce is, as you’d expect, yogurt. Some people like to have it straight up, nothing added, and that’s fine. Maybe the meat marinade is enough for you. For true fans, however, you want to add a splash of lemon juice, a bit more garlic, and some cumin, and season with salt and pepper.
Vegetarian? Maybe Shawarma didn’t pique your interest. Step into the fray, the mighty falafel.
A culinary staple of the Middle East. Falafel is a ball of crushed chickpeas mixed with herbs and spices that are either fried or baked to deliver a crunchy crust. Much like shawarma, they’re served with a salad, cous cous or rice, bread, and a series of dipping sauces.
These balls might not look like much, but they are intensely satisfying and will leave you feeling full for hours to come.
Traditional recipes will keep the list of ingredients relatively slim, but the beauty of falafel is that you can easily add ingredients to take the recipe in a different direction. Fancy a sweeter hint? Try adding some fruit like dried apricots, or even nuts for depth of flavor.
You might say that this isn’t technically a dish, but more of a dip. I say that you could easily eat enough of this to have it qualify as the main ingredient for a dish.
Hummus is another chickpea-based dish that takes blends together with tahini, lemon, garlic, and some spices. This creates an irresistible dip perfect for bread and crudites. So popular that it’s often served as a base that other dishes are served on top of, especially stews.
Tahini isn’t always the easiest to find. It’s a paste made of ground sesame seeds. If you struggle to find it, some people have success with almond or cashew butter as alternatives.
There’s no reason to stick to pastries, bread, or cereal for breakfast once you’ve tried a Shakshuka breakfast.
Be warned, it is super easy to get completely obsessed with this as a way to start your day.
An earthy paprika and cumin-based sauce with peppers, tomatoes, and onions are fried together until thick and delectable, then in the same pan, eggs are cracked and gently cooked whole so that they almost poach in the sauce.
Topped with fresh herbs and crumbled cheese such as feta, these really are a morning work of art.
Just be wary of how big a pan you do this in. Once you start eating a shakshuka it is incredibly difficult to stop yourself. Before you know it you’ll have eaten 6 eggs and the sauce.
5. Batata Harra
If you’re a potato-loving soul (as I am) you’ll be a big fan of these spiced potatoes. Kept soft from boiling, or with added crispiness from roasting, batata harra is a herby, spicy delight.
It should be no surprise that the base of the flavor comes from garlic, lemon, and the usual suspects but the spice mix is slightly different. The Lebanese take on spices leans more toward turmeric (which gives them their unmistakable yellow tint) alongside the zingy, citrus flavor of coriander seeds.
Serve alongside any sauce-based or grilled dish, or devour by the bowl full by themselves.
These dishes scratch just the surface of Middle Eastern cuisine. Consider them something of a gateway to undeniable delicacies.
There is a whole world of food for you to consider trying and exploring. We’ve barely touched on the sumptuous stews such as Fesenjan, or unusual specialties such as Tahdig (a crispy rice dish). Use this list as your starting point, and then wander through the spiced streets to your heart’s content.
Every country in the Middle East adds its own unique spin to traditional dishes, what you find in one country will be very different from the neighboring ones.
Almost all dishes are served with generous helpings of flatbread. Make sure you have plenty to go around.
Don’t be afraid of garnishing, it can add color, beauty, and an extra layer of flavor.