Middle East and North Africa: Cuisine and Recipes
The cuisine of the Middle East in general falls under the category of “Mediterranean” cuisine, that heart-healthy combination of olive oil, fresh vegetables and fruit, cheese and moderate amounts of fish and poultry.
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Many of the dishes of the Middle East — tabouli, falafel, pita, hummus, baba ghanoush — have become popular beyond the region, especially in Europe, North America, Australia and parts of South America.
Cuisines of the Middle East and North Africa
Egyptian cuisine goes back 5000 years to the time of the pharaohs. The pyramid builders survived on a diet of onions, garlic, coarse bread and beer. Beer is now out of the picture, but those other basic ingredients, supplemented by tomatoes, okra, eggplant, favas, lentils, pasta and rice, still form the foundation of Egyptian food today. Meat has always been spare for Egyptians, given the small sliver of grazable land either side of the Nile. But dairy cattle provide a variety of farmer-style cheeses, and dishes using domesticated pigeon are favorites. Read more »
The culinary traditions of Iran reach back to the time of the ancient Greeks, when Persia was the most powerful civilization in the world. Through time, Persian cuisine has grown and influenced the culinary traditions of the Middle East, Central Asia and India. Persian cooking is renowned for its elaborate rice dishes, nourishing soups and hearty stews. Iranians delicately flavor their food with herbs, spices and dried fruits. A variety of naan-like breads supplement rice. Pomegranates and dates provide a sweet finish to meals. Read more »
Jewish culinary traditions often date back to Biblical times. Yet while Jews as a people have endured for over 3000 years, the modern state of Israel is relatively young. That coupled with the instability of the Palestinian conflict, have made it difficult for a truly national Israeli cuisine to develop. Nevertheless, a steady influx of Jewish immigrants from around the world has made for an exotic mix of flavors on the Israeli table and in the street. Read more »
Lebanese cooking represents the heights of Middle Eastern cuisine. This is the Mediterranean diet at its best, with a heady mix of olive oil, whole grains, vegetables, beans and lean meats and fish. Many of the iconic Middle Eastern dishes -- falafel, shawarma, hummus, tabouli -- are basics of the table in this small country. Many meals are served as a variety of mezze, or little dishes. Lebanese sweets and pastries are famous around the world, followed up with a strong cup of coffee or bracing, anise-flavored arak. Read more »
The exotic flavors of North Africa reach their full expression in the cooking of Morocco. Moroccan cuisine is known for its flavorful stews, called tagines, that simmer in the bottom of a large, double-chambered pot. Their steam cooks and flavors the couscous pasta in the top compartment. The tagine is then served over the couscous. A wide variety of spices are mixed in varying proportions to give a personal touch to dishes. The best mixes, called ras el-hanout, can be bought custom made. Bstilla, a poultry pie in flaky pastry, is world famous. Most Moroccan meals finished with cup of excellent mint tea. Read more »
Palestinian cuisine shares many dishes in common with other countries in the region, including Lebanon and Syria to the north and Egypt to the southwest. Falafel, sfiha, tabouli, hummus and baba ghanoush are ubiquitous. Some of the dishes most popular with the Palestinian people include musakhan, maqluba and rice-stuffed chicken called djej mahshi. Read more »