What is Considered Middle Eastern Food?

Middle Eastern cuisine is a delicious and diverse array of flavors and

Quick Answer:
Middle Eastern food is a diverse and flavorful cuisine that includes a wide range of dishes from countries such as Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. It is characterized by the use of fresh herbs and spices, such as cumin, coriander, sumac, and za’atar, as well as grains such as wheat, barley, and bulgur. Some common Middle Eastern dishes include hummus, falafel, pita bread, kebabs, tabbouleh, and baklava. Middle Eastern food is often Mediterranean and Levantine-inspired and can be influenced by the region’s history, culture, and geography.

Defining Middle Eastern Cuisine

Historical and Cultural Influences

  • Ancient civilizations such as the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Persians had a significant impact on Middle Eastern cuisine, as their agricultural practices and domestication of plants and animals formed the basis for the region’s food culture.
  • Trade routes and migrations throughout history have also played a crucial role in shaping Middle Eastern cuisine, as people moved and shared their culinary traditions, ingredients, and cooking techniques.
  • Regional diversity within the Middle East is another important factor in defining the cuisine, as different countries and regions have their own unique culinary traditions and specialties, such as the use of different spices, herbs, and cooking methods.
  • The Islamic religion and its practices, such as Ramadan and the emphasis on halal food, have also influenced Middle Eastern cuisine, with certain dishes and ingredients being more commonly consumed during certain times of the year or in certain contexts.

Common Ingredients and Techniques

  • Pita bread: Pita bread is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, often served with meals as a side dish or used to wrap around other foods. It is made from wheat flour and yeast, and is usually round and soft.
  • Hummus: Hummus is a popular dip made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. It is often served with pita bread or vegetables, and can also be used as a spread on sandwiches or wraps.
  • Falafel: Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas or fava beans, herbs, and spices. It is a popular street food in the Middle East and is often served in pita bread with lettuce, tomato, and pickles.
  • Shawarma: Shawarma is a Middle Eastern street food that consists of thinly sliced meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie. It is usually served in a pita bread with vegetables and sauces, and is a popular breakfast or snack food.
  • Tabbouleh: Tabbouleh is a salad made from bulgur wheat, parsley, tomatoes, and onions. It is often served as a side dish or as a topping for falafel or shawarma. Other common ingredients in Middle Eastern cuisine include olives, yogurt, lentils, and cucumbers. Common cooking techniques include grilling, baking, and stuffing.

Popular Middle Eastern Dishes

Key takeaway: Middle Eastern cuisine is defined by its historical and cultural influences, including ancient civilizations, trade routes, regional diversity, and the Islamic religion. Common ingredients and techniques include pita bread, hummus, falafel, shawarma, and tabbouleh, among others. Popular dishes include mezze, shawarma, kebabs, grilled meats, and couscous. Regional variations include Moroccan tagines, Egyptian koshary, Tunisian brik, Persian and Iranian cuisine, and Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine.

Mezze

Mezze is a collective term used to describe a variety of small dishes that are typically served at the beginning of a meal in Middle Eastern cuisine. These dishes are meant to be shared among guests and are often accompanied by pita bread or other types of flatbread. Mezze dishes can range from dips, such as hummus and baba ghanoush, to roasted vegetables, pickled vegetables, and meat dishes.

Some of the most popular mezze dishes include:

  • Mutabbal (roasted eggplant): Mutabbal is a dish made by roasting eggplants and then mashing them with garlic, lemon juice, and tahini. It is often served with pita bread and can be enjoyed as a dip or spread.
  • Baba ghanoush: Baba ghanoush is a popular dip made from roasted eggplant, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. It is often served with pita bread and can be enjoyed as a starter or as a main meal.
  • Falafel: Falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans, or a combination of both. It is often served as a sandwich or as part of a mezze platter.
  • Stuffed grape leaves: Stuffed grape leaves, also known as dolmas, are a popular mezze dish made by stuffing grape leaves with a mixture of rice, meat, and herbs. They are often served with a yogurt sauce.
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Main Courses

  • Shwarma
    • Shwarma is a popular Middle Eastern dish that originated in Turkey and is now widely enjoyed throughout the region.
    • It typically consists of thinly sliced meats, such as chicken or lamb, that are marinated and cooked on a vertical rotisserie.
    • The meat is then wrapped in pita bread with a variety of toppings, including vegetables, herbs, and sauces.
    • Shwarma is often considered a staple street food in many Middle Eastern countries and is popular for its flavorful, tender meat and fresh, crispy toppings.
  • Kebabs
    • Kebabs are another well-known Middle Eastern dish that is popular throughout the region.
    • They are made by skewering various meats, such as lamb, beef, or chicken, and grilling them over an open flame.
    • The meat is often marinated in a mixture of spices and herbs before being grilled, which gives it a distinct flavor and aroma.
    • Kebabs are often served with a variety of sides, such as rice, vegetables, and sauces, and are commonly enjoyed as a main course or as a snack.
  • Grilled meats
    • Grilled meats are a popular choice for main courses in Middle Eastern cuisine.
    • Various cuts of meat, such as lamb chops, beef skewers, or shish kebabs, are grilled over an open flame or in a skillet.
    • The meat is often marinated in a mixture of spices and herbs before being grilled, which adds flavor and depth to the dish.
    • Grilled meats are often served with a variety of sides, such as rice, vegetables, and sauces, and are commonly enjoyed as a main course or as a snack.
  • Couscous
    • Couscous is a popular North African dish that is also commonly enjoyed in Middle Eastern cuisine.
    • It is made from small, steamed balls of semolina wheat that are traditionally served with a variety of stews and braised meats.
    • Couscous is often seasoned with a variety of spices and herbs, such as cumin, coriander, and turmeric, which gives it a distinct flavor and aroma.
    • It is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed as a main course or as a side, and is often served with a variety of vegetables, meat, and sauces.

Sweets and Desserts

  • Baklava: Baklava is a rich, sweet pastry made with layers of phyllo dough and filled with nuts and honey or syrup. It is a popular dessert in many Middle Eastern countries and is often served after a meal or as a snack.
  • Halva: Halva is a sweet confection made from sesame seeds, sugar, and sometimes nuts. It is a popular dessert in many Middle Eastern countries and is often cut into small squares or rectangles and served as a snack or after-dinner treat.
  • Rice pudding: Rice pudding is a creamy dessert made with rice, milk, sugar, and sometimes spices. It is a popular dessert in many Middle Eastern countries and is often served as a sweet and comforting way to end a meal.
  • Qatayef (sweet pancakes): Qatayef is a sweet pancake made from a thin batter of flour, sugar, and eggs, and filled with sweetened cheese or nuts. It is a popular dessert in many Middle Eastern countries and is often served during Ramadan or other special occasions.

Regional Variations in Middle Eastern Cuisine

North African Influences

Moroccan Tagines

Moroccan cuisine is known for its use of spices and aromatic herbs, and tagines are a perfect example of this. A tagine is a slow-cooked stew that is traditionally made in a tagine pot, which is a distinctive cone-shaped pot with a lid. The dish is typically made with meat or poultry, along with a variety of vegetables, spices, and herbs, such as saffron, cumin, and coriander. The meat is slow-cooked in the tagine pot, allowing the flavors to meld together and the meat to become tender and flavorful.

Egyptian Koshary

Egyptian cuisine is influenced by both Middle Eastern and African flavors, and koshary is a popular dish that reflects this. Koshary is a vegetarian meal made with a mixture of lentils, rice, and macaroni, which is seasoned with a blend of spices such as cumin, coriander, and chili powder. The dish is often garnished with a tangy tomato sauce and topped with a sprinkling of fried onions and garlic. It is typically served as a main meal, and is often accompanied by a side of pita bread.

Tunisian Brik

Tunisian cuisine is known for its use of spices and herbs, and brik is a popular street food that showcases this. Brik is a savory pastry made with phyllo dough that is filled with a variety of ingredients, such as eggs, tuna, onions, and parsley. The filling is seasoned with a blend of spices such as cumin, coriander, and paprika, and is often garnished with a sprinkling of grated cheese. The brik is then fried until crispy and golden brown, and is typically served with a side of hot sauce for dipping.

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Persian and Iranian Cuisine

Iranian cuisine is an integral part of Middle Eastern cuisine, with its unique blend of flavors and techniques. Iranian cuisine has a long history and is influenced by the country’s diverse geography, culture, and climate. Here are some of the key dishes that define Persian and Iranian cuisine:

Tandoori Dishes

Tandoori dishes are a staple of Iranian cuisine and are prepared in a clay oven called a tandoor. The tandoor is heated to high temperatures, and the food is placed inside to cook. The tandoor gives the food a smoky flavor and a crispy texture. Some popular tandoori dishes include:

  • Tandoori chicken: chicken marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in the tandoor
  • Tandoori fish: fish marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in the tandoor
  • Tandoori bread: flatbread baked in the tandoor

Sabzi Polo (Herb Rice)

Sabzi polo is a popular Iranian dish that consists of rice cooked with herbs and occasionally accompanied by meat. The herbs used can vary, but common ones include parsley, cilantro, and fenugreek. The rice is seasoned with saffron, which gives it a distinct yellow color and a subtle sweet flavor. This dish is often served with a variety of stews and dishes on the side.

Khoresh (Stews)

Khoresh is a term used to describe a variety of stews in Iranian cuisine. These stews can be made with meat, poultry, or fish and are often accompanied by rice or bread. Some popular khoresh dishes include:

  • Khoresh Fesenjan: a sweet and sour stew made with chicken or duck, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts
  • Khoresh Ghasemi: a stew made with sour grapes, onions, and chicken or lamb
  • Khoresh Kalam Polo: a stew made with spiced lamb or beef, and served with rice flavored with saffron and turmeric

These are just a few examples of the diverse and delicious dishes that make up Persian and Iranian cuisine. Whether you’re a fan of bold, smoky flavors or subtle, sweet flavors, there’s something for everyone in this rich culinary tradition.

Mediterranean and Levantine Cuisine

Mediterranean and Levantine cuisine, which encompasses the countries of the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant, is known for its rich and diverse culinary traditions. Some of the most well-known dishes in this region include Israeli falafel, Lebanese shawarma, and Greek kebabs.

Israeli falafel, a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, is a popular street food throughout Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is often served in pita bread with salad and Israeli pickles, making it a filling and flavorful meal.

Lebanese shawarma, a meat dish that is roasted on a vertical spit, is also popular in the region. The meat is usually lamb or chicken, and it is served with pita bread, vegetables, and a variety of sauces. Shawarma is also a popular street food in many parts of the Middle East.

Greek kebabs, which are skewered meats that are grilled or broiled, are another popular dish in the Mediterranean and Levantine region. There are many different types of kebabs, including lamb, beef, and chicken, and they are often served with pita bread, vegetables, and a variety of sauces.

Overall, the cuisine of the Mediterranean and Levant is characterized by its use of fresh, flavorful ingredients, and its emphasis on simplicity and simplicity. The dishes in this region are often prepared using simple ingredients and techniques, but they are packed with flavor and are incredibly satisfying.

Popular Middle Eastern Beverages

Non-Alcoholic

  • Turkish coffee is a traditional beverage that is made by brewing finely ground coffee beans in water and then adding sugar to taste. It is known for its strong flavor and aroma, and is often served in small cups.
  • Cardamom-flavored coffee is a popular variation of Turkish coffee that is infused with the flavor of cardamom, a spice commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. This beverage is known for its unique flavor and is often enjoyed after a meal.
  • Tea is a common non-alcoholic beverage in the Middle East, and is consumed in a variety of forms. Green tea, black tea, and herbal tea are all popular options, and are often served in traditional teapots with sugar and mint.
  • Ayran is a yogurt-based drink that is popular in the Middle East. It is made by blending yogurt with water and sometimes a squeeze of lemon juice, and is known for its cooling and refreshing properties. Ayran is often served alongside meals, and is a popular choice during the hot summer months.
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Alcoholic

In Middle Eastern cuisine, alcoholic beverages play a significant role in social gatherings and celebrations. These beverages are often made from local ingredients and have unique flavors that reflect the region’s rich history and culture.

  • Arak: A popular anise-flavored spirit that is made in the Levant region, including Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Arak is typically served with meals as an aperitif or digestif, and it is also used as a base for mixed drinks such as the “Arak Ramat al-Nabi,” which combines Arak with pomegranate juice and lemonade.
  • Raki: A Turkish grape spirit that is popular throughout the Middle East, especially in the Aegean region. Raki is made by distilling grapes and has a strong, anise-flavored taste. It is often served as an aperitif or after-dinner drink, and it is also used as a base for mixed drinks such as the “Raki Sour,” which combines Raki with lemon juice and simple syrup.
  • Tara: A date liquor that is made by fermenting dates and has a sweet, caramel-like flavor. Tara is popular in Iran and is often served as an after-dinner drink or as a digestif. It is also used as a base for mixed drinks such as the “Tara Fizz,” which combines Tara with soda water and lime juice.
  • St. John’s wort wine: A red wine that is made from the St. John’s wort plant, which is native to the Mediterranean region. St. John’s wort wine has a tart, fruity flavor and is often served as an aperitif or with meals. It is also used as a base for mixed drinks such as the “St. John’s Wort Spritzer,” which combines St. John’s wort wine with soda water and lemon juice.

FAQs

1. What is considered Middle Eastern food?

Middle Eastern food refers to the traditional cuisine of the Middle East, which includes countries such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and many others. Middle Eastern cuisine is known for its rich flavors, bold spices, and diverse ingredients. It is heavily influenced by the region’s history, culture, and geography, and includes a wide variety of dishes and flavors.

2. What are some common ingredients used in Middle Eastern cuisine?

Some common ingredients used in Middle Eastern cuisine include:
* Wheat-based products such as pita bread, flatbreads, and bulgur wheat
* Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils, and fava beans
* Vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplant, and cucumbers
* Herbs and spices such as parsley, mint, cumin, coriander, and sumac
* Dairy products such as yogurt and feta cheese
* Fruits such as pomegranates, dates, and figs

3. What are some popular Middle Eastern dishes?

Some popular Middle Eastern dishes include:
* Hummus: a dip made from mashed chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic
* Pita bread: a round, thin bread made from wheat and used to scoop up food
* Shawarma: a wrap made from marinated and roasted meat, typically served with vegetables and sauce
* Falafel: a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas or fava beans
* Kebabs: skewers of marinated and grilled meat, typically served with rice and vegetables
* Tabbouleh: a salad made from bulgur wheat, tomatoes, parsley, and mint
* Baba ganoush: a dip made from roasted eggplant, tahini, and lemon juice

4. What is the difference between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine?

While there is some overlap between Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine, there are also some key differences. Middle Eastern cuisine is typically more focused on the use of bold spices and herbs, while Mediterranean cuisine tends to be more focused on fresh vegetables and olive oil. Additionally, Middle Eastern cuisine often includes dishes made from legumes and dairy products, while Mediterranean cuisine tends to be more meat-centric.

5. How can I try Middle Eastern food?

There are many Middle Eastern restaurants and markets where you can try traditional dishes. You can also try making Middle Eastern dishes at home using recipes from books or online. Some popular Middle Eastern ingredients, such as hummus and pita bread, are also widely available in most grocery stores.


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