From Morocco to Israel, Lebanon to Egypt, there are many flavors of the Middle East... and their aromas are captivating.
Middle Eastern dishes are seasoned with cardamom, coriander, cumin, thyme, marjoram and sumac. Sesame seeds are ground into a paste called tahini, which is the tasty ingredient in favorites such as hummus, baba ghanoush and the rich sweet called halvah. Bulgur is a staple grain and is a component of tabbouleh salad. Chickpeas, rice and lentils also form the base of many dishes. Garlic and onions are important ingredients in Middle Eastern cuisine, as are eggplant, okra, lemon, carrots, cauliflower, green beans and yogurt. Lamb is the preferred protein and, whether stewed, roasted, pressed, ground or skewered, it rules the menu.
Know Your Menu
Many of these dishes have found their way into the American mainstream, where they've remained popular for decades:
Pita: A round, flat bread that can be split to enclose ingredients, like a sandwich, or torn into pieces and used for scooping up food.
Baba ghanoush: Eggplant grilled over charcoal and blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and pureed garlic. It is offered as an appetizer with pita bread for dipping.
Hummus: Pureed chickpeas with tahini, lemon juice and garlic.
Fattoush: A refreshing salad of toasted bread cubes, cucumbers, tomatoes and mint
Kibbe: Ground lamb and bulgur shaped into patties and cooked.
Tabbouleh: A salad made of bulgur, tossed with tomatoes, mint and parsley.
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At Middle Eastern Restaurants
Choose... labnee (thick yogurt with mint)*
Instead of... hummus (chickpea dip)
Choose... loubieh (green beans cooked with tomatoes)
Instead of... tabbouleh (bulgur salad)
Choose... eggplant with garlic, tomatoes and peppers
Instead of... fattoush (bread, cucumber and tomato salad)
Choose... shish kebab (grilled spiced cubed lamb on skewers)
Instead of... kibbe (ground lamb and bulgur patties)
Choose... kofta (balls of ground lamb and onions, skewered and grilled)
Instead of... falafel (chickpea patties)
Choose... shish taouk (skewered pieces of marinated chicken grilled over charcoal)
Instead of... b'steeya (Moroccan chicken pie with almonds)
* Limit yourself to a tablespoon or two.
-- Ask to have a glass of the delicious Middle Eastern mint tea with your meal. It will help fill you up and aid digestion.
-- If you order the thickened labnee yogurt as an appetizer, ask for raw vegetables to dip with instead of pita bread. Again, limit yourself to a tablespoon or two.