Author Bio: Maise Adkhtur works for a Middle Eastern charity organisation that helps in campaigns and appeals all over the region. She organises Syria donations and runs the Syria Relief campaign.
Middle Eastern cuisines are fresh, wholesome, healthy, rich and aromatic. A popular dish is the m’jadarrah which is a lentil stew which consists of slow-cooked lentils and a sprinkling of burghul and caramelized onions, then served with a side of zesty cabbage salad, simple and rustic.
Another favourite Middle Eastern dish is Kkshik, this is a porridge made from burghul fermented with yogurt and dried in the sun on rooftops over seven days during the fall before being ground into fine powder.
The Middle Eastern cuisine includes a huge variety of foods, but the most common tread is the vibrant spices and herbs that help to create dishes with deep and complex flavours. It is comfortable food that is made to be shared, with usually plenty of food on the table to feel a small island.
Here are the top 5 Middle Eastern dishes and the best recipe for number 1.
This is a simple dish of lentils, grain and onions, but still one of the tastiest dishes to ever pass your lips. Just about every country in the Middle East has its own lentil and rice recipe, but they are all very similar. It is great comfort food and tastes sweet and earthy, topped with lots of caramelised onions.
These are delicious baked puff pastries that are traditionally filled with potatoes, mushrooms, spinach or cheese and nigella seeds are usually sprinkled on the top. They are very popular and served at every occasion. The best bourekas are the ones brought at one of the speciality bakeries and stalls on a Middle Eastern outdoor market where the dough is stretched by hand and baked fresh.
This is one of the Middle Eastern sweets, and not just any, probably the most famous of them all. Traditionally, there should be 20 layers of pastry above and 20 layers of pastry below the filling. Pistachio baklava is named after the city of Gaziantep in southeast Turkey for which this classic sweet pastry is renowned.
Cauliflower and chickpea tagine
This hearty tagine is typical of the type of dish cooked in the wooded Middle Atlas region and the lush valleys leading up to the High Atlas. It is a tasty way of preparing cauliflower, broccoli or cabbage, and is often simply served with bread to mop up the sauce. The best tasting cauliflower and chickpea tagine dishes are cooked with harissa and preserved lemon.
Morasa pulao (Jewelled rice)
This has to be the most stunning of Iran’s famous range of pulao’s or rice dishes. It is the dish of banquets and weddings- glorious, jewelled, shimmering stripes of fruit and nuts across steaming saffron rice. Here is the recipe to make your own morasa pulao at home and enjoy some Middle Eastern cuisine and flavour.
Serves 4 as a starter
- 50g Pistachios
- 50g Almonds
- 100g Barberries or Cranberries, soaked and drained
- 100g raisins, soaked and drained
- Butter or ghee, for frying
- 2 medium Carrots, peeled and grated
- 1 large Onion, peeled and chopped
- 75g Orange peel
- Flavourless oil, for frying
- 600g Basmati rice
- ½ tsp ground Saffron steeped in boiling water
- 3 tsp ‘Rice spice’ (advieh pulao – usually 2 parts cinnamon to 1 part each ground cardamom, rose petals and nutmeg)
- Salt and black pepper
- Firstly, prepare the nutty, fruity bits. Blanch the nuts separately in boiling water. Fry the barberries and raisins separately in a little butter until puffed. Next, fry the carrot, orange peel and the onion in a little oil until they have softened.
- Now cook the rice according to packet instructions. Just before it is cooked, stir through the liquid saffron and the rice spice.
- Turn the rice out on to a dish, and then lay out stripes of each of the “jewels” across the top in pretty little rows, trying to contrast the colours. Some Iranians serve the jewels mixed into the rice, which makes the whole thing easier to prepare, but not everyone likes all of the ingredients. Serving like this is easier, and also looks more sensational.