Hospitality is central to Middle Eastern culture and many home cooks spend hours, sometimes days, preparing an impressive spread of dishes for family feasts. Grains play an essential and versatile role in the diet, with dishes varying from burghul pilaf with chickpeas, to antipasti couscous salad and smoked freekeh risotto. Dairy staples include labna and haloumi, while lentils, vegetables and meats are also commonly eaten. When it comes to dessert, it's a case of the sweeter the better. Nuts, fruit and fragrant floral notes are also enjoyed, as can be seen in this muhalbiyah pudding with rosewater and the French-Middle Eastern fusion dessert rhubarb, pistachio and orange blossom frangipane tart with rhubarb syrup.
Middle Eastern-style breakfasts put cereal and avo toast to shame. Whether you prefer a saucy shakshuka - poached eggs in an earthy paprika tomato sauce; or ballin' falafels alongside some pickles and toasted bread, it's these Middle Eastern mornings that can carve up some serious comfort food and have you winning friends left, right and centre. And if you prefer a sweeter start then it's got to be the halva and chocolate bread or this bowl of vanilla labneh with sweet dukkah.
Speaking of dukkah, Chef and cookbook author Michael Rantissi dubs this heavy hitter “the Vegemite of Egypt” and scatters onto just about everything. “Traditionally, it’s made with peanuts and is eaten with olive oil and bread for breakfast,” he says but its nutty tone allows you to get as creative and inventive as you like - lamb cutlets, anyone?
Get your hands on a good quality baharat (seven spice mix) or make your own. Stock up on chickpeas and tahini (hummus essentials); Freshly baked bread (check out this malawach), vibrant pickles, as well as nuts, olive oil, saffron, semolina and bulgur (cracked wheat), are headliners. Sweet-wise, grab pomegranate molasses, dried fruits, rosewater and orange blossom water and in the fridge, it's clotted cream and natural yoghurt that will come in handy.
The classic pav gets a Turkish Delight twist in this recipe.
1. Couscous rules: Fluff with a fork, not a spoon, to ensure the grains remain intact.
2. Kitchen hack: Use the semi-circle shaped utensil manakra to hollow out veggies pre-stuffing. (Use it here.)
4. Drizzle on tap: Like fish sauce, pomegranate molasses is one of those ingredients that you use sparingly in cooking, but can only seem to buy in huge bottles. (Here's how to use it all up with ease)
5. Easy entertaining: Char a whole eggplant roasted in coals, then drizzle with a tahini-spiked toum and leave to marinate overnight. Like babaghanoush on steroids. Bring to room temp on the day of.
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This simple eggplant appetiser is slightly smoky, chunky and perfect paired alongside hummus and pita bread.
Excellent served for brunch or even a Sunday night dinner, this dish, which sits somewhere between an omelette and a frittata, is so easy to make.
This gluten-free and dairy-free recipe, with its subtle lemon flavour teamed with an aromatic rosewater icing and light nutty texture, is the perfect afternoon-tea cake.
For Middle Eastern people, the aubergine is a diet staple. We don’t embrace it as a salad item in the West, but I think it makes a wonderful salad ingredient, whether it’s grilled, fried, preserved or – in this case – roasted. Roasting in the oven is a healthier way of cooking as it uses less oil than frying and allows you to celebrate the flavour in a concentrated form. I can happily eat this dish on its own, on my own, but it’s a great one for sharing as it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
The difference between a good soup and an amazing soup often comes down to the stock, particularly in vegetarian recipes like this one. Here, a stock cube will suffice - as the recipe does contain plenty of spice - but to really respect your cauliflower, go for the best stock you can afford. This soup is quite thick, so if you prefer a thinner consistency, add a little extra stock or water.
These easily-made cakes (you just stir everything together) are typical of sweets found in the cuisines of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean, where ground nuts (pistachios, almonds, walnuts) and semolina are widely used. Their slightly gritty texture works beautifully with the infused sugar syrup, another common feature of cakes from that part of the world. Be sure to use coarse semolina not semolina - or durum wheat - flour, which is used for making pasta.