Middle East cuisine is quickly becoming a leading trend in American kitchens, according to Whole Foods’ 2018 trend report. Since 2018, the traditions, regional nuances and classic ingredients of this authentic cuisine have taken their place in the mainstream. As more and more restaurants, recipes and wholesale ingredients are flooding the market, people are becoming more open to the ingredients, spices and dishes that characterize this colorful and tasty cuisine.
What Makes Middle East Cuisine Exceptional
While hummus, pita and falafel have always been crowd favorites, there are many more reasons why Middle East cuisine is gaining popularity.
It’s ideal for delivery
Other than the savory flavors, middle eastern food travels well in delivery and takeout boxes, making it ideal for the Covid-19 world. Many of the dishes are based on a mix of rice with meat, usually halal, or chicken which can easily fit into containers and be eaten at home or on the go.
It’s rich with flavor
Middle East cuisine uses aromatic and flavorful spices in abundance. Spices like cumin, harissa, cardamon and Za’atar are strong, highly fragrant savory spices that can be used to create a wide variety of colors and tastes. Turmeric is found in many dishes, mostly meat and vegetable recipes, and lends its strong yellow color and rich taste to rice mixed with chicken or beef. Baharat and Ras el Hanout are two staple spice mixes that include up to 30 different spices collected from the very best the seller has to offer and then used to flavor halal beef, chicken and fish.
Although meat is a prominent player in Middle East cuisine menus, there are just as many chicken, fish and veggie dishes. This cuisine allows for a very rich diet that includes highly nutritious ingredients like pomegranate, eggplant, cucumber, parsley, mint, tahini, tomato jam and dried fruits.
Not All Middle East Cuisine Are the Same
The Middle East is a vast region that’s rich with culture and tradition. While there are obvious similarities, every country has its own food culture, including spices, cooking styles and dish variations. Here are some of the most popular cuisines that made it into Western culture.
Best known for its combinations of rice with halal meat, vegetables and nuts. The dishes are rich with herbs such as raisins, pomegranates and plums and are perfect for batch cooking. Flavorings include cinnamon, turmeric and parsley. Iranian food is exceptional in its diversity of colors and flavors, mixing sweet and sour or mild and spicy.
Best known for falafel and shakshuka, but in fact it’s a blend of traditional Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Chickpeas are the main ingredient in two quintessential dishes, falafel and hummus. Sesame seeds are ground and made into tahini. Spices include Zatar and Baharat. The Israeli food culture is also a blend of Eastern European Jewish foods such as the Gefilte fish, Matzo balls, and Kugel.
Many dishes are based on meats such as goat, beef, lamb, mutton, chicken and seafood. Flavorings include preserved lemon, cold pressed argan oil, olive oil and dried fruits. Common herbs include mint, parsley and coriander. Moroccan cuisine strongly emphasizes the use of herbs and spices with Ras el Hanout being the most popular.
This cuisine includes ingredients such as eggplant, lamb or mutton and rice. Modern dining in Syria introduced a selection of appetizers called “mezze” which are typically served with Arabic bread before the main course. The “mezze” includes dishes such as humus, tabbouleh and moussaka.
This cuisine includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and seafood. Poultry is more common than meat, but you’ll also find lamb and goat meat dishes. Garlic and olive oil seasoned with lemon juice is used in great amounts. Popular dishes include Baba Ganoush, Falafel and Shawarma.
Breaking Some Myths
There are many misconceptions about Middle East cuisine out there.
It’s all about meat and hummus
Actually, Middle Eastern food has far more intricate recipes. Not all dishes include meat and definitely not all dishes include hummus. Hummus is a standalone dish sometimes joined with meat, but it certainly does not go with everything.
It’s the same as Mediterranean food
Mediterranean and Middle Eastern refer to different countries. Israel, Morocco and Turkey can be considered both, but Syria, Lebanon and Iran are not Mediterranean. Although recipes share some common ingredients with countries like Greece and Spain, they’re not identical and each has its own prominent characteristics.
Baklava is the only dessert
Baklava is great and it’s one of the most popular desserts on the Middle Eastern menu, but it’s definitely not the only option for the sweet tooth diner. There’s halva and Knafeh and so many more different desserts that they can fill an entire cookbook.
Getting Started with Middle Eastern Cooking
Middle Eastern dishes require a slightly different approach and some utensils you might not have in your kitchen. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:
Food Processor – Middle Eastern cooking involves a lot of chopping so a food processor will make the process a lot easier.
Skewers – Many Middle Eastern dishes require skewers for handling and serving meat. Stainless steel skewers will come in handy whether you’re skewering kebabs or shish kebabs.
Ibrik – The Ibrik is a traditional container used to prepare and serve coffee in Middle Eastern homes and restaurants. No meal is complete until you’ve had some strong black coffee and a piece or two of sugary baklava.
Cook Middle East Cuisine with Cheetah
Cheetah is the trusted supplier of the top Middle Eastern restaurants in the Bay Area. Among the variety of fresh products on the Cheetah app you’ll also find ingredients like MidEast tahini paste (110452), dried apricots (102672), and raisins (101687), assortments of nuts and seeds, Atalanta olive oil (108647), Riceland Rice (109234), and Tampico Ground spices such as cumin (108539), bay leaves (108362) and paprika (108379).
Check out our recipes for ideas on how to prepare savory Middle Eastern dishes.