Middle Eastern Flavor Exposure


By: Nikki Nies

Original Image by Divya Thakur via Flickr
Original Image by Divya Thakur via Flickr

You know how you get giddy when you’re able to share a passion or interest with some one and they “get” the hype?  My friend from Wisconsin doesn’t have a lot of access to authentic Asian restaurants back home.  I found this past weekend to be the best time to introduce her to ethnic foods! The best part, she loved it!

After she had stuffed herself with the new flavor combinations, she inquired what food had she eaten.  Was it Japanese or Chinese? I corrected her telling her that since we had kimchi, it was Korean.  I wasn’t offended because she had a genuine interest in knowing exactly what she ate.  I brushed it off, stating I wouldn’t know what Middle Easterns eat besides hummus.  The Middle East consists of Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Turkey.

My conversation with her and a recent discussion I had in my Public Health class regarding culture sensitivity got me questioning why I didn’t know off the top of my head Middle Eastern traditional cuisines.  That’s my lead in to this blog post.

I’m taking this blog post as a way to increase not only your awareness of what it mean to be eating Middle eastern food and recognizing some differences within the regions.  As there are distinct tastes and ingredients in Asian cooking, it’s not fair to clump Middle Eastern cuisine under one blog post, but there are more similarities than differences in these Middle Eastern nations.  Ingredients that are commonly seen in such cooking and dishes include dates, olives, wheat, rice, legumes, and
lamb.

The Middle Eastern diet consists of the American MyPlate food groups, but has distinct emphasis on certain foods within the food groups.

Food Group      Customary Traditions
Dairy
  • More common to eat fermented dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt
  • Whole milk’s often used in desserts and puddings
  • Most common cheese: feta
Protein
  • Very common: lamb, kosher beef, kosher poultry, herring, lox and sardines
  • Pork is only eaten on Christmas
  • Pork is not eaten by Muslims or those that are Jewish
  • Less likely to see dairy and shellfish within the same meal
  • Common: black, kidney and navy beans, chick peas and lentils
Vegetables
  • Most popular: eggplant
  • Preferred to be used in raw or mixed salad with fruit
  • Can be seen stuffed in rice and/or meats
  • Olive oil commonly used in prep
  • Black and green olives are popular in many dishes
Fruits
  • Regularly seen in desserts and/or snacks
  • Fresh is the most desired kind of fruit type
  • Often used in compotes and jams if fresh fruit isn’t feasible
  • Flavorings regularly includes lemons
Grains
  • Wheat, barley or rice are often included in meals
  • Common grains: couscous, burghul, pita bread, freekeh,matzoh and/or unleavened bread
  • Filo dough frequently found in desserts

Overview of Middle Eastern Staples: 

Original Image by Mr.TinDC via Flickr
Original Image by Mr.TinDC via Flickr
  • Ful Medames: An Egyptian and Sudanese breakfast dish made from fava beans, olive oil, parsley, garlic and lemon; often served with a fried egg and pita bread
  • Manakeesh: Similar to U.S. pizza, a round bread with ground meat, herbs and/or cheese; preferably for breakfast or lunch
  • Grilled Halloumi: Cheese made from goat and sheep milk; no acid or bacteria are used during processing
  • Shanklish: Golf size cheese balls; rolled in herbs or chili flakes
  • Falafel: Deep fried ball or patty made of chick peas, fava beans or a combination of both; often served with tomatoes, sliced onion and romaine lettuce
  • Moutabal/baba ghanoush (aka baba ganush, baba ghannouj or baba ghannoug): Dip with an eggplant(aubergine)dish; aubergine often baked or broiled over an open flame to provide a smokey taste; sometimes eaten with pita bread
  • Fattoush (aka fattush, fatush, fattoosh,and fattouche): A Levantine tangy salad containing lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive oil and mint; part of the fattat dish group–all being made from stale bread as its base
  • Tabouleh: A vegetarian salad dish composed of tomatoes, parsley, mint, onion, olive oil, salt and lemon juice; can be modified for personal tastes
  • Shanklish: Golf size cheese balls; rolled in herbs or chili flakes
  • Mezze: Collection of small dishes that are picked at leisure: cheese, melon, nuts, various salads and dips, such as tabbouleh, hummus, mutabbal and/or pickles
  • Shish Tawook: Skewered chicken dish; can be served with French fries or pita bread
  • Dolma: Grape leaves, chard, and cabbage stuffed with rice, ground meat, pine nuts, and spices.  Will be stewed in oil and tomato
  • Kofta: Common Pakistani or Iranian dish; minced lamb or beef balls; served with its own spicy sauce
  • Kibbeh (aka kibbe): A Turkish dish made of bulghur, minced onions and finely ground meat; most common: torpedo shaped fried croquette with minced meat
  • Shawarma:Meat, such as lamb, turkey, beef or veal are placed on spit for hours at a time; shavings cuts off for serving; usually eaten with tabouleh, fattoush, taboon bread, tomato and cucumbers
  • Quwarmah Al Dajaj: Curried chicken; has lime, ginger, turmeric, baharat, cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, paprika
  • Mansaf: Mutton with yogurt sauce; sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts
  • Umm Ali: Egyptian bread pudding; made with milk and cream; can contain vanilla, pistachios, condensed milk, raisins and/or croissant piece
  • Knafeh: cheesecake made of Nabusi cheese
  • Kebab Karaz (aka cherry kebab or desert candy): Syrian candy that contains sour cherries and pomegranate pip
  • Baklava: pastry made of filo dough; can contain nuts, sweet syrup and honey

I’m sure I’ve left out at least one or two staples, yet only a true Middle Eastern could share from experience.  If any one has any particular food staples in their house, please enlighten us!

Sources: http://travel.cnn.com/20-best-middle-east-dishes-324556

http://www.dhcs.ca.gov/formsandpubs/publications/CaliforniaFoodGuide/20HealthandDietaryAffectingEasternEuropeansandMiddleEasterners.pdf

http://www.bonappetit.com/tag/middle-eastern-food

http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/5000/pdf/5256.pdf

http://www.nal.usda.gov/foodstamp/Topics/ethnic.htm

http://www.semda.org/info/pyramid.asp?ID=1

http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/pubs/bibs/gen/ethnic.html#12

http://www.eatrightny.org/nutrition_resources/files/CulturalNutritionResources.pdf

http://www.pbs.org/food/cuisine/middle-eastern/

http://mideastfood.about.com/od/middleeasternfood101/tp/popularmideast.htm

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