rom grandmothers, who would make them for special occasions including Eid and Ramadan. Others are contemporary twists on centuries old diehards, brought up to date for 21stcentury tastes.
Our choices are authentic and wholesome, ranging from an Omani lamb shuwa to a Levantine cheese flatbread. When it comes to the desserts there is, however one rule – the more sugar and syrup, the better.
Middle Eastern cuisine is the cuisine of the various countries and peoples of the Middle East. The cuisine of the region is diverse while having a degree of homogeneity. It includes Arab, Iranian, Jewish, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Georgian, Kurdish, Cypriot and Turkish cuisines. In 2017, Middle Eastern cuisine was claimed by many sources to be one of the most popular and fastest growing ethnic cuisines in the US. Some commonly used ingredients include olives and olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, dates, sumac, chickpeas, mint, rice, and parsley. Some popular dishes include kebabs, dolma, falafel, baklava, yogurt, doner kebab, shawarma and mulukhiyah.
The Middle East includes the region formerly known as the Fertile Crescent (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - Sumeria, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia), where wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates, dates and other regional staples. Fermentation was also discovered here to leaven bread and make beer in Mesopotamia, and the earliest written recipes come from that region also.
As a crossroads between Europe, Asia, the Caucasus and North Africa, this area has long been a hub of food and recipe exchange. During the first Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE), the foundation was laid for modern Middle Eastern food when rice, poultry and various fruits were incorporated into the local diets. Figs, dates and nuts were brought by merchants to conquered lands, and spices were brought back from the Orient.
The area was also influenced by dumplings from Mongol invaders; turmeric, cumin, garlic and other spices from India; cloves, peppercorns and allspice from the Spice Islands; okra from Africa; and tomatoes from the New World. Religion has also influenced the cuisine; neither Jews nor Muslims eat pork, making lamb the primary meat. Since the Qur'an forbids alcohol consumption, wine and other drinks are made in countries such as Lebanon, where vineyards like Château Ksara, Chateau Kefraya and Chateau Masaya have gained international fame for their wines. Prior to its Islamic regime, Iran was also noted for its winemaking. Château Ksara is also very popular for its arak Ksarak, an alcoholic drink produced in the Levant. Al-Maza is Lebanon's primary brewery, which was also, at one time, the Middle East's only beer-producing factory. Lebanon has always been well known in the region for its wines and arak, making it an exception when it comes to lack of alcohol in the region.
Under the Ottoman Empire, sweet pastries of paper thin phyllo dough and dense coffee were brought to the area.
Butter and clarified butter (also known as smen) are, traditionally, the preferred medium of cooking. Olive oil is prevalent in the Mediterranean coastal areas. Christians use it during Lent, when meat and dairy products are excluded, and Jews use it in place of animal fats such as butter to avoid mixing meat and dairy products.
Most regions in the Middle East use spices. Typically, a stew will include a small amount of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cumin, and coriander. Black pepper is common, and chili peppers are used occasionally, especially as a separate sauce or as a pickle. Parsley and mint are commonly used both in cooking and in salads. Thyme and thyme blends (za'atar) are common in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine and Israel, and a mixture of dried thyme and sumac (crushed sour berries) is a common breakfast item with oil and bread. Sumac is also sprinkled over grilled meat. Garlic is common to many dishes and salads.
Lamb and mutton have always been the favored meats of the Middle East. Pork is prohibited in both Islam and Judaism, and as such is rarely eaten in the region. Prominent among the meat preparations are grilled meats, or kebabs. There are a wide variety of these grills, with many regional specialties and styles. The most common are the cubed cuts on skewers, known as shish kebab in most places. Chicken may also be grilled in the same fashion. Another common variety is kofta kebab, made from ground meat, sometimes mixed with onions and spices, shaped around the skewer like a long sausage and grilled. Kebabs are typically a street or restaurant food, served with bread, salad, and pickles. It is not usually prepared in domestic kitchens.
Meat and vegetable stews, served with rice, bulgur, or bread, are another form of meat preparation in the region. Kibbeh is a pie or dumpling made with meat and cereal. The most common are made with ground meat (typically lamb) and burghul, worked together like a dough, then stuffed with minced meat that has been fried with onion, aromatics, and, sometimes, pine nuts or almonds and raisins. This can either be in the form of individual small dumplings (usually shaped like a torpedo), or in slices like a cake, baked on an oven tray with the stuffing placed between two layers of the dough. One variation is kibbeh naye, raw kibbeh, which is made by pounding raw meat and burghul together with seasoning and served with dips of lemon juice and chili sauce.
Dining etiquette in Arab countries
In some Arab countries of the Middle East, especially in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, it is common for people to take their food from a communal plate in the center of the table. Rather than employing forks or spoons, people traditionally dine without utensils; they scoop up food with their thumb and two fingers or pita bread. In the Arab culture, the left hand is considered unclean. This however is changing now with utensils being widely used for dining. Even left-handed people eat only with the right hand. A common exception is that the left hand may be used to hold a drinking glass when eating greasy food with the right. It is proper etiquette to compliment the host on the food and their hospitality. Similarly, it is important to try every plate on the table. If a guest does not leave food on his plate, the host generally fills it immediately. The Middle East places emphasis on enjoying meals with family and friends