The past decade has seen Middle Eastern cuisine’s global popularity skyrocket – and for good reason. It is rich, wholesome, refreshing, and healthy all packed into one, and you would be missing out if you didn’t try it. You’ll find fewer things tastier in the world than a plate of freshly fried crispy falafel or a roll of meat-packed juicy shawarma.
Middle Eastern food is abundant with a wide variety of vibrant colors and complex flavors that leave their mark on your taste buds and keep you coming back for more. It is comfort food at its best.
A typical Middle Eastern meal consists of an obligatory hot or cold mezze platter, salads, entrée, and some sort of decadent dessert to top it all off.
The following list will provide you with some of the most popular and tastiest Middle Eastern dishes that will take your taste buds on a food adventure of their own.
Hummus needs no introduction. It is probably the most widely recognized Middle Eastern food on this list.
It is a creamy dip made of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice all blended together until smooth. It is found in the mezze (appetizer) part of the meal and is a staple Middle Eastern dish.
You can eat it plain with some fresh pita bread or you can add whatever your heart desires – beets, spinach, different kind of peppers, coriander, and much more. The possibilities are endless with this one!
It checks all the boxes for being the ideal food: easy to make, tastes great, and is healthy. What’s not to love?
Just like Hummus, falafel is also an immensely popular Middle Eastern food. Made from chickpeas, together with herbs and spices, these fried balls of goodness pack an umami punch.
The best part is, they can be eaten as both a part of the mezze or as the entrée by making a nice pita sandwich out of them. Traditionally, this sandwich is a delicious concoction of tangy pickles, fresh vegetables, and tahini sauce but every Middle Eastern country has its own creative take on it. If you want to take your falafel sandwich to the next level, have it with a side of some creamy hummus and thank me later!
Once again, just like its counterpart hummus, it tastes amazing, is very convenient to prepare, and packs a bunch of nutrients due to all the vegetables involved. It is also a great vegan substitute for meat for all you plant lovers out there.
Middle Eastern cuisine is full of options that are ideal for vegans and vegetarians alike, as evidenced from the first two dishes in this list.
Baba ghanoush, also known as Moutabal, is another popular vegetarian favorite. It is a smooth and creamy dip/spread made with tahini, fire-roasted eggplants, garlic, and a mixture of herbs and spices. It is great to pair with some fresh pita bread or vegetables of choice like celery, cucumber, bell pepper et cetera.
Most commonly found in the mezze platter along with hummus and falafels, the smoky flavor from the roasted eggplants and an umami kick from the Middle Eastern spices make it one that is hard to beat.
Additionally, it is easy to make and great for some healthy snacking on the go.
Sambousek has been enjoyed all over the Middle East for over a thousand years.
It is a kind of a savory pastry, similar to the Indian/Pakistani samosas or Latin empanadas. It is stuffed with a variety of fillings ranging anywhere from lamb or beef to chickpeas or cheese.
Traditionally, sambousek are fried which gives them their golden crunchy exterior. But if you are a health nut, worry not! Sambousek can be baked which won’t take away from the deliciousness and fullness of the flavor at all.
Sambousek are great for making in batches and storage although that might not be needed considering how delicious they are. These pockets of joy are so hard to resist, you will find yourself reaching for one after another without any chance of stopping.
Salads get a bad rep for being boring but try one from the Middle Eastern cuisine, and you will surely be converted!
There is a reason tabbouleh is one of the most popular dishes in the Arab world. It is so well-liked that Lebanese people have a day dedicated to tabbouleh called the Lebanese National Tabbouleh Day, celebrated on the first Saturday of July.
Tabbouleh is a masterpiece of a salad made from a mixture of green herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and bulgur (cracked wheat). It is a refreshing and light side dish abundant with vibrant flavors and packed with healthy ingredients.
A common dish to be found on Mediterranean tables, tabbouleh is usually served along with the appetizers although it can also be consumed as a light and healthy lunch.
Unlike ordinary salads, you will actually enjoy this one.
Another delicious creation in the world of Middle Eastern salads is fattoush.
Fattoush is a bread-dominant salad made from toasted or fried crushed up pieces of pita bread mixed in with vegetables like lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, and mint. It is dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice which adds to its freshness and makes it a nice side addition to a meal.
This tangy salad is loved by different cultures all over the world. It is filling, delicious, healthy, and prepared in no time at all.
For proud carnivores out there, watch out! You don’t want to try this one or else you might be tempted to switch sides. This salad takes it to another level!
Think of it as an Arabic take on pizza.
Manakeesh is a round flatbread topped with toppings of choice. Traditionally, the most common toppings include ground meat, cheese, or a savory and tangy blend of spices called za’atar.
It is a part of the main course in Arabic cuisine and is typically eaten for breakfast or lunch. Apart from being a flavor bomb, this flatbread is a low-mess food that earns it extra points. It can be folded in half like a sandwich to be eaten while on the move.
You can get Manakeesh at any Lebanese and Mediterranean bakeries and restaurants. It is best eaten piping hot out of the oven although it does fair well even after it is stored and reheated.
Shawarma is like the Middle Eastern version of Greek gyros – juicy, tasty, and tender. It is a ridiculously tasty dish and one that I would definitely recommend you to try if you are a meat lover.
What makes the shawarma so special is the meat inside it. It is traditionally made from lamb or chicken meat that is slow-roasted on a turning spit, which lends it all its flavor and tenderness. Along with the smoky flavor of the meat, a tangy blend of spices and sauces are added to the mix and then wrapped up into a roll, creating a little bundle of flavorsome goodness.
You can also find beef shawarmas in the Western part of the world but lamb being the traditional specialty, is the best option to go for.
When it comes to juicy tender meat with a zing, say no more! Middle Eastern cuisine has got you covered with its meaty creation: the mighty shish tawook.
Shish tawook is loved by people all over the world thanks to its amazing taste.
Part of the main course section, shish tawook is a simple yet flavorful dish. It is usually made from chicken that has been marinated in an herb and spice blend for hours before being cooked. This chicken is cut into bite-sized pieces, skewered along with vegetables like tomatoes and onions, and consumed with bread.
Shish tawook is also served with several different condiments, the most popular of which is toum. Toum is a paste made out of pure garlic. The combination of toum and shish tawook is a flavor explosion you will find yourself craving for days or even weeks after you have tried it.
Madhbi is a popular rice and meat dish with the meat being cooked over blazing hot stones.
This delicious dish finds its origin in Yemen where it is prepared by using either chicken or lamb served over a bed of rice. The meat used is grilled which lends to its succulence and tenderness. The rice is soft and packed with flavor from the herbs and spices. It is popular in many Middle Eastern countries, especially those in the Arabian Peninsula.
Despite being seasoned very minimally, this dish yields a ton of flavor owing to the method with which it is cooked.
Traditionally, madhbi is a shared meal that is consumed in groups while sitting on traditional Arabic floor seating. It is a delicious Arabian specialty that brings about a sense of community among the people sharing it.
Nothing screams comfort food like shakshuka. One bite of this and you will be in love… with the dish of course!
If you want to treat your eyes as well as your belly, shakshuka is the way to go. Its bright warm colors provide you with a picture-perfect dish that is pleasurable to look at while you feast.
Usually consumed for breakfast, shakshuka is a one-pot skillet wonder made by slowly simmering tomatoes with herbs over a gentle heat and topped off with eggs towards the end. This hearty meal is usually eaten with some toasted crispy bread for dipping.
If you are a part of team “breakfast-all-day-erryday”, shakshuka is quickly going to become a staple in your diet.
If you have not tried it yet, you are missing out!
Kebab is a meat lover’s dream come true.
The term kebab refers to different kinds of grilled meat dishes. These dishes are mostly based on chopped or ground meat. The most common type of meat variants for this dish are lamb and beef although chicken is a close third. Not just that, it is also made using fish, and other kinds of seafood.
Owing to its deliciousness, many cultures have their own inspired versions of the typical Middle Eastern kebab. For example, the Chinese chuan or the Turkish doner kebab.
Mostly, kebabs are served with rice or bread along with a variety of vegetables. Although typically kebab is believed to be prepared on skewers over a fire, it is much more than that. Not all kebab varieties are prepared on skewers. Some are cooked in a pan in an oven or even prepared as a stew.
If you are on the lookout for a hearty and filling Middle Eastern meat dish, this should be your top pick.
When it comes to ending your meal on a sweeter note, you won’t find many other desserts that can top the decadence of Baklava.
Baklava (or Baklawa) is prepared from thin sheets of phyllo dough layered between which is a filling usually made from coarsely ground dry fruits and nuts. This phyllo dough and nut package is then doused in honey and topped off with a considerate drizzle of rose or orange flavored sweet syrup.
The most common fillings you would find in a Baklava are pistachios and walnuts although you can find many other creative creations out there. Not just that, it also comes in fun shapes and sizes to add to the sweet fun.
Beware, it can be addictive!
Adding to the sweeter things in life is the rich and delicious Middle Eastern dessert called Knafeh.
Knafeh is made with savory cheese that is baked inside two pieces of crunchy phyllo dough. It is then soaked in simple syrup or sweet syrup flavored with orange blossom or rose water. The cheese used is the Nabulsi cheese, which is common in Middle Eastern countries like Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon.
Oftentimes, it is topped with a handful of nuts to add to its richness. Modern takes on it also include using chocolate where the cheesy dessert is topped with piping hot melted chocolate.
Knafeh is best eaten hot and fresh. The amalgamation of the sweet syrup on crunchy phyllo sheets and the ooey-gooey melty baked cheese will bring you the best of both worlds: savory and sweet.