Introduction to Middle Eastern Food and Cooking

The Basics of Middle Eastern Cuisine

Middle eastern Lamb Kebab wrap on food truck
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The Middle East is a group of countries that range from North Africa through Asia. The food of each region is unique as it tells a story of the past. You will find that many dishes are the same in Middle Eastern cooking, yet the recipes may taste quite different. They contain different herbs and spices, some with lamb, the other with beef, or with cheeses instead of meat.

The recipes native to each region differ based on the availability of ingredients from the past.

It all depended on what was traded in the region and what was offered at the marketplace. In essence, Middle Eastern food today is defined by its past.

Middle Eastern Countries

The amount of land that encompasses the term "Middle East" is broad and there are many regions.

The Middle East consists of: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

There has been debate over whether Armenia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan are considered to be part of the Middle East.

Fast Facts About Middle Eastern Food

  • Pita bread is considered to be the oldest type of bread in the world.
  • McDonald's has their own version of falafel on their menu in Egypt; it is called the McFalafel.
  • The eggplant is the most consumed vegetable in the Middle East.
  • The Ancient Egyptians used the herb Fenugreek as embalming fluid. Today, fenugreek is used in cooking and in teas.
  • The fava bean was once condemned because it was thought to contain the souls of dead people.
  • Saffron is the most expensive herb in the world. By the time it hits the stores, it ranged from $600-1000 per pound. It is normally sold by the gram or ounce in markets.

Cooking Middle Eastern Food

Middle Eastern food is versatile and most recipes are made with ease.

While you may have trouble finding certain ingredients, there are online stores that sell imported herbs, spices, grains and other types of food.

One of the great aspects of Middle Eastern cooking is the ability to substitute ingredients for what is available or for personal taste. Lamb can be substituted for beef, and vice versa. Spices like cayenne and cumin can be added for a spicier dish. Now with vegetarian ground meat in the freezer section at the grocery store, many dishes contain beef or lamb can become vegetarian!