Despite popular belief, Christmas is observed in some Middle Eastern countries. There are many Christians living in the Middle East with most living in Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. Saudi Arabia currently has a ban on any other religion besides Islam, therefore no Arab Christians can be accounted for in that country. Smaller Arab Christian populations can be found in Iraq, Turkey, and other countries.
The Christmas dinner menu varies from country to country, depending on what ingredients are available and what is native to each region. Here are some dishes you may find for Christmas dinner across the Middle East:
The Mezze, or Appetizers
Appetizers in the Middle East are an important part of the meal. You will find many dishes served on small plates in a Middle Eastern mezze. Common Middle Eastern appetizers include:
Hummus is one of the most popular Middle Eastern appetizers. Made with mashed chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, and spices, hummus is used as a dip for breads, pita sandwiches, and even veggies. Several different spices and ingredients can be used to add a variety of flavors to hummus. Popular hummus variations include roasted garlic, red pepper, and kalamata olive hummus. Here you will find tons of hummus recipes and cooking tips.
- Baba Ghannouj
Baba ghannouj (ba-ba gan-oosh) is just as fun to eat as it is to say! This eggplant based dip if full of flavor and super easy to make. Like hummus, baba ghannouj has tahini, a sesame paste as one of its main ingredients. The slightly smoked flavor of the eggplant is accompanied by garlic. Serve with pita wedges or veggies. Try this fantastic, easy baba ghannouj recipe.
- Spinach Fatayer
Spinach fatayer, are small, triangular spinach pies that are the perfect finger food! Fresh spinach, walnuts, and a few ingredients that are common in every kitchen make this appetizer simple and quick to make. This spinach fatayer recipe is perfect for last minute appetizers, especially when you use canned biscuit dough in place of dough from scratch for this recipe.
- Stuffed Grape Leaves
Called dolmas in Greece and warak einab in Egypt, stuffed grape leaves are delicious no matter what you call them. Ground beef or lamb, rice, tomatoes are wrapped in a grape vine leaf and then steamed to perfection. The traditional stuffed grape leaves recipe is very simple.
Lamb dishes are the most popular holiday main dish because it is widely available. Unlike western countries, turkeys in the Middle East are very small, and many would be required to serve a large group of people. Middle Eastern Christian families in the U.S. commonly adopt traditional western holiday customs like a turkey or ham. Pork products, however, are not widely available in Middle Eastern countries due to the large Islamic following.
- Roast Leg of Lamb
Roast leg of lamb may sound difficult but is just as simple to prepare as beef roast. Leg of lamb is a very tender dish and goes with many side dishes.
- Roast Turkey with Pomegranate Stuffing
If you are serving a turkey this holiday season, why not stuff it with pomegranate stuffing! Pomegranates and turkey compliment each other very well. Try this pomegranate stuffing recipe for your next holiday meal.
- Baked Ham
Baked ham is one of the most popular Christmas main course. Southern Food expert Diana Rattray has several baked ham recipes for your family to enjoy.
Several dishes may be offered, and the most common may be:
Couscous is an easy versatile, grain that goes with everything. Couscous can be "doctored up" by adding veggies, spices, even fruit like cranberries. Here you will find a variety of couscous recipes.
- Green Beans with Pine Nuts
Green beans with toasted pine nuts is the perfect side dish for any meat for chicken dish. The crunchiness of the nuts compliments the green beans very well.
Middle Eastern Desserts
Dessert is one of the most anticipated courses of a holiday meal. In the Middle East, you will commonly find fruit as the dessert, depending on what's in season. It is light, sweet, and a nice ending to a big meal. However, there are several Middle Eastern desserts that are perfect for the holidays, like:
Baklava takes a lot of time to make. It's sticky and gooey. You will get messy - that's a given. But it is worth it. Baklava is such a dessert of passion. The passion it takes to make it, enjoying the sweet taste with each bite, makes it a dessert that is one of a kind.
- Baked Quince
Baked quinces are a great dessert. Quinces are like an apple or pear, with a little more tartness. The quince is not a very popular fruit in the west but can be found in many supermarkets. Try this baked quince recipe.