Saturday, January 30, 2016

Tea Time: Middle East

Tea and coffee are pretty big in the Middle East and are enjoyed by everyone, everywhere and anytime! Here we will focus on tea. Coffee in the Middle East pretty much comes in two varieties: Turkish coffee and Arabic coffee (aka Saudi coffee) but we will cover that in a separate post soon.  Every region (or nation)  have their own flavor or ritual of making tea from refreshing mint green tea in Morocco to slightly dark tea in Iran. Arabs wake up with Turkish or Arabic coffee and then followed with tea when eating breakfast.  Tea consumption continues through out the day and late night. When visiting someone's home, it's customary to offer guests tea (and coffee or both) with some type of Middle Eastern sweet or dessert.  In most of the Middle East, tea is consumed throughout the day as a social activity, during work and in business functions and afternoon breaks, with tea bars and kiosks filling a similar social function to alcohol drinking establishments in Europe and North America. In Amman, Jordan tea and coffee kiosks or stops are even available along highways.

Arabs drink tea in a variety of methods and flavors. Fresh mint is the most popular herb and it's used extensively in North Africa and the Levant. Other flavors include cardamom, sage (meramiah), cinnamon, anise, lemon or just sadah (plain black tea). North African nations such as Morocco and Algeria mostly drink green tea while majority of the Middle East drink black tea. Teas from the Gulf nations are made similar to Indian tea chai masala. The tea is spiced with cardamom and cloves is served milky and sweet.

Here is a sampling of tea recipes around the Middle East and North Africa

Palestinian Sage (Meramieh) Tea

Palestinians drink sage tea and mint tea. Here is a basic recipe for a sage tea:
Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat, add the tea and sage leaves, and cover the pan. Wrap a kitchen towel around the pan and set it aside for 10 minutes to allow the tea to steep. Then strain the liquid into a teapot and serve hot, with a bowl of sugar on the side.

What is Maramia (Sage)?

Maramia (Sage)  is a healthy, naturally grown herb originating from the Mediterranean  that is used for cooking, medicine, and  smudging. The epithet officinales, of its scientific name Salvia officinales, refers  to its healing properties and medicinal uses, as the officina was the storeroom in monasteries during the Medieval Era where medicines and herbs were stored. Maramia has been used since before ancient times for a variety of things from snakebites to increasing fertility and warding off evil.

Jordanian (Badouin) Tea

For best results, always use lose leaf tea. 
  1. Pour the water into the tea kettle and add the sugar. (This is a key step! Letting the sugar boil with the water and tea leaves makes all the difference)
  2. Add the loose tea leaves on top of the water. The leaves will remain floating on top. Do not stir.
  3. Place the kettle over fire and allow the tea to boil and brew to a beautiful dark amber color.
  4. If brewing over a camp fire, lift the cover off the tea kettle for a few minutes as it boils to obtain a delicious smokey flavor.  A must try!
  5. For additional flavors, add a spring of fresh mint or thyme into your glass and pour the tea over it. Do not boil the herbs with tea as some may become bitter with boiling.
  6. Settle into a comfy spot and enjoy with good company!
  7. You can never have enough tea. Refill any empty glass promptly. 

Yemeni Tea (Chai Adani)


Yemeni tea is similar to Indian tea (Chai Masala).  This recipe is for milk tea, a very sweet black tea spiced with cardamom and cloves added to condensed milk. Let the milk boil lightly on the stove for a few minutes to develop the flavor.

16 oz. water (2 cups)
4 oz. condensed milk
6 tsp. sugar (NOTE: Yemeni tea is very sweet, you may lessen the sugar to taste)
3-4 cardamom pods
2 whole cloves
2 teabags

Add water, milk, sugar, cardamom, and cloves to saucepan and bring to a boil on medium heat.Boil on medium heat for about 5 minutes, being careful not to burn milk.Add tea and continue boiling for another 5 minutes, allowing the tea to flavor the milk. Serve with thamool or cookies. Serves 2

Moroccan Mint GreenTea

Morocco consumes green tea with mint rather than black tea. It has become part of the culture and is used widely at almost every meal. The Moroccan people even make tea performance a special culture in the flower country. Moroccan tea is commonly served with rich tea cookies, fresh green mint leaves, local "finger shape" brown sugar, and colorful tea glasses and pots. Drinking Moroccan tea is not only a luxury of tongue, but also the eyes.
Serves 2, makes 3 cups
1 tea bag (black tea) or 1 tablespoon loose black tea
3 whole mint sprigs
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 cups steaming hot water
Add the sugar to a tea pot or serving pitcher; add the mint sprigs and tea, and pour hot water over mixture. Stir a few times to dissolve the sugar and close the tea pot lid (or cover up pitcher). Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve hot

Omani Tea

 Boil a pan of water, whilst it’s coming to the boil add five or six big handfuls of sugar.

  1. Add 6-8 ‘Mumtaz’ tea bags, you can tear them open for better flavour if you like. Then add two small cans of evaporated milk and bring it back to the boil. For something extra flavoursome, add two Zatar (Thyme) tea bags, some finely grated ginger and a pinch of cardamom at the same time as the milk.
  2. Take it off the heat and dunk the tea bags repeatedly and let it rest for a few minutes.
  3. Finally bring back to the boil and serve in small shot glasses. If there’s none to hand an adapted milk can works wonderfully.

 Iraqi Tea

The most popular brands of tea used in Iraq are Assam black tea, Ceylon Black tea, and other brands. They are dark and strong when brewed. Sometimes we add a stick of cinnamon to the teapot or a few pods of whole cardamom to falvor the tea.
There is other variety of teas that we serve in Iraq, and they are dried lime tea, and chamomile tea. Hibiscus tea is more popular in the South. These teas are used for medicinal purposes.
We usually consume tea throughout the day, and you can find tea stalls and vendors everywhere. We drink tea with milk in the morning for breakfast. Other times of the day, we drink it black.
You need a teapot, and a kettle with boiling water
2 teaspoons loose black tea or (Lipton loose tea)
2 cups boiling water
Granulated sugar, or sugar cubes
Put tea in the teapot and pour the hot water. Place the cover on top of the teapot. Cover the teapot with a towel to keep the teapot warm and steep for 10 minutes. We traditionally put the teapot on top of the kettle to steep.
To serve it, we put 1 teaspoon or more of sugar in the istikan, or tea cup. Pour tea to half full, and add boiling water to top of the cup. Stir the tea cup and drink. Be careful, the istikan can be very hot. We do not strain the tea as we pour it. Tea leaves settle to the bottom of the istikan.
Sometimes we serve sugar cubes on the side.
Note: we add boiling water to the tea when we pour tea in a cup to dilute it. Tea can be very strong, and gets bitter as it sits longer on top of the kettle.

Syrian Anise Tea 


Anise Tea sprinkled with walnuts

2 teaspoons anise seeds
50 g of sugar
1 liter of soft water or still water
7 tsp black tea (Assam)
3 tablespoons walnuts

Add anise seeds with sugar and ½ liters of water boil. Can be drawn on a low heat in a covered 10 min. Fill the black tea in a tea bag and hang in a teapot. Boil the remaining water, let cool 1 minute, then pour over the tea leaves. The tea can be drawn 4-5 min. Chop the walnuts. Remove the tea bags from the pot and pour spiced tea through a strainer. Distribute the tea glasses and serve sprinkled with chopped nuts.

Saudi Tea

The majority of Saudis enjoy their tea.  Most like it after they have eaten their evening meal.  While some may have green tea, the majority will enjoy dark tea brewed with tea leaves and not tea bags.  Saudi tea can be fixed a variety of different ways but I will describe the way I prepare it and helped win the heart of my Saudi mother-in-law.
First I would boil 2.5 cups of water in a kettle but itself without any tea added.  In a separate tea kettle I would put 2 small pinches (usually 2 tablespoon each) of tea into the bottom of the tea kettle.  I would also add 1.5 tablespoons of sugar.  One the water had come to a rolling boil I’d transfer the boiling water into the tea kettle with the tea leaves.  I’d put this tea kettle back on the burner and again bring the water (now with tea leaves) to another rolling boil.  As the water boils the tea leaves will rise to the top.  I’d usually let it boil this way for one to two minutes.  Then I get a spoon to collect and the tea leaves from the boiling water.  This ensures that the tea will not get any stronger than what you have just freshly brewed.  After collecting the tea leaves from the water, I’d then remove the tea kettle from the stove and serve immediately in the skinny glass tea glasses typically used here in the Kingdom to serve tea.
Egyptian Tea

Egyptian tea comes in two varieties: Koshary and Saiidi. Koshary tea, popular in Lower (Northern) Egypt, is prepared using the traditional method of steeping black tea in boiled water and letting it set for a few minutes. It is almost always sweetened with cane sugar and is often flavored with fresh mint leaves. Adding milk is also common. Koshary tea is usually light, with less than a half teaspoonful per cup considered to be near the high end.

Egyptian Saiidi Tea

Saiidi tea is common in Upper (Southern) Egypt. It is prepared by simmering black tea with water for as long 20 minutes over a medium flame (or boil tea for 5 minutes) Saiidi tea is extremely heavy, with 2 teaspoonfuls per cup being the norm. It is sweetened with copious amounts of cane sugar (a necessity since the formula and method yield a very bitter tea). Saiidi tea is often black even in liquid form.

Tunisian Tea


1 tablespoon loose-leaf gunpowder green tea

    • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons cool water
    • 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1 large handful of fresh mint, rinsed and picked over
    • 4 tablespoons pine nuts, dry roasted (optional)


  1. In a stove-top teapot, add the tea leaves and cover with the 3 tablespoons of water. Bring to a quick boil and immediately pour off the water, being carefully that no tea leaves escape. (This gets rid of the some of the bitterness, and allows the tea to seep longer with mint.)
  2. Add the sugar to the wet grounds and cover with the remaining 3 cups of water. Over medium heat, with the lid open or off, bring to a boil.
  3. Pour half of the liquid into a bowl or Pyrex measuring cup; reserve. Stuff the mint into the teapot, pressing it against the bottom of the pot with a spoon to gently and slightly crush the leaves. Return the reserved liquid to the teapot.
  4. Simmer over low heat for a few minutes to let the mint infuse. Pour a glassful into a clear drinking glass and then back into the pot, from as high as possible without spilling to aerate the tea and blend the flavors. Repeat this two or three more times, as the color of tea changes from clear to a cloudy caramel.
  5. Begin tasting for sweetness and flavor. Add more sugar if desired, or let it simmer another few minutes to make it stronger. Continue to pour glassfuls in and out of the pot until satisfied with both the sweetness and strength of the tea.

Kuwaiti Tea


  1. Combine the water, saffron, and cardamom in a saucepan over medium heat. Cover, and bring to a boil. Add tea bags, and let the tea steep for a minute, or longer if you like stronger tea. Strain into a cup, and sweeten with sugar if desired.


Boil water and add to cup with tea bag let steep for 5 mins the add and stir sugar and finally add Milk. Yummers

Number of Servings: 1

And of course one should remember that the tea glass is to be filled to the brim showing guests how welcome they are!

Sudanese Cinnamon Tea

SERVES 4 , 4 cups
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 4 tea english tea bags or 4 teaspoon of loose english tea
  • 4 cinnamon sticks (approx 1/2-inch)
  • 4 lumps of sugar, plus extra
  • sugar
Place 4 cups of boiling water in a tea pot with the tea & allow to brew for a few minutes then stir.
Place 1 cinnamon stick & 1 sugar lump in a tea cup & pour the tea slowly over them.
Serve with an additional bowl of sugar lumps for guests to add if they like. (You may also add a cinnamon stick to the tea pot whilst the tea is brewing for a stronger cinnamon flavour).

Cardamom and Cinnamon Tea

Put 2 Tablespoons of black tea leaves into a tea pot that you have just heated by rinsing it with boiling water. Add 6 cardamom pods and a 2-inch piece of stick cinnamon. Now pour in 5 cups of water that you have just brought to a rolling boil (put in 6 cups of you like your tea on the weaker side). Cover the tea pot and let the tea steep for 4 minutes. Stir the tea.

You may serve this tea with milk and sugar, honey and lemon, or just plain.

Serves 4-6. 

Proper Way to Making Arabic Tea !

Offering tea is an integral part of Arab hospitality, and people in the Arab world drink tea throughout the day. The majority of Arabs drink black tea and tea whether. North African nations mostly drink green tea.


  • 6 cups water
  • 4 teaspoons black tea or tea bags
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • 6 sage (maramiah) leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • Sugar

Bring the water to the boil in a pot and add the tea leaves or bags.

Simmer for two to three minutes until the color diffuses, then remove the pot from the stove.

Rinse the mint leaves under running water, shake them dry, then tear them apart by hand.

Crush the cardamom pods gently in a pestle and mortar.

Pour the tea into a serving pot, add the mint and cardamom pods, cover and allow to steep for five minutes.

Serve the tea by pouring it through a strainer into small, delicate heatproof glasses and add sugar to taste.


  • Arab tea served in the Middle East tends to be taken sweet, with an almost syrupy consistency.

Spicy Brew

Boost the infusion with a more assertive spice mix, usually at the expense of the mint leaves, as the fragrant subtlety is lost once the spices take over.
  • Meramieh tea substitutes fresh sage leaves, native to the
    Mediterranean, for mint to give a soothing tea. This tea is traditional in Lebanon.
  • Cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are also appropriate options, releasing
    aromatic oils into the tea as it steeps.

Milky Tea

The influence of Indian chai on the Arabian peninsula makes itself known with Karak tea, served with condensed milk.
  • Boil up the spices first, typically cardamom, nutmeg and
    cinnamon, then add the black tea and allow to brew.
  • Stir in a dash of condensed milk, enough to give the tea
    some creaminess, but not too much to dilute the dark tan color.
Qatari Karak Tea

Karak is the Middle Eastern version of a drink that originates from India—masala chai (which means tea with mixed spices). You may be familiar with chai tea latte, a sweeter, frothier version which is made in western coffee houses, using steamed milk.
There are many versions of this tea it seems, but whether you call it chai tea latte, masala chai, chai, chai tea, chai karak or simply karak, it is essentially the same thing: a warm drink made with black tea, milk, sugar and spices.
Wherever you are in the world, the basic ingredients remain the same, but the spices, type of milk and type of sweetener change. Some use sugar to sweeten it, others use honey; some prefer cow's milk, others condensed milk. As for the spices, there are endless possibilities.
The spice mix varies from region to region and can be adjusted to suit your own taste. Even families have their own special recipe and way of preparing it. On the Indian subcontinent, recipes tend to include ginger and cardamom, as well as cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, peppercorn, nutmeg or cloves.

Qatar karak    

In Qatar, strong black tea, sugar, a dominant cardamom flavour and condensed milk appears to be the combination of choice. It is not as spicy as the Indian masala chai, and the condensed milk makes it creamier and sweeter.
Strong Arabic Mint Tea

4 ½ cups water
¼ cup sugar*
3 black tea bags**
5-6 fresh mint leaves
Pour water and sugar into a teapot or saucepan to boil on the stove. Heat on high until water is boiling and sugar has dissolved. While water is boiling, add the tea bags and mint leaves and boil rapidly for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the tea bags and mint.*** The tea is now ready to serve! Enjoy!!

*1/4 cup of sugar achieves the sweetness at which my Saudi friends serve this tea. It’s quite sweet though, so you’ll have to adjust the sugar to your taste!
**I made this tea using Lipton tea bags. My Arabic friends use black tea bags from their local Arabic grocery store. The tea was delicious with the Lipton too, though

Turkish Tea 

To make the Turkish black tea like the Turks do you will need two kettles of different sizes: a big and a small one. The big kettle must be made of metal and the small one can be made of metal or ceramic.
First fill with water the big kettle and place it at the stove. Then put the small kettle above the big kettle. At the small kettle put black tea (the measure of black tea is a dessert spoon for each person). Light the stove. While the water is boiling in the big kettle the second small kettle will also be warmed. Please notice that the small kettle contains only black tea and it does not contain water.
After the water boiled, you should put this water on the small kettle where there you have the black tea. (The measure of the water is relative to the number of persons who will drink the tea. For example, if just two people wants to drink tea you should add a little bit of water, if there are more people you must put more water).
Now you must wait 15 minutes more or less, this is necessary so that the tea can cook. You will see that after 15 minutes the tea stays in the bottom of the kettle, this means that the tea can be served.
In Turkey black tea is generally not drink in mugs but in special glass cups as a Turkish tradition.

There are two types of tea to be served: the strong tea "Koyu cay " and the light tea "acik cay". When serving the strong black tea you must fill two thirds of the mug with tea of the second kettle and add the boiling water to fill the rest of the mug. As the tea is strong the colour of this tea is dark brown. When serving the light black tea you must fill one third of the mug with tea of the second kettle and add the boiling water to fill rest of the mug. As the tea is light the colour is light brown. Add sugar, as you like.

Persian Tea (Iran) 

  1. Fill the kettle with fresh cold water and bring to a boil. As soon as the water comes to a boil, warm up your teapot by rinsing it with some hot water from the kettle.
  2. Place 2 tablespoons of tea into the teapot. Don't use any tea holders inside the teapot. If you buy your tea in bulks from outdoor vendors, you may want to also give your tea a gentle rinse with water to get rid of the possible dirt and dust.
  3. Pour water into the pot over the loose tea leaves. Fill it nearly to the rim and put the lid back on.
  4. Place the pot on the kettle in a secure position. It should fit well on the kettle. Allow it to brew for at least 10-15 minutes on medium to low heat.
  5. Rinse inside the cups with hot water.
  6. Gently pour tea into glass cups to prevent it from making a lot of bubbles. Depending on how strong or light you might like your tea, adjust it using the boiled water in the kettle. It is a good practice when serving a large group of guests to have a tray with both light and dark tea.
 To add some extra flavor you may add the following ingredients to the teapot:

1 tablespoon of rosewater (golab)
2-3 green cardamom (hel) pod opened
2 small sticks of cinnamon (darchin)
You may serve chai with sugar cubes, dates, raisins or other sweets. However, for those serious tea drinkers, adding sugar, milk or anything else would take away from the taste.
There's also the etiquette of serving the eldest and the ladies first as you are making rounds. Make sure there are no spillage on the tray either. That's the lesson I learned early on in my life when I was only ten years old. One day, my mother handed me a tray with several full cups and told me to take it outside and offer them to the guests sitting in the garden. Before I could get any further some tea spilled due to my shaky hands. She wiped the tray, filled up the cups and told me: "Look, you should be able to dance ballet and carry a  tea tray at the same time without spilling a drop." The memory of that day is still fresh in my mind!
I like my tea dark and a little bit on the bitter side with no sugar, milk or lemon. How do you like your tea?

Afghani Tea

Tea in Afghanistan can be categorized into black tea, green tea and milk tea similar to chai masala.

Chai Sabze (Green Tea)

20 oz. water
4 cardamom seeds
1 tsp. green tea
sugar or honey to taste
Steep 3 minutes, strain off the tea leaves and put tea into a teapot with the cardamom seeds. Sweeten with honey or sugar or drink plain. (Can use chewy chocolate or toffee candy as a substitute sweetener. Just chew candy a little and hold between your teeth to add sweet taste to your plain tea!)

Chai Sya (Black Tea)
In Afghanistan tea is served with sweet and salty snacks. Guests are seated on pillows surrounding a tablecloth spread directly over a carpet on the floor.

20 oz. water
4 green cardamom seeds
2 tsp. black tea
sugar or honey to taste
Puncture the cardamom seeds and put into a pot or tea kettle with the water. Simmer 20 minute. Remove from the heat and add the tea. Steep 5 minutes, strain off the tea leaves and put tea into a tea pot with the cardamom seeds. Serve with sugar or honey. Approx. 2 cups.

Shir Chai (Milk Tea)

2 oz. water
1 T. black tea
6 oz. milk
1/2 tsp. ground cardamom seeds
sugar or honey to taste
Put the water and tea in a saucepan and boil up together, simmering for 5 minutes. Add the cardamom and milk, bring to a boil again and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the sugar or honey and let stand for 15 minutes. Bring to a simmering boil, strain and serve immediately. Serves 1

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Popular Rice Dishes of the Middle East and North Africa

Rice is King in the Middle East!  We Middle Easterners love our rice!  Like our friends farther east, from India all the way to Japan, we love rice!  Arabs pride themselves in producing light, fluffy rice, with a nutty and rich flavor, well seasoned enough to stand on its own.  We love to serve mounds of fluffy white rice, warmly plain or spiced with the flavors of allspice, turmeric, cinnamon or nutmeg, topped with buttery pine nuts or almonds fried in ghee

Mjadarrah- The Levant

Mjedarrah or mujadarrah  is an ancient meatless dish that is hugely popular throughout the Arab world, fragrantly spiced rice (but not spicy) with lentil beans combined with sweet crunchy onion and (optional) topped with nuts or raisins. Each region or even nation of the Arab countries have their own version but this dish is most popular or common in the Levant region (Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Jordan). Mjedarrah is also known as kushary in Egypt

Mansaf - Jordan 

Mansaf  is a traditional -Jordanian dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur. It is the national dish of Jordan and it is also common in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. The name of the dish comes from the term "large tray" or "large dish". Mansaf is the national dish of Jordan.

Mandi -Yemen

Mandi is a traditional Yemeni dish from Hadhramaut, Yemen. The word "mandi" comes from the Arabic word nada, meaning "dew", and reflects the moist 'dewy' texture of the meat. Mandi is usually made from rice, meat (lamb or chicken), and a mixture of spices.  The main thing which differentiates mandi is that the meat is cooked in the tandoor (taboon in Hadhrami), which is a special kind of oven. The tandoor is usually a hole dug in the ground and covered inside by clay. To cook mandi, dry wood is placed in the tandoor and burned to generate a lot of heat turning into charcoal. The meat is then suspended inside the tandoor without touching the charcoal. After that, the whole tandoor is closed without letting any of the smoke out. Raisins, pine nuts, or peanuts can be added to the rice as per one's taste.Mandi is considered the main dish served during special events, such as Eid, weddings, and feasts.

Makloobah - Palestine

Makloobah or Maqlubah is the national dish of Palestine and also a traditional dish in Jordan. The dish includes meat, rice, and fried vegetables placed in a pot, which is then flipped upside down when served , hence the name maqluba, which translates literally as "upside-down". The dish can include a variety of vegetables, such as fried tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, eggplant, and chicken or lamb. When the casserole is inverted, the top is bright red from the tomatoes that now form the top layer and cover the golden eggplant.Maqluba is usually served with either yogurt or a simple Arab salad (salata Arabia) of diced tomato, cucumber, parsley, and lemon juice, often mixed with a tahina sauce.

Sayadiyah - The Levant

Sayadieh is fish and rice dish from the Levant. The rice is cooked in a fish broth with spices and fried onions that give the rice its typical brown color. It is topped with fish pieces and garnished with fried almonds, pine nuts and sliced crispy fried onions.

Kabsah - Saudi Arabia 

Kabsa  is a family of rice dishes that are served mostly in Saudi Arabia — where it is commonly regarded as a national dish — and the other Arab states of the Gulf. Kabsa, though, is believed to be indigenous to Yemen. In places like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait the dish is popularly known as machbūs, but is served mostly in the same way

Machboos - Gulf region

Machboos is a popular rice and meat dish in Kuwait and other gulf countries. Machboos is similar to Biryani (from the Indian subcontinent) and Kabsa (from Saudi Arabia), all with varying cooking methods, ingredients, degree of spiciness, and assembly.

Muhammar - Bahrain

Muhammar is a traditional dish from Bahrain. It is a sweet, rice dish that imbued with spices and date palm. Usually eaten with fried or grilled fish. The rice is parboiled and then steamed. Caramelized sugar syrup gives the rice it's color and sweetness.  

Bukhari Rice - Saudi Arabia

Bukhari Rice or Ruz al Bukhari is a  very popular recipe in the Middle East, especially loved in the Saudi Arabia and Gulf countries, Bukhari Rice is an aromatic and flavorful rice dish that features numerous spices and has an interesting origin.

Basmati Rice Pilaf 

A staple and simple rice dish of the Middle East. Rice pilaf is usually spiced (but not spicy) and various nuts and raisins are added to the rice depending on the region of the Middle East. Lebanese Rice Pilaf is made with vermicelli noodles toasted in clarified (rendered) butter.

Spicy Moroccan Rice


Spicy Moroccan rice -cooked with Moroccan spice seasonings- comes in different varieties with or without meats.
 Arabic Rice Stuffing

Arabic-style rice stuffing is an easy dish that is used for chicken, lamb or turkey stuffing. It is also served as a side dish with traditional Arabic roasted leg of lamb or roasted chicken pieces. The rice stuffing is a also a great standalone dish and is usually made with ground lamb (or beef) and a variety of spices.

Ouzi (Baked Lamb and Rice)

Ouzi is a favorite Arabic rice and meat dish which consists of rice, peas, slow roasted or baked lamb (or minced lamb meat) with an assortment of spices, raisins and toasted nuts.
Arabic Biryani

Biryani is an extremely popular Indian spicy rice dish. The Arabic version have less or no chilies and therefore not as spicy. While similar cooked meat and rice dishes (i.e.Maqluba, Kabsa) are common in the Middle East, Biryani in the region likely has roots in the longstanding merchant and cultural ties between the Arabian Peninsula and Iraq with South Asia. Thus, Biryani is more typically found in places like Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and Oman

Qabuli pulao (Afghani Rice)


Qabuli pulao is the most popular dish in Afghanistan, and is considered the national dish. It is a made by cooking basmati or long grained rice in a brothy sauce (which makes the rice brown). This dish may be made with lamb, chicken, or beef. Qabili Palau is baked in the oven and topped with fried sliced carrots and raisins. Chopped nuts like pistachios or almonds may be added as well. The meat is covered by the rice or buried in the middle of the dish.


Persian Tah-Dig Rice


Tahdig is a speciality of Iranian cuisine consisting of crisp rice taken from the bottom of the pot in which the rice (chelow) is cooked. It is traditionally served to guests at a meal. Ingredients commonly added to tahdig include yogurt and saffron, bread, potato and tomato. Variations of tahdig include placing thin vegetable slices at the bottom of the pot, so they crisp up instead of the rice. Common vegetables include potato, carrots, and lettuce. Iranians also apply this crisping method to spaghetti as well, providing a hardened base.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

15 Healthiest Staple Foods from the Middle East

Middle Eastern cuisine is becoming more popular in America because of the many health benefits associated with it and the wide variety of healthy dishes. The Middle Eastern diet  which also a part of the  Mediterranean diet emphasize the use of olive oil, fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and legumes as primary foods. Many Middle Eastern dishes contain high amounts of olive oil, beans, lentils and chickpeas. Olive oil provides the body with a good source of healthy fats while chickpeas and lentils are high in protein and fiber to aid in digestion.

Middle Eastern cuisine encompasses the fresh ingredients and aromatic flavors used by countries such as Syria, Morocco, Lebanon, Iran, and Turkey . Always full of fresh herbs, warm spices and savory flavors, typical Middle Eastern meals include salads, vegetables, bread and  small amount of meat. Increasing numbers of Americans are indulging in the once-exotic flavors of Middle Eastern favorites like hummus, baba ghannouj and tabbouleh.

Fresh vegetables, fruit, legumes, low-fat dairy products, fish, nuts and seeds are the foundation of Middle Eastern cuisine. Many staples  including olive oil, a variety of nuts, stuffed vegetables, yogurt as well as baklava derived from Ottoman influences. Fresh ingredients are enhanced with herbs and spices instead of heavy sauces. The most common seasonings include mint, parsley, oregano, garlic, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Fresh fruits and vegetables are consumed in much larger portions than meats and flat bread or pita is eaten at nearly every meal.

15 Healthy Staple Foods and Spices of the Middle East

Chickpeas or Garbanzo Beans (hummus, falafel, stews)

Chickpeas, with their subtle nutty flavor and buttery texture, are used as a main ingredient in hummus, a rich garlicky dip that's growing in popularity here in the United States, and falafel, ground chickpeas and spices that are fried and eaten as a street food or fast food in much of the Middle East. Chickpeas are also popular in soups, stews and side dishes.
Health Benefits: Chickpeas contain healthy nutrients including protein, manganese, folate, tryptophan, copper, phosphorus and iron. Plus, they're an excellent source of fiber, which is known to help lower cholesterol, fight heart disease and stabilize blood sugar levels.

Grape Leaves (dolmas, warak inab mahshi)

Grape leaves are a popular wrapper for rice and meat in the Middle East. Perhaps the most popular use is for stuffed grape leaves (warak inab mahshi or dolmas) an appetizer of grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and sometimes ground beef. You can find grape leaves canned or bottled, but fresh leaves can also be used after they're steamed or blanched.
Health Benefits: Aside from being incredibly low in calories (five leaves have only about 14 calories), grape leaves are packed with nutrients including vitamins C, E, A, K and B6, niacin, iron, fiber, riboflavin, folate, calcium, magnesium, copper and manganese. If you use the bottled variety, give them a rinse before you use them. This will remove some of the excess sodium in the brine.


Eggplant is the most commonly consumed vegetable in Middle Eastern cuisine, and is the featured ingredient in baba ghannouj (eggplant dip). It's served grilled, stewed, fried and even pickled in a number of dishes, or on its own.
Health Benefits: Nasunin, a phytonutrient found in the eggplant's skin, is an antioxidant that protects against free radical damage and protects the fats in brain cell membranes. Eggplants also contain chlorogenic acid, which is known to have anti-cancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties, as well as help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. They're also a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, manganese, copper and vitamin B1.


Fresh mint leaves are a popular herb in Middle Eastern cooking, used in tabbouleh salad, yogurt sauces, vegetable dishes, soups and beverages, including a strong mint tea, which is traditionally offered to arriving guests.
Health Benefits: Aside from being a good source of manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A, the peppermint oil in fresh mint leaves is soothing for the stomach -- it's been found to relieve irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, colonic muscle spasms and more. It also contains potent phytonutrients that have been found to protect against cancer, neutralize free radicals, and benefit asthma and allergies. And, peppermint oil is anti-microbial, which means it can stop the growth of various types of bacteria and fungus.

Olives and Olive Oil 

Olive trees abound in the Levant and North Africa, and the olives  are used for oil and also for appetizers, stews, salads and sauces. Olive oil is used generously for cooking and salad dressings and also as a dip for crusty breads.
Health Benefits: Olives contain healthy monounsaturated fatty acids that have been found to reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and increase HDL (good) cholesterol.Olives and olive oil also contain antioxidants, polyphenols, flavonoids and vitamin E. This combination has been found to help fight colon cancer and heart disease, as well as reduce inflammation.


Ground turmeric, which lends a characteristic yellow color to foods, is used in many Middle Eastern meat and vegetable dishes. It has a peppery, slightly bitter flavor that is a staple ingredient in curries.
Health Benefits: Turmeric is a nutrition powerhouse. Most notably, it contains curcumin, which gives it not only its color but also many of its health benefits. Turmeric has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been found to be helpful in fighting inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis, cancer and Alzheimer's disease. It may also provide cardiovascular and liver protection.


Lemons are used as a feature flavor in sauces, appetizers, entrées, and salad dressings
Health Benefits: Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin B6, iron and potassium, and a very good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C. They also contain calcium, copper, folic acid, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc.Aside from their many nutrients, lemons are rich in bioflavonoids, which protect against damage from free radicals, act as natural antibiotics and may help prevent heart disease and cancer. Lemons are also anti-bacterial and anti-septic, making them good for mouth ulcers, canker sores and sore throats.Finally, lemon pulp and skin contains pectin, a compound that may lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels in diabetics


Lentil Beans (lentil soup, mujadarrah)

There are a variety of lentil soups served in Middle Eastern cuisine, and for good reason. Lentil soups are a great option for calorie-conscious foodies, primarily because the beans that make up the bulk of the meal are very filling without providing a high calorie count. Lentil soups are a great source of fiber and are low in calories and fat.Most of the fats present in lentil soups come from olive oil, making them healthy fats. Popular recipes for lentil soup vary, but some of the common ingredients aside from lentils include diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, carrots and celery.
Health Benefits: They are a good source of potassium, calcium, zinc, niacin and vitamin K, but are particularly rich in dietary fiber, lean protein, folate and iron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods like lentils can lessen your risk of many serious medical 0problems.


Cumin, a spice with a nutty, peppery flavor, is used in whole-seed and ground form to flavor a host of Middle Eastern dishes. Cumin is so popular in some Middle Eastern regions that it's kept in a shaker on the table, as salt and pepper are kept in the United States.
Health Benefits: Cumin is rich in iron, which is excellent for energy and keeping the immune system healthy. It is also known to benefit the digestive system, as cumin may stimulate the secretion of pancreatic enzymes that help with digestion and nutrient assimilation. Cumin may also have cancer-fighting properties.


Tahini (Sesame Seed Paste)

Tahini, a paste made from ground sesame seeds, is mixed with chickpeas as a key ingredient in hummus and is also often used in the eggplant dip baba ghannouj. Tahini is also part of a popular sesame confection called halvah, and is mixed with lemon juice and used as a sauce for meats, vegetables and salads.
Health Benefits: Sesame seeds contain beneficial fibers called sesamin and sesamolin, both of which belong to the lignan group. These substances help lower cholesterol and have been found to prevent high blood pressure and increase vitamin E in animals. Sesamin also protects the liver from oxidative damage. Sesame seeds are also rich in manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin B1 and zinc.


The Middle East is well know for it's spinach pies (fatayer bil sabanekh) and spinach and meat stews.
Health Benefits: Spinach is loaded with health benefits. It contains at least 13 different flavonoid compounds that are potent antioxidants and are known to fight cancer. It also contains ample quantities of nutrients that can help protect your bones, heart, brain and eyes, and fight inflammation, asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, it's a great energy food.Spinach is a rich source of vitamins K, C, B2, B6 and A, manganese, folate, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, tryptophan and dietary fiber (among many others).


Yogurt (Laban)

Very popular in the Middle East and is part of daily eating habits. Yogurt dishes include labneh (strained yogurt) and khiyar wa laban among others. Laban is also used in stews and rice dishes.
Health Benefits: Yogurt is nutritionally rich in protein, calcium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12.[38] It has nutritional benefits beyond those of milk, namely due to its probiotics.[39] Lactose-intolerant individuals may tolerate yogurt better than other dairy products due to the conversion of lactose to the sugars glucose and galactose, and the fermentation of lactose to lactic acid carried out by the bacteria present in the yogurt.[40] Yogurt contains varying amounts of fat. For example, some cows'-milk yogurts contain no fat; others of low fat content have 2% fat, whole-milk yogurt may have 4% fat.



Originated in what's called now Iraq, dates are a staple food of the Middle East  Dates are an important traditional crop in Iraq, Arabia, and north Africa west to Morocco. Dates are also mentioned more than 50 times in the Bible and 20 times in the Qur'an. In Islamic culture, dates and yogurt or milk are traditionally the first foods consumed for Iftar after the sun has set during Ramadan
Health Benefits: Dates  are a good source of dietary fiber. Dates are rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants and the essential minerals potassium and magnesium. A diet that regularly includes low-fat, nutrient-dense foods like dates may enhance your health and help decrease your chance of developing many chronic diseases.


A staple and very popular dish of North African nations (Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) and also in Palestine and Lebanon.
Health Benefits A 1-cup serving of couscous contains 180 calories, 35 grams of carbohydrate and 6 grams of protein. Both couscous and pasta contain 2 grams of dietary fiber per serving. Although couscous is slightly lower in calories, the pasta provides you with more protein.


Garlic is used extensively in Middle Eastern food from dips such as hummus and baba ghanouj to stews to rice. Toum, a Lebanese garlic sauce, is a potent and very popular sauce or dip for chicken sandwiches and roasted chicken.
Health benefits: Strong flavored, garlic cloves contain many noteworthy phyto-nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants that have proven health benefits.Laboratory studies show that allicin reduces cholesterol production by inhibiting the HMG-CoA reductase enzyme within the liver cells.Allicin decreases blood vessel stiffness through facilitation of nitric oxide (NO) release. Nitric oxide relaxes blood vessels and thereby, bring a reduction in the total blood pressure.Allicin and other essential volatile compounds also found to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal activities.Garlic is an excellent source of minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health. The bulbs are one of the richest sources of potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. Selenium is a heart-healthy mineral, and is an important cofactor for antioxidant enzymes within the body. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Iron is required for red blood cell formation.It contains many flavonoid anti-oxidants like carotene beta, zea-xanthin, and vitamins like vitamin-C.