Memories of the Middle East
Love your hummus, but want to go beyond? Join us as we explore the flavours of the Middle East all this month.
Indians love their hummus and always find a bowl within reach. But, there is a world of Middle Eastern flavours beyond the popular savoury spread.
The Middle East is known as the cradle of civilisation. At a geographic crossroads between Asia, Africa and Europe, the area served as the conduit between empires on the famous Silk Road. Along this route, grain and spices were traded, permanently interlinking the cuisines of the region. Spanning The Persian Gulf, Syria, Israel, Yemen, Palestine and Iran in Asia; Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia in North Africa and Turkey in Europe, the region’s food is a culinary collage woven together with vibrant spices, skewered meats, olive oil, chickpeas and vegetables.
Palestine’s fragrant upside-down rice dish maqlubeh, Moroccan tagines, and kanafeh, a dessert of molten cheese and pastry, give us a glimpse of a cuisine that’s not just defined by tahini. It is comfort food that’s meant to be shared, usually over a heap of flatbreads that are so dear to the Middle Eastern soul that Egyptians call them ‘aysh’ – which means ‘life itself’.
The Vegetable Basket of the Middle East
Vegetarians will love Middle Eastern cuisine for its incorporation of vegetables and beans into everyday dishes, sometimes to the exclusion of meat. Vegetables like zucchini and eggplant are stuffed and grilled or stewed in dishes like Turkish dolma and mutabal. Okra is stewed with tomatoes and herbs in the popular dish bamieh that every Middle Eastern country has its own spin on, and the artichoke is a spring favourite in Syria. The heart is eaten stuffed or scrambled with eggs, and roasted garlic.
In the Spice Souk
From cumin, coriander, turmeric, and mint to exotic blends like Ras el Hanout, Middle Eastern cooking uses an array of spices to infuse rich flavours into its food. Arab spice traders once dominated the spice trade between the Far East, India, Africa, and Europe. Because of this, almost every spice in existence has found a place in Middle Eastern cuisine. Spices became the building blocks of dishes likemussakhan the Palestinian national dish of sumac-infused roast chicken and dukkah the Egyptian dip of spices, herbs and hazelnuts. Baharat – a popular blend containing black pepper, cardamom and nutmeg and is used a dry rub for meat or vegetables and in rice dishes. Middle Eastern cooks have wholeheartedly embraced the aromatic Tunisian chilli paste, Harissa. Made of smoked chillies, garlic, mint, olive oil, rose petals and spices like cumin, and caraway, its flavour lifts everything from soups to roasts. But no blend is as popular as Za’atar. Made of fresh thyme, sesame, sumac and salt, it is used as a dip, a rub and a topping for flatbreads like manakeesh.
A Date with Destiny
The people of the Middle East have been consuming dates for the past 6000 years. Date palm orchards form lush oases in otherwise harsh desert environments, and the fruit is considered to be a complete source of nutrition. Eating just 15 dates per day provides enough calories and nutrients for human survival. Israel’s caramel-like medjool is called ‘the king of dates’, while Saudi Arabia’s ajwa is rumoured to have healing powers. Iran’s mazafati dates are one of the oldest cultivated fruits and a boon for skin health. The fruit that’s at the cultural heart of the Middle East is eaten plain, stuffed with goat’s cheese and nuts, stewed in tagines and made into maamoul – date-filled cookies.
Middle Eastern Kitchen Essentials
Recreate the flavours of the Levant with these 5 must-haves
Tahini – Your favourite hummus gets its oomph from this nutty sesame paste.
Halloumi – Coat this goat’s milk cheese with za’atar and bake until golden or enjoy it grilled and drizzled with olive oil.
Couscous – Use this grain-like, North African pasta as a blank canvas for roasted vegetables and rich stews.
Pomegranate Molasses – The glossy syrup adds sweetness and acidity to any dish. Use it in muhammara or as a glaze over roast meat or vegetables.
Pine Nuts – Use these slightly sweet nuts in tabbouleh, to stuff kuftas, or as a garnish over hummus.
Visit a Foodhall store near you or call +91 805 903 1111 to bring a slice of the Middle East home to your kitchen.