One of my readers asked me to blog about a vegetarian Middle-Eastern meal. Although the majority of Arabic food involves some type of meat, there are various vegetarian starters/appetizers such as hummus, baba ghanoush, fatoush and taboola. There are also some main vegetarian Arabic dishes that are cooked by Middle East families when they are sick of eating meat. Personally, I love meat so I rarely get tired of eating maklooba, mansaf or kabsa but there are occasions where my family and I cook a simple vegeterian meal to relieve our bodies from the meat fumes.
A good and simple veggie meal is boiled cauliflower or otherwise known as Imsha’at. The main ingredients of this meal are cauliflower, of course, flour and eggs. First, the eggs along with the flour are mixed into a large bowl. Water is added to the bowl along with salt, cumin and a ground-spice mixture (this mixture of spices typically includes allspice, black pepper, cumin and cinnamon) and parsley. In the meantime, cut the cauliflower into several pieces and boil the cauliflower pieces with water until the cauliflower becomes moderately tender. Once the cauliflower pieces are ready, dip the cauliflower pieces (one at a time) into the mixture and fry the cauliflower in a deepy frying pan with corn (Mazola) oil. This meal is very simple to prepare and can be eaten by itself or you can make a cauliflower sandwich with pita bread. I personally like eating it with pita bread.
Serving Suggestions: Boiled cauliflower can be served with olives, pickles, and green onions. Arabic salad can also be served with this meal. The beverage of choice for this meal is a nice glass of hot tea.
Country of Specialty:
Boiled cauliflower is very popular in Palestine and Jordan. Syrians and Lebanese are familiar with this meal but it is rarely cooked by them.
Shish barak is a very interesting Middle Eastern dish that seems to be cooked rarely by households. It's certainly not as popular as your traditional maklooba and mansaf dishes but it's a delicious meal that's loved in the Middle East. I think some Syrians might be offended when reading this post because they love shish barak. Let me just say that I used to hate when my made shish barak because I was a shallow boy who thought the meal was appalling. I felt like the meal was sloppy so I used eat labenah or zatar for breakfast, lunch and dinner when my mom decided to cook shish barak. When I found out that the shish barak sauce tasted like mansaf, I decided to give it a try and until this day, I regret the fact that I judged the meal by its cover.
Shish barak is made from homemade flour dough. The dough is cut into small circular parcels and laid flat on the cooking board to prepare it for the stuffing. The stuffing consists of ground meat, salt, and chopped onions. The stuffing is placed into each parcel and the parcels are shaped like pieces of ravioli. The meat dumplings are either fried or baked depending on each household's preference. In the mean time, a hot yogurt sauce is prepared that consists of plain yogurt, chicken stock, garlic and salt. The yogurt sauce is like a thicker version of the sauce used to prepare mansaf. Once the yogurt sauce is prepared, the dumplings are placed in the sauce. Its best to eat this meal when it's hot because the meal loses its taste when it's cool and the yogurt sauce dries up.
Country of Specialty:
Shish barak is very popular in the Sham (Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria). Syria and Lebanon are well-known for making amazing shish barak.
Another popular Arabic dish is yellow rice with chicken or otherwise known as Oozi. Oozi can be made in different ways depending on the Middle Eastern country you're in. I am going to talk about how the Palestinian version of Oozi is prepared. Very similar to Kabsa, the main ingredients in Oozi are basmati rice and roasted chicken. The chicken can be roasted as a whole or in pieces. The roasted whole chicken is usually stuffed with either rice, vegetables or potatoes or a combination of the three.
When preparing the rice, chopped onions, garlic, ground meat and almonds are stirred in a pot. Tumeric is added to the rice to give it that strong yellow color. There are certain areas in Palestine that also add peas, carrots, and corn to the rice. Popular side dishes served with Oozi are yogurt or Arabic salad. Personally, I love it when my mom or my wife makes Oozi with a whole chicken stuffed with yellow rice. The rice inside the chicken is more juicy and so delicious to eat. When I visit my family in Palestine, I noticed that most families, at least most families in Silwad, serve this meal during family gatherings (azoomas).
Country of Specialty:
Oozi is an authentic meal of Saudi Arabia. Oozi was actually derived from the Arabic dish known as stuffed lamb (Kharoof Ma3shi). The Saudi Arabian Oozi is prepared differently from the Palestinian Oozi since it is eaten with lamb instead of chicken. Various vegetables including peas, carrots and corn are also added to the rice when preparing the Saudi Arabian Oozi.
If anyone is thinking to themselves, "do people in the middle east eat any food that doesn't include rice?" The answer is um, "sometimes." Maftoul,also known as couscous, is one of the few main Arabic dishes that doesn't include rice. Maftoul or couscous consists of wheat granules that are rolled up into small pellets. A special two-in-one steamer is used to prepare this dish. The bottom steamer includes the water, salt, spices(cumin,cinnamon)and chick peas while the top steamer includes the maftoul. Olive oil and onions are added in the top steamer with the maftoul.Once the maftoul has been cooked, it is placed into a large plate and olive oil is rubbed onto the maftoul.
Maftoul is usually prepared during special occasions since the preparation of this meal is very time-consuming. This dish is also very difficult to prepare so not all households know how to prepare this meal. When my mother-in-law makes this meal, she invites her whole family for dinner because she is one of the few people in the family that knows how to cook maftoul.
Depending on area of the middle east you reside, maftoul can be served in various ways. There are 3 main ways to serve maftoul.
1. The maftoul is served in a large plate and chick peas are placed over the maftoul. Boiled chicken is also prepared and served with the maftoul. A light chicken broth is poured over the maftoul to add some flavor. 2. The maftoul is served in small plates and a tomato sauce is prepared that includes chick peas and fried cauliflower. This sauce is poured over the the maftoul. Fried chicken served alongside the maftoul. 3. The maftoul is served in small plates and chick peas are placed over the maftoul. A chicken broth soup and roasted chicken are served along with the maftoul.
Country of Specialty: Maftoul is highly recognized in Palestine. The wheat granules used to prepare the maftoul in Palestine are rounder and larger than the wheat granules used in other middle eastern countries. Couscous is a very popular dish in Morocco.
As you can read from my previous posts, I love writing about food, especially Arabic food. There is nothing more delicious than a warm home-made Arabic dish. The family is all gathered around kitchen or dining room table, everyone says bismallah al-rahman al Rahim (In the name of God, the most gracious, most merciful) and then everyone just starts digging in and conversing about the current day events. Sorry, I guess I got off the subject and I'm actually hungry now. OK, so I want to tell everyone about the flavorful meal of Kabsa. What makes this meal rich in flavor is the fresh Saudi Arabian spices that are mixed into the basmati rice. A yellowish dye by the name of Tumeric is added to the rice to give it that strong yellow color. Slices of onions and an assortment of peppers ( red, green, yellow, orange) are also added to rice to give it the ultimate taste experience. Cloves of garlic are also added to the rice. The final key ingredient for this meal is chicken, of course. What Arabic meal is cooked without chicken? Very few. :) Pieces of roasted chicken are placed over the rice.
Kabsa can be cooked various ways depending on the middle eastern country you're in. Popular side dishes with Kabsa include yogurt and dakkous, a spicy tomato sauce. I prefer eating Kabsa with yogurt since the plain taste of yogurt compliments the spicy rich rice.
Country of Specialty: Kabsa is considered the national meal of Saudi Arabia. Kabsa is also popular in countries of the United Arabic Emirates (Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qater). Thank you Saudi Arabia for introducing us to the wonderful meal of Kabsa. Happy Eating everyone. Seriously, I need to go eat something now.
Another popular Arabic dish is the healthy dish of Mlukhiyah. Mlukhiyah consists of a spinach like herb stew with rice. Of course, you can't serve Mlukhiyah without chicken, which is cooked in the spinach stew. Some people cook mlukhiyah with rabbit instead of chicken. The spinach-like herb used to prepare Mlukhiyah is only found in hot climates with abundant rain. This herb needs lots of moisture in order to grow. As mentioned, Mlukhiyeah is a healthy Arabic dish and it is actually known to reduce cholesterol.
Personal Mlukhiyah Experience:
I have a love-hate relationship with mlukhiyah. When I was between the ages of 5-7, I remember how much I loved mlukhiyah. I remember my grandma used to cook us the most delicious mlukhiya with rabbit. She really made me love mlukhiyah. As I got older, I just stopped liking mlukhiyah.I think I just got sick of it. Now, I will eat mlukhiyah if my mom or wife makes it but I would never ask for it. My wife on other hand, LOVES mlukhiyah. If she had the chance to make mlukhiyah everyday, she would.
Country of Specialty:
Mlukihyah is very popular in Egypt. Egyptians prefer to cook it with rabbit instead of chicken. People in the Sham (Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) also enjoy cooking this Arabic dish.
Musakhan is one of the rare Middle Eastern dishes that doesn't include rice. Musakhan consists of flat bread cooked in a traditional arabic oven (taboon). Onions are fried in a rich olive oil in a deep pan and the cooked onions are spread over the flat bread. Almonds and the popular spice of sumac are also spread over the flat bread. Finally, roasted chicken is placed over the flat bread. Musahkan is a traditional arabic food that can get quite messy as it is usually eaten without utensils. Although it can get messy, I do think it's a good kind of messy where your hands are filled with pieces of chicken, onions and olive oil. Just thinking about eating musakhan gets me hungry.
Country of Specialty:
Musakhan is highly recognized as a Palestinian meal. The city of Jenin is very well known for their delicious Musakhan dishes.
Mansaf is another arabic dish that is a favorite for Middle East households. I rate this meal as my second favorite arabic dish. Typically,like most arabic dishes, this meal's main ingredient is rice but it's the yogurt-like product called jameed (khishik) that makes this meal delicious. Lamb is another main ingredient for this dish as the chopped pieces of lamb are spread over the cooked rice. A layer of flatbread is included under the rice and drenched with the yogurt-like sauce. Almonds and parsley are spread over the lamb and rice and the yogurt-like sauce is poured over the large platter. Mansaf is usually served on special occasions such as weddings and large family gatherings.
Personal Mansaf Experience:
I remember when I was young boy growing up in Palestine, mansaf was always served during weddings and the women and men would gather around in an open area where numerous mansaf platters are being served. Everyone would just gather around to eat mansaf with their bare hands. I have to admit that mansaf tastes much better when you eat it with your hands because you get to really taste the meat and the sauce. When my cooks mansaf at home, I sometimes reminisce about this happy childhood moment.
Country of Specialty:
Mansaf is highly recognized as a Jordanian dish. Cities throughout Jordan prepare this meal differently by adding their own family touches to the meal. Mansaf is also very popular in Jordan's neighbor, Palestine.
Like I mentioned in my first article, Maklooba (upside down) is truly my favorite meal ever. I have tried various types of foods including of course, Arabic, American, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Chinese and so many other food types but nothing comes close to maklooba. I would even challenge anyone to try my Mom's maklooba and compare it to a nice juicy porterhouse house steak from Morton's. Maklooba's main ingredient is of course, rice. There are various kinds of rice but the best rice for maklooba is the basmati rice. The rice grains of basmati rich are slightly longer than the rice grains of Uncle Ben's. Maklooba can be cooked with either chicken or meat depending on the family preference. In my experience, if a Palestinian family is cooking maklooba just for a normal meal, it's usually cooked with chicken as it is easier to prepare and chicken is cheaper. However, if a family is preparing maklooba for a large family gathering (Azooma), meat would be used as meat is cooked by Middle Eastern families during formal occasions.
Meal Name: The name of this meal is self-explanatory. This meal is prepared in a deep pot where the meat or chicken is boiled. Once the meat or chicken is almost ready, rice is then placed in the pot over the cooked meat or chicken. Once the rice is ready, the pot is then turned over into a large plate. The turning over of the pot is the defining moment for this arabic meal's name.
Country of Specialty: Maklooba is highly recognized as a Palestinian meal. This meal is a favorite in Palestinian households in Palestine and throughout the world. In my house, Maklooba is cooked every Friday. Before I started working in corporate America and became trapped between the hours of 9-5, my mother would prepare the maklooba before we go to Friday prayer and the whole family would sit down together and enjoy a delicious meal of Maklooba after we come back from Friday prayer. Although the ingredients of the meal are generally the same, each city or in some cases, each household, prepares a distinct tasting maklooba by adding different ingredients including herbs, spices, cauliflower, eggplant, or various vegetables.
This is my first blog post so I would like to introduce the purpose of this blog as I believe various people from different ethnicities, cultures, and races would appreciate the delicious information discussed in this blog. As a Palestinian growing up in a traditional arabic family, I have lived in a household where food plays an important role in our daily lives. My mom and my sisters spend several hours each day preparing arabic meals that mainly consist of rice, chicken, beef and various traditional appetizers such as hummus, taboola(arabic salad), and the famously teased baba ghanug. Palestinian families are well-known for having casual family gatherings (Azooomas) where various arabic meals are prepared and the people sit down for hours eating delicious food, catching up with family members, discussing politics or enjoying an arabic soap opera or movie.
Although the ingredients of Middle Eastern food are generally the same, each Middle Eastern country and even cities within a country are well-known for a particular arabic dish. For example, Palestine is highly recognized for its maklooba (upside down) arabic dish. Just a quick side note; maklooba is truly my favorite meal of all time and my mom's maklooba is, in my opinion, the best maklooba ever made. Each city prepares its meals in a different manner as arabic households have different tastes and the variety of herbs and spices lead to distinct tasting arabic dishes. This blog will discuss the assortment of arabic dishes that are enjoyed by middle eastern families. This blog will also mention the routes of the arabic dishes and point out the meal favorites and specialties of each middle eastern country. If you love learning about different cultures and have an interest in learning more about the rich culture of the Middle East, then I think that you would enjoy this blog.