Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Common Foods of Different Middle Eastern Countries

Although all of the Middle Eastern countries have fairly similar cultures and traditions, there are many distinctive differences. An example would be food. Each country has its own “signature” meals. Between countries, a lot of the food is similar but with slight variations.

Here are some of the Middle Eastern countries and their food:


Maqluba, is a meal consisting of rice, chicken, and fried cauliflower or eggplant (Palestinian Maqluba, 2010). Check out my recipe for Maqluba here.
Musakhan, which literally translates to something heated, is chicken on a bed of bread and caramelized onions and seasoned with sumac (Qasem, 2009)
Kinafa is a very popular Palestinian based sweet made of sweet cheese and shredded dough (Naylor, 2011). Check out my How to Make Kinafa video here.


Mansaf, which is one of my favorite meals, is made up of rice and lamb and covered in a type of goat yogurt called Jameed (Qasem, 2009).


Koushari is a meal I have never tried before but it sounds very interesting. It includes rice, lentils, chickpeas, and macaroni (Koushari Egyptian Rice, 2010).


Shish Barak is another meal I have never tried before, but I have heard it is delicious. It is similar to meat dumplings in yogurt (Mercedes, 2009).

Saudia Arabia:

Kabsih is a different take on your basic chicken and rice meal (Kabsa or Kabseh, 2009).  It has many surprising ingredients that somehow work well together. My favorite ingredient is the raisins, because I love the sweet and salty taste!

Many of the foods from different Middle Eastern countries are similar, but each country has its own style when it comes to food.


Kabsa or Kabseh recipe (chicken and rice). (2009). Retrieved from

Koushari (Egyptian rice, lentils, and noodles). (2010). Retrieved from

Mercedes. (2009). Shish Barak Lebanese meat dumplings in yogurt sauce. Retrieved from

Naylor, H. (2011). In Nablus, Kinafa is more than a desert, it’s a way of life. Retrieved from

Palestinian Maqluba. (2010). Retrieved from

Qasem, N. (2009). Mansaf. Retrieved from

Qasem, N. (2009). Musakhan. Retrieved from


Kinafa is one of the most common Arab deserts. This delicious desert is actually quite easy to prepare. Watch this short video to learn how to make it!


With Ramadan less than two months away I thought I would share a recipe for another food commonly eaten during Ramadan. This time it’s a desert called Qatayif. Qatayif is somewhat similar to a dumpling served with nuts or cheese. For this recipe I am going to stuff it with cheese.


  • ¼  teaspoon active dry yeast (scant)
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus up to
  • ¼  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch salt
  • butter (for cooking)
  • peanut oil (for frying) or vegetable oil (for frying)
  • 2/3 cup coarsely grated kinafa sweet cheese
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 ½ cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • ¾ cup water


  1. In a medium bowl, dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the flour and salt and stir well.
  2. Let stand, loosely covered for 45 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the filling by mixing together the cheese, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  4. Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes. Lightly brush the skillet with butter.
  5. Stir the batter well to blend.
  6. Scoop up about 2 1/2 Tablespoons batter into a ladle and pour onto the skillet to make a 4-inch round. Cook until bubbles appear on the top and the top has a dull surface, about 1 minute and 20 seconds. The underside should be lightly browned.
  7. Transfer to a tray cooked side down.
  8. Continue making the pancakes the same way until the batter is finished.
  9. To fill the pancake, scoop up about a teaspoon of filling and place it on the cooked pancake.
  10. Fold the pancake over and pinch the edges together to make a sealed half circle shape.
  11. Set aside on a plate, and repeat with the remaining batter and filling.
  12. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  13. Drizzle some melted butter-flavored Crisco into the bottom of a baking pan.
  14. Transfer the Qatayif to the baking pan and brush the tops with more melted butter-flavored Crisco.
  15. Bake for 10-15 minutes flipping the Qatayif about halfway through.
  16. Mix together water and 1 and ½ cups of sugar in a saucepan and heat to boiling.
  17. Allow to boil approximately five minutes and add in a few drops of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
  18. Allow to cool slightly.
  19. Using a slotted spoon, lower one Qatayif into the syrup mixture. Submerge and remove to a serving plate. Repeat with remaining Qatayif.

Serving Suggestions:

Qatayif is served warm. It is common to sprinkle the top of the Qatayif with crushed pistachios.


The most common variation to this recipe is to stuff the Qatayif with chopped nuts instead of cheese. Some people like to fry their Qatayif as opposed to baking it in the oven.

Another Arab-American's Opinions on Middle Eastern Food

For this interview I decided to do something a little different and interview someone with no cooking experience at all, my younger brother. As you can see from his answers below, he is quite the joker.

Q: Do you cook?
A: I can boil water, does that count? *chuckles* Otherwise, I guess not.

Q: Would you ever try to cook? Why or Why not?
A: Possibly, although I’m quite sure I wouldn’t be very good at it. Making my own food for a change seems like a nice alternative to my normal routine.

Q: You eat a lot of different kinds of foods. What is your favorite kind?
A: I really like Middle Eastern food, but Chinese food is a close second. Middle Eastern food just sort of speaks to me in a way.

Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between Middle Eastern food and American food?
A: The diversity of American foods makes this question difficult to answer, but I would say that Middle Eastern food has a greater emphasis on rice than that of America.

Q: What do you like about Middle Eastern food?
A: I love most things about Middle Eastern food, but most of all I really enjoy the various tastes found in Middle Eastern food.

Q: What is your favorite Middle Eastern food?
A: My favorite? I would have to go with maftoul.

Q: What dish would you recommend to someone who is new to Middle Eastern food?
A: I’m going to say Maqluba, but I’m not exactly an expert in that field.

The Health Benefits of Tahini

Tahini is another staple of Middle Eastern food that reinforces its reputation as a healthy cuisine. Like olive oil, tahini is a very versatile ingredient that is found in many Middle Eastern dishes, most notably hummus, and is growing in popularity in the United States (Walters, 2009).

Tahini’s health benefits come from it’s high nutritional content, including important nutrients as omega-3 fatty acids, thiamin (vitamin B-1), calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and copper (Wolf, 2011). It has been found to improve digestion, reduce cholesterol, and produce some anti-aging effects (Salloum, 2006). It is also easily and quickly digested, so some of these positive effects can be felt within half an hour of consumption (Tahini, 2008).

So what exactly is this mystery ingredient? It’s basically a paste made from ground sesame seeds, kind of like peanut butter. In fact, the word tahini comes from the Arabic root “Tahana”, which means “to grind” (Salloum, 2006). The flexibility of tahini as an ingredient can be seen in the huge variety of dishes it is found in. It’s most commonly used as the base for a delicious dip, along with lemon juice, salt, and garlic. It can also be found in falafel sandwiches, soups and stews, and salad dressings. Tahini works as a healthier substitute for butter or peanut butter on bread, and is even used in some sweets (Health Benefits of Tahini, 2010).

Tahini can be found in most Mediterranean markets. One important thing to note regarding the use of Tahini is that although it has a long shelf life, it quickly separates and should be stirred before use (Salloum, 2006).


Walters, S. (2009). Find nutritional benefits in tahini. Retrieved from

Wolf, N. (2011). The health benefits of tahini. Retrieved from

Salloum, H. (2006). Tahini - A health food. Retrieved from

Tahini (2008). Retreived from

Health benefits of tahini (2010). Retrieved from

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One Arab-American's opinions on Middle Eastern Food

I decided to interview a close friend of mine about Middle Eastern food. As an Arab-American who has lived in America her entire life, she has grown up eating Middle Eastern food and American food. She has even dabbled in cooking it as well.

Q: Do you enjoy cooking?
A: Nope! I just like the results of cooking not the process of it! However, I do cook from time to time.

Q: Have you ever cooked a Middle Eastern dish?
A: Yes, I cooked Maklouba, which is known to be the easiest, yet still delicious, dish to cook. I also cooked Kebab and Stuffed Grape Leaves!

Q: You are Arab-American, which cuisine do you prefer?
A: It depends on my mood. I enjoy both. I have Middle Eastern food every day for dinner and then I usually have American food for lunch and sometimes breakfast. However, I usually prefer to eat food that’s more Middle Eastern since I don’t feel regret after eating it. Middle Eastern cuisine is more nutritious!

Q: What do you think is the biggest difference between American food and Middle Eastern food?
A: Middle Eastern food would mostly always have meat. Meat and rice is a must have on the dinner table. Sometimes even bread! It’s also a very healthy cuisine and always has olive oil. American food is not always very healthy. It has a lot of frying, like French fries and fried chicken. Also, barely any American foods contain rice!

Q: What is your favorite Middle Eastern dish?
A: My favorite is Stuffed Grape Leaves. It’s basically rice, beef, and spices wrapped with grape leaves. It’s delicious!

Q: What dish would you recommend to someone who is new to Middle Eastern food?
A: For someone new to Middle Eastern cuisine, I would definitely recommend trying Stuffed Grape Leaves! Also Hummus, Falafel, and Tabouli!