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Middle Eastern Cuisine

by Kirsten Hawkins

Copyright 2005

‘Middle eastern cuisine’ is a broad term that encompasses many

different cooking styles from a number of different countries.

Moroccan, Syrian, Greek, Arabian – the various cuisines of the

middle east share a great deal – and have many differences.

The food of the Middle East is a celebration of life. No matter

which country, the staples are the fresh fruits and vegetables

that grow in the hills. The spices and flavorings of Middle

Eastern food are those that awaken the senses, sparkling

against the thicker, richer tastes of the main ingredients.

Mints, lemon, garlic, rosemary – all have a fresh, astringent

quality that cleanses the palate and refreshes the taste buds.

Throughout the region, the cuisine varies – but these things

remain the same: fresh ingredients, astringent and piquant

spices, olive oil, and little meat.


The tiny country – about the size of Connecticut – is nestled

into the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, at the very crook of

the fertile Crescent. Its contributions to the cuisine of the

entire Middle Eastern region of the world are unmistakable. The

flavors that spice the foods of all the surrounding lands can be

found here in abundance – olive oil, lemon, garlic and mint.

Lebanese cuisine features such staples as kibbeh (ground lamb

with bulghur wheat) and tabouleh (parsley, mint and bulghur

wheat salad). The food is simply prepared, with the flavors

blending together into a complex medley of earthy, fruity

tastes and scents.


If Syria had contributed nothing else to the world cuisine but

pita bread and hummus, it would still be worthy of note.

There’s far more to the cuisine of this small Middle Eastern

country, though. Baba ganoush (pureed eggplant), stuffed olives

and figs, peppers in olive oil – Syrian food celebrates the

fruits of the earth and blends them to bring out the textures

and flavors in surprising ways. Shish kebab and rice pilaf are

two of the more well-known dishes, and while most people think

of Greece when they hear baklava, the Syrian claim that it is

based on their own dessert of batwala.


The Bedouin of the desert once based their diets on dates and

yoghurt with the occasional camel or goat to provide meat. Over

the centuries, the nomadic tribes incorporated spices, meats and

vegetables from other cultures into their cuisine. Today’s

Arabian cuisine is a mingling of influences from India, Lebanon

and further west. Lamb is the meat most often used in cooking,

and it is prepared in a number of ways including shish kebab,

spit-roasted, or stewed. The cuisine relies heavily on mint,

turmeric, saffron, garlic and sesame. Rice and kasha are the

most commonly consumed grains, and the spicing is fresh and

astringent – meant to awaken and refresh the palate rather than

burn it out.

Throughout the Mediterranean Middle East, the cultures and

people have intermingled and carried with them their foods and

traditions of eating. In no other place in the world can there

be found a blending of cultures that has mingled so much – yet

maintained such distinct, national flavors. Healthful, fresh,

delicious and life-enhancing, it’s little wonder that the

cuisine of the Middle East is among the most popular with

diners the world over.

About The Author: Kirsten Hawkins is a food and nutrition

expert specializing the Mexican, Chinese, and Italian food.

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