Middle Eastern Food
Middle Eastern cuisine is the cuisine of the various countries and peoples of the Middle East. The cuisine of the region is diverse while having a degree of homogeneity. It includes Arab, Iranian/Persian, Israeli/Jewish, Assyrian, Armenian, Kurdish, Cypriot, and Turkish cuisines. In 2017, Middle Eastern cuisine was claimed by many sources to be one of the most popular and fastest growing ethnic cuisines in the US. Some commonly used ingredients include olives and olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, dates, sumac, chickpeas, mint, rice, and parsley. Some popular dishes include kebabs, dolma, baklava, yogurt, doner kebab, shawarma and Mulukhiyah.
The Middle East includes the region formerly known as the Fertile Crescent (the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers – Sumeria, Akkad, Assyria and Babylonia), where wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates, dates and other regional staples. Fermentation was also discovered here to leaven bread and make beer in Mesopotamia, and the earliest written recipes come from that region also.
As a crossroads between Europe, Asia, the Caucasus and North Africa, this area has long been a hub of food and recipe exchange. During the first Persian Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE), the foundation was laid for modern Middle Eastern food when rice, poultry and various fruits were incorporated into the local diets. Figs, dates and nuts were brought by merchants to conquered lands, and spices were brought back from the Orient.
The area was also influenced by dumplings from Mongol invaders; turmeric, cumin, garlic and other spices from India; cloves, peppercorns and allspice from the Spice Islands; okra from Africa; and tomatoes from the New World, via the Moors of Spain. Religion has also influenced the cuisine; neither Jews nor Muslims eat pork, making lamb the primary meat. Since the Qur’an forbids alcohol consumption, the region isn’t noted much for its wine—except in religiously mixed Lebanon, where vineyards like Chateau Ksara, Chateau Kefraya and Chateau Masaya have gained international fame for their wines. Chateau Ksara is also very popular for its arak, an alcoholic drink produced in the Levant and Iraq. Al-Maza is Lebanon’s primary brewery, which was also, at one time, the Middle East’s only beer-producing factory. Lebanon has always been well known in the region for its wines and arak, making it an exception when it comes to lack of alcohol in the region.
Under the Ottoman Empire, sweet pastries of paper thin phyllo dough and dense coffee were brought to the area.