You may know
hummus and baba ghannouj, but have you heard of torshi seer? Spanning the vast region east of the Mediterranean, the Middle East is comprised of nearly 20 different nations—including Israel, Lebanon, and the countries of the Arabian Peninsula—each with its own defining set of ingredients, influences, and techniques. As a result, the phrase “Middle Eastern cuisine” encompasses an incredibly diverse array of dishes.
Among them? Such crowd-pleasing Middle Eastern appetizers as Turkey’s dainty
Manti dumplings, rich Zucchini and Feta Fritters, and snackable Koftas. Our favorite Middle Eastern dinner recipes run the gamut from roast chicken (done the traditional Iraqi and Palestinian ways) to the grilled, stewed, and fried lamb methods that are popular throughout the region. Of course, there are spectacular vegetarian, vegan, and seafood options, too. The dietary restrictions of three major religions represented in the Middle East—Islam, Judaism, and Coptic Christianity—have given rise to some seriously inventive meat- and dairy-free cooking. This Chickpea Stew and Red Lentil and Squash Soup, both from Palestine, can serve as main dishes or a first course.
As for condiments, the aforementioned
torshi seer (sweet-tart, fermented garlic from Iran) adds complex acidity to roasted and stewed meats, while Israelis slather schug (a Yemenite chile sauce) over falafel and french fries as liberally as Americans use ketchup.
Finally, for a sweet way to end your Middle Eastern menu, learn how to make date-filled Lebanese
Maamoul cookies or flaky Israeli baklava. Beef Dolmas with Apricots and Tamarind In the Syrian Jewish kitchen, this Middle Eastern basic gets a sweet-and-sour spin. In the warmer months, try to find and use fresh grape leaves; they are more tender and flavorful than the jarred types. Out of season, jarred leaves are a fine substitute (we prefer the Orlando brand). Get the recipe for Beef Dolmas with Apricots and Tamarind » Cauliflower Shawarma Berber This dish will make you dust off the grill in preparation for spring, and the taste of pomegranate will remind you of warm days on the way. Get the recipe for Cauliflower Shawarma Berber »
Roast Chicken with Sumac Flatbread (M’sakhan) Tart sumac balances sweet caramelized onions in a roast chicken and flatbread dish traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven. Get the recipe for Roast Chicken with Sumac Flatbread (M'sakhan) » This classic frittata gets loaded with herbs for a fresh, springy dish perfect for Nowruz, the Persian new year, in March. Get the recipe for Persian Kuku Sabzi » Persian Tamarind-Stuffed Fish A luxurious whole fish preparation flavored with tangy tamarind and fragrant barberries, perfect for Nowruz, the Persian new year. Get the recipe for Persian Tamarind-Stuffed Fish » Galilean-Style Hummus (Hummus Maushaushe) Generous spice, a good dose of olive oil, and chickpeas piled high are the hallmarks of this Galilean-style hummus. Get the recipe for Galilean-Style Hummus (Hummus Maushaushe) » Tahini's nutty, luxurious properties don't stop at hummus. Keep the sesame paste flowing with this bright red purée of boiled beets, lemon, and garlic. Get the recipe for Tahini-Beet Dip » Fried Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds This eggplant dish from Michael Solomonov's Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia highlights classic Middle Eastern ingredients: carob molasses, tahini, and pomegranate. Get the recipe for Fried Eggplant with Tahini and Pomegranate Seeds » Rice is a staple at most meals in Iran; tahdig, the crust of crispy rice that forms on the bottom, is the most prized part. Soaking the rice before cooking for 15 minutes helps to elongate the grains, resulting in a fluffier rice, while the towel on the lid helps to pull the moisture away during the longer cook time. Get the recipe for Persian Rice » Mashed Eggplant Dip (Baba Ghannouj) Across the Levant, eggplants are grilled and mashed to make baba ghannouj, a silky, delicious dip for flatbreads and vegetables. Get the recipe for Mashed Eggplant Dip (Baba Ghannouj) » For this sweet-tart Persian pickle, whole heads of garlic are fermented in a vinegar solution until the cloves are very soft. Get the recipe for Torshi Seer » Tender artichoke bottoms get cooked until crisp, then served with an intense tahini sauce. Get the recipe for Fried Artichoke Hearts » Charred Eggplant with Chile Sauce & Tahini Charring young eggplant over an open flame lends a smoky flavor to this dish from the Galilee. Get the recipe Charred Eggplant with Chile Sauce & Tahini » Spiced Chicken Kebabs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce (Shish Taouk) Redolent of garlic, cumin, and mint, these Middle eastern chicken kebabs can be served with basmati rice or flatbread. Get the recipe for Spiced Chicken Kebabs with Garlic Yogurt Sauce (Shish Taouk) » Kibbeh (Lamb and Bulgur Wheat Croquettes) Rich ground lamb and fine grain bulgur wheat are used to form a shell around sauteed beef and earthy pine nuts. Generously seasoned with cumin, coriander, allspice, and cinnamon, these Middle Eastern-style croquettes offer an inviting aroma and tantalizing flavor. Get the recipe Kibbeh (Lamb and Bulgur Wheat Croquettes) » Hummus with Pan-Seared Duck, Leeks, and Tapenade Alon Shaya, chef at New Orleans' Shaya, tops hummus with baroque toppings like fried eggplant, romanesco, and dates; here, he opts for serving the creamy spread with duck, leeks, and tapenade. Get the recipe for Hummus with Pan-Seared Duck, Leeks, and Tapenade » Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust) Like many rice pilafs from the region, this one is spattered with saffron-infused water to create patches of fragrant yellow rice. The whole pilaf is wrapped in butter-saturated lavash to create a crispy, golden-brown casing that's cracker thin. Any shape of lavash will work—just trim the pieces as needed into strips, rectangles, or ovals to fit the pot. Get the recipe for Khan Plov (Chicken Pilaf in a Lavash Crust) » Brown sugar, cinnamon and nutty, rich cashews are rolled into tight baklava cigars in this eminently snackable dessert. Get the recipe for Cashew Baklava » Test kitchen director Farideh Sadeghin got the recipe for this refreshing melon drink from her Iranian-born father, who makes it by grating fresh cantaloupe and combining it with water, sugar, and fresh mint. You can add a little gin for a cooling summer cocktail. Get the recipe for Persian Cantaloupe Drink » Finely chopped fresh parsley and mint are bathed in fruity extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice in this classic Middle Eastern appetizer, adapted from Moorish by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant Books, 2014). Bulgur wheat, a common ingredient in tabbouleh, is omitted here for a dish that focuses on the flavor of the fresh herbs. This recipe first appeared in our October 2014 issue with the story Home for the Harvest. Get the recipe for Tabbouleh » Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce Roasting cauliflower at a high heat results in a crisp-tender texture and toasty flavor that pairs perfectly with tart tahini dipping sauce. Get the recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce » Red Lentil and Squash Soup (Shorabit Jarjir) Protein-rich red lentils and hearty butternut squash are transformed into a smooth, fragrant soup that's a perfect, simple meal served with flatbread. Get the recipe for Red Lentil and Squash Soup (Shorabit Jarjir) » Beet Stew with Lamb Meatballs For this traditional Iraqi-Jewish dish, ground-lamb meatballs are braised in a vibrant beet stew. Get the recipe for Beet Stew with Lamb Meatballs » The classics done right. Get the recipe for Shish Kebabs » There is nothing like falafel's first bite: the crisp-fried exterior giving way to a creamy center of seasoned mashed beans, garlic, and parsley. Get the recipe for Falafel » Iraqi Eggs with Lamb and Tomatoes (Makhlama Lahm) For this rich, spicy Iraqi breakfast dish, ground lamb is sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and parsley, seasoned to the hilt with bahar asfar, yellow curry powder, and then topped with soft-baked eggs. Get the recipe for Iraqi Eggs with Lamb and Tomatoes (Makhlama Lahm) » Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce (Shakshuka) The classic Israeli breakfast, shakshuka, a dish of Libyan origin, can be served as a main course for any meal of the day. Get the recipe for Eggs Poached in Tomato Sauce (Shakshuka) » Lamb and Cauliflower Stew with Harissa For this Middle Eastern–spiced stew, cauliflower stems are minced and sautéed in the mirepoix to add flavor, while the florets are broiled and added at the end of cooking to offer crunch and body. Get the recipe for Lamb and Cauliflower Stew with Harissa » Iraqi Yellow Spice-Rubbed Chicken (Djaj Bil-Bahar Il-Asfar) This fragrant spice-rubbed grilled chicken was a favorite of former SAVEUR Assistant Editor Felicia Campbell when she was deployed to Iraq. Get the recipe for Iraqi Yellow Spice-Rubbed Chicken (Djaj Bil-Bahar Il-Asfar) » Lebanese Lamb-Stuffed Eggplant (Batenjen Mehchi) Eggplants are stuffed with a mixture of spiced lamb and rice, then simmered in tomato sauce in a rustic, cinnamon-scented dish from Lebanese author Fouad Kassab's mother, Isabelle. Get the recipe for Lebanese Lamb-Stuffed Eggplant (Batenjen Mehchi) » Spiced Lamb Patties with Tomato and Onion (Kefta bil Sayniyeh) Lebanese seven-spice powder—a mix of allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, and nutmeg known as baharat—flavors the lamb patties as well as the tomatoes in this richly spiced dish. Get the recipe for Spiced Lamb Patties with Tomato and Onion (Kefta bil Sayniyeh) » Loubieh bil Zeit (Romano Beans with Tomatoes) Lebanon has an ancient tradition of producing high-quality olive oil, which is used to braise vegetables in a number of traditional dishes. One of the most popular is loubieh b zeit, literally "green beans in oil," a traditional Lebanese mezze in which romano beans are braised until tender with tomatoes in olive oil. Get the recipe for Loubieh bil Zeit (Romano Beans with Tomatoes) » Similar to Indian raita, this Iranian sauce differs with the addition of minced fresh yellow onion. Make it a day ahead to allow the flavors to really marry before serving. Get the recipe for Cucumber Yogurt » Ka’ak bil Ma’amoul (Date-Stuffed Ring Cookies) These holiday cookies are flavored with orange blossom water and stuffed with a sweet date filling. Get the recipe for Ka'ak bil Ma'amoul (Date-Stuffed Ring Cookies) » Though baklava varies throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean, like this one with an almond-cinnamon-bread crumb-filling, it's always a sweet treat. Get the recipe for Baklava » Israeli Cous Cous with Ras el Hanout, Fennel and Carrot Ras el hanout, the North African spice blend, along with fresh orange zest and juice, mint, and cilantro, give Israeli cous cous a fresh feel and flavor in this simple weeknight meal. Get the recipe for Israeli Cous Cous with Ras el Hanout, Fennel and Carrot » A simple combination of sugar syrup and unsweetened coconut cools and hardens into sweet, crunchy treats that are perfect served alongside tea or coffee. Get the recipe for Omani Coconut Cookies » Spiced Chicken and Wheat Porridge (H’riss) This deeply satisfying dish of spiced meat and creamy wheat berries is most often made with lamb, but it's particularly delicious when made with chicken. Get the recipe for Spiced Chicken and Wheat Porridge (H'riss) » Ma’amoul bil Tamer (Lebanese Date Shortbread) These Lebanese shortbread cookies feature a buttery pastry scented with rose and orange blossom waters wrapped around a cinnamon and nutmeg–spiced date filling. Get the recipe for Ma'amoul bil Tamer (Lebanese Date Shortbread) » Turkish Stuffed Eggplants Garlicky bell peppers laced with cumin, paprika, and cinnamon fill these roasted eggplants. Get the recipe for Turkish Stuffed Eggplants » Turkish Ground Lamb Kebabs (Adana Kebabs) Serve these spiced lamb skewers with warm flatbreads, charred tomatoes, and cooling labneh. Get the recipe for Turkish Ground Lamb Kebabs (Adana Kebabs) Zucchini and Feta Fritters Coriander and paprika pair nicely with the salty feta in these airy, golden zucchini fritters. Get the recipe for Zucchini and Feta Fritters » Grilled Onion Salad with Sumac and Herbs Zippy sour pickle juice offsets the sweetness of the pomegranate molasses and charred onions in this vibrant salad. Get the recipe for Grilled Onion Salad with Sumac and Herbs » Turkish Lamb Dumplings with Yogurt and Brown Butter Tomato Sauce (Manti) This version is Turkish in origin but uses a technique derived from Armenian recipes: The dumplings are baked in the oven before boiling, allowing the meat to better flavor the dough and imparting a toasty aroma to the final dish. Get the recipe for Turkish Lamb Dumplings with Yogurt and Brown Butter Tomato Sauce (Manti) » Herbed Rice with Fish Tahdig (Sabzi Polo ba Tahdig-e Mahi) Have a fishmonger remove the branzino's spine and ribs, to make the fish more malleable and prevent bones from sneaking into the rice. Get the recipe for Herbed Rice with Fish Tahdig (Sabzi Polo ba Tahdig-e Mahi) » Fattet Hummus (Chickpeas with Pita and Spiced Yogurt) Across the Levant, you will find variations on fatteh, dishes built on toasted or fried day-old bread. The term comes from the Arabic word "fatta", meaning to crumble bread. In this Lebanese version from author Fouad Kassab's mother Isabelle, brown butter tops a layered dish of baked pita and chickpeas tossed with spiced yogurt. To save time, soak the chickpeas in water and baking soda: the alkilinity of the soda breaks down the beans' cellular walls and can reduce cooking time by thirty five minutes. Get the recipe for Chickpeas with Pita and Spiced Yogurt (Fattet Hummus) » Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig) Iranians usually serve chelo ba tahdig with stew, kebabs, or meat dishes. Herbs and alliums, feta, or walnuts often share the table. Get the recipe for Steamed Saffron Rice with Tahdig (Chelo ba Tahdig) » Freekeh Salad with Fennel and Chiles In Bishara's family tradition, freekeh was prepared as a pilaf of sorts with chicken or meat. But this nutty grain also works well with spring and summer produce, like tomatoes, herbs, and fennel. This dish tastes just as good the second day. Get the recipe for Freekeh Salad with Fennel and Chiles » Galilee-Style Grilled Fish Kebabs The ground spice and garlic marinade that adds layers of flavor to these fish kebabs also works well on cubed chicken or lamb. Get the recipe for Galilee-Style Grilled Fish Kebabs » Galilee-Style Whole Fried Fish Before frying fish, Bishara gently rubs their skin and inner cavities with salt, then rinses. This trick seasons and cleans the fish, readying them for dredging. Get the recipe for Galilee-Style Whole Fried Fish » Palestinian Spinach and Chickpea Stew (Sabanekh bil hummus) Allspice is used commonly in Palestinian stews, like this Comforting Spinach and Chickpeas dish. Get the recipe for Get the recipe for Palestinian Spinach and Chickpea Stew (Sabanekh bil hummus) » Lamb Meatballs with Carrots and Potatoes (Koufteh Ghelgheli) Turmeric does double duty here: it goes into the lamb meatballs as well as the lemony broth they're cooked in. Get the recipe for Lamb Meatballs with Carrots and Potatoes (Koufteh Ghelgheli) » Persian Almond Cake with Saffron and Rose Water Diamonds of this floral, marzipan-like cake are crowned with a crunchy, aromatic mixture of pistachios and cardamom. Get the recipe for Persian Almond Cake with Saffron and Rose Water »