Middle Eastern foods have long been overlooked, overshadowed by better-known western cuisines. But over the last decade, Arab foods have skyrocketed in popularity, earning a place in the top echelon of best global cuisines.
While they're often called Arab dishes, these foods come from places as far-flung as Morocco, Israel, and Lebanon. They bring new and mouthwatering flavors, aromas and ingredients to the dinner table. Best of all, foods on a Middle Eastern diet plan are full of healthy fats, lean proteins, veggies, and fruits, just like those on the Mediterranean diet.
You have to start somewhere, right? So begin your adventure with this list of the best healthy Middle Eastern food this side of Arabia.
Shawarma is one of the best known traditional Middle Eastern foods, and is found in almost all Middle Eastern restaurants. The meal makes a ridiculously tasty meal, and once you have the first bite, you'll be hooked.
This is one meal that is rarely prepared at home, because of how the meat is prepared and roasted. It begins with a large cone-like piece of seasoned meat that is roasted on a slowly-turning, vertical rotisserie or spit. Traditionally, the shawarma cone is made from lamb or mutton, but recently you'll also find it made from other meats, such as beef, chicken, turkey, or veal.
As it roasts, the attendant will use a super sharp butcher’s knife to slice off thin pieces of the tender meat onto a huge plate. He'll then serve it to you on its own as a snack, or on a dinner platter accompanied by fries, hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, and/or flatbread.
Arguably the most common food in the Middle East, hummus is one of the most versatile Arab dishes. It can be used as a dip for everything from bread to veggies to falafel, as a sandwich spread, or even as a base for a salad dressing.
Traditionally, if you order hummus as a side dish or appetizer in a restaurant, it will be brought to the table in a bowl, topped with a generous drizzle of olive oil, and accompanied by flatbread or pita.
Basically, hummus is a creamy blend of cooked chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and tahini (sesame seed paste). If you're in Europe or North America, it can be found in the refrigerated section of many grocery stores. It's also extremely simple to make at home in a blender or food processor.
Hummus can be prepared in many different versions, such as black olive, garlic, or red pepper.
When it comes to middle eastern healthy recipes, it's hard to beat hummus. Chickpeas are rich in protein, as well as fiber and iron. Plus, the olive oil contains lots of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.
Falafel is a crucial pillar of the Middle Eastern cuisine, and you will find it in almost every Middle Eastern restaurant. It is usually served as a sandwich in a pita or flatbread wrap, and topped with hummus, tzatziki, or tahini.
Sometimes called felafel, it begins with dried chickpeas or fava beans that have been ground into a meal and then soaked. The mixture is seasoned with garlic, onion, and spices like parsley, coriander and cumin, then formed into a patty or ball and deep fried until golden brown.
Like hummus, falafel is high in protein. It's also a good source of soluble fiber, which is said to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
ⓘ TIP: You can reduce the calories by making it at home in the oven.
Tabouleh is one of the best Middle Eastern side dishes. Also known as tabouli, it offers a full range of bold flavors, and if you are looking for low-fat vegetarian food then this is the best, as long as gluten isn't an issue.
The food is made by combining tomato, bulgur, spring onion, parsley, and mint. A final dressing of lemon juice and olive oil gives it its typical deliciousness.
If you want to have a satisfying feel of the Middle Eastern cuisine then give tabouleh a try. The food offers plenty of vitamins, minerals, it’s high in dietary fiber, and low in saturated fats. This helps in keeping your immune system strong and also helps in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
A mezze staple made from cow's milk, labneh may be the most healthy lebanese food of all. If you are looking for a refreshing, light, delicious and versatile Middle Eastern food then you will most likely fall in love with this soft cheese.
Actually, labneh is a type of yogurt cheese. It's made like the thicker-than-the-thickest Greek yogurt, yet it’s not tangy or sour in taste.
Labneh may trace its origin to Lebanon, but its popularity and dominance have spread all over the world. Pair this food with olive oil and fresh pita and you will have yourself a nutritious breakfast, or you can slather it on a pita to make a tasty lunch.
Labneh is considered one of the best probiotic foods and offers a number of healthy bacteria to boost your immune system. It’s a rich source of protein, low in calories, and is remarkably good for your health.
- Find the recipe here.
Shakshouka is made by slowly simmering tomatoes, spices, and herbs, then cracking eggs into the hot mixture so they will cook with the residual heat. The result is a comfort meal of eggs in a spicy tomato sauce.
This is very easy to make and may be one of the best one-pot skillet dishes on the planet. Shakshouka is a common breakfast meal, but it is often served for lunch or dinner as well.
- Find the recipe here.
Mejadra is a pilaf and ranks amongs the best comfort foods. The food is made by cooking lentils and rice together, then combining them with a number of spices, including plenty of cumin. This produces a fragrant mixture which is then topped with fried onions to give the lentil and rice blend a crunchy contrast.
We recommend enjoying this during the cold winter season.
Middle Eastern food books on Amazon
- Modern Flavors of Arabia: Recipes and Memories from My Middle Eastern Kitchen – by Suzanne Husseini
- The New Book of Middle Eastern Food – by Claudia Roden
- The Arabian Nights Cookbook: From Lamb Kebabs to Baba Ghanouj, Delicious Homestyle Middle Eastern Cooking – by Habeeb Salloum
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