7 Healthy Ways to Bring Middle Eastern Cooking Into Your Kitchen
These delicious flavors can be used to make so much more than hummus and falafel.
You've probably already enjoyed Middle Eastern cuisine at one point or another (like that hummus and falafel pita from the food truck you can't get enough of). But what's beyond these ubiquitous Middle Eastern foods? Now's the perfect time to learn more: Middle Eastern cuisine was named one of the top food trends for 2018 by Whole Foods. (BTW, the Middle Eastern diet could be the new Mediterranean diet.) Luckily, you probably already have a few commonly used ingredients or spices in your kitchen right now, and you can easily grab the others at a specialty supermarket or even at your local grocery store.
Here are a few of the delicious Middle Eastern food you should know about:
Eggplant provides a satisfying meaty texture and consistency on Middle Eastern plant-based dishes, including dips like baba ghanoush made with garlic, lemon, tahini, and cumin. Plus, eggplant is a good source of fiber and contains other vitamins and minerals active women need, such as folate and potassium. (Another yummy food idea: Vegan Eggplant Sloppy Joes for a Healthy Meatless Meal)
Pulses such as dry beans, lentils, and chickpeas are a staple of Middle Eastern cuisine since many traditional dishes are plant-based. Lentils are a key component of the popular dish mujadara, which is made with lentils, rice, onions, and olive oil. And chickpeas (besides playing a starring role in your beloved falafel and hummus) are the main ingredient in lablabi, a traditional stew flavored with garlic and cumin. (See: 6 Healthy Recipes That Will Turn You On to Pulses)
With a vibrant ruby red color, pomegranate arils make a beautiful addition to any Middle Eastern meal. Pomegranates also add a satisfying crunch and burst of juiciness to traditional dishes such as lentil salads or chicken or lamb stew. Not to mention, pomegranate arils are an excellent source of fiber and vitamins C and K, and they're a good source of potassium, folate, and copper. (Admittedly, fresh pomegranates can be difficult to open. Here's how to eat a pomegranate without hurting yourself.)
Native to the area, pistachios are found in many Middle Eastern desserts and pastries such as traditional baklava, which is made with layers of filo dough and honey, or maamoul, a pistachio-filled cookie. You'll also find pistachios sprinkled on top of savory dishes like rice pilaf or spiced chicken. Whether used in sweet or savory recipes, pistachios will provide more than 10 percent of your daily value for fiber as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as B6, thiamin, copper, and phosphorous, not to mention plant-based protein and monounsaturated fats. (Discover these healthy pistachio dessert recipes to satisfy your sweet tooth.)
Tangy yet rich and syrupy, pomegranate molasses is simply pomegranate juice that's been reduced to a thick consistency-think balsamic vinegar glaze. This Middle Eastern staple helps add flavor and depth to simply roasted chickpeas, vegetables, and meats. Perhaps the most popular recipe for pomegranate molasses is muhammara, a dip that may just replace your current tzatziki obsession. The spicy spread is made with walnuts, roasted red peppers, and pomegranate molasses, and is perfect with toasted pita, grilled meats, and raw veggies.
Za'atar is a traditional Middle Eastern spice blend that's typically made of dried herbs like thyme, oregano, sumac, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, and salt, but the exact recipe varies depending on the region. You can think of za'atar like salt, a flavor enhancer that works well with just about any dish. Sprinkle it into olive oil for a delicious dip for pita or crusty bread, and use it in dressings, rice, salads, meats, and vegetables. (Related: Healthy Exotic Recipes Made with Unique Spice Blends)
Asia may have sriracha, but the Middle East has a different, more robust and smokier sauce to bring in the heat. Harissa is a hot chili pepper paste made with roasted red pepper, garlic, and spices like coriander and cumin. Use harissa like you would any hot sauce-add it to eggs, burgers, pizza, dressing, roasted veggies, chicken, or pasta. You know...everything. And if you want to score extra Middle Eastern bonus points, use harissa in traditional dishes such as hummus, shakshuka (a tomato dish with poached eggs), or as a rub for grilled meats. (Next, try harissa in this Moroccan chicken dish with green olives, chickpeas, and kale.)