Fruit and Vegetables
A large salad is almost always ordered in the Mediterranean and in the Middle East for the family to share. This is placed in the centre of the table for everyone to dig in. There are so many amazing salad recipes that I will be sharing with you that literally bear every colour of the rainbow. My favourite salads include Fatoush, Fasulye Piyazi and Mediterranean Potato Salad. They look beautiful and taste awesome. Fruit and vegetables are also used for cooking in almost every meal. In Turkey, Greece and the Middle East, these are often stuffed (this includes tomatoes, artichokes, vine leaves, courgettes, eggplant, pepper). The method of cooking varies; steamed, fried, baked or grilled depending on the recipe. Onions and garlic are used in pretty much everything in the Mediterranean and Middle East.
Rice, bulgur, freekeh, quinoa and the list goes on. All these grains are popular as side dishes or to use in salads. Arabic rice generally includes vermicelli in it (the skinny brown noodles). Iranian rice is sometimes made with dill and bulgur is the grain of choice in Turkey (coarse, medium or fine). Turkish people love bulgur and so do I. Bulgur is made of wheat kernels, is fat-free and packed in fibre. I cook with it a lot (Kisir for example).
Herbs are a big part of cooking for us, they’re not just a garnish. In Spain, parsley is the most popular Herb. In Italy, it’s basil or oregano, and in Turkey it’s mint or dill. Middle Eastern countries use herbs more than most though, with herbs being the star ingredient of some dishes including Tabouli (salad with parsley being the main ingredient). My dad used to eat parsley on its own sometimes and I hated the taste of it as a child (but now I absolutely love it). Herbs pack a multitude of health benefits and help promote weight loss. Studies have shown that herbs like parsley are medicinal; they help boost your immune system and have organic compounds that can help fight off diseases. If you dont use herbs in your every day diet, then I would highly recommend it.
Tomato paste and pepper paste form the base of many Middle Eastern dishes. This gives the food great flavor and consistency. Pastes are concentrated and are usually diluted with water. Tomato paste is available everywhere, but pepper paste may be a little harder to find in traditional supermarkets. However, this can be bought at most Middle Eastern food shops (including the spicy version if you like your food spicy). Tahini paste (made of ground sesame seeds) is used in many Middle Eastern dishes and olive spread or paste is popular in the Mediterranean.
We cannot live without spices. Cinamon, nutmeg, cumin, turmeric and sumac are Lebanese favourites. Saffron, paprika, rosemary, thyme and oregano are Mediterranean favourites. All Arabs have a large tub of Seven Spice in their cupboards used for cooking. This is made of ground black and white pepper, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and coriander. The best chilli flakes are in Turkey. Every restaurant has a pot of this stuff on each table and guests sprinkle it over their food (more or less depending on your taste).
We have individual tubs of almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts at home. Arabs serve nuts to guests and also use it in cooking. Nuts are high in fat but low in carbs and an excellent source of nutrients. Almonds in particular are used throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East, not just in cooking but as gifts. In Spain, a typical wedding favour for guests consists of sugar-coated almonds wrapped up and tied with a ribbon. Traditionally, this was intended as a reminder that married life is both bitter and sweet. Palestinians regularly adorn food with pine nuts.
Olive oil, chili oil, garlic oil, truffle oil, sunflower seed oil and so on – we use these a lot. Given the abundance of olive trees throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East, olive oil tops the lot in terms of usage. However, families often make their own garlic and chili oil too, it’s easy nd so flavorsome. Italians love truffle oil and Arabs pour olive oil over most meze type dishes, like hummus or moutabal.
Fish, chicken and beef are used often in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Fish is the most popular meat in Spain and lamb is certainly the preferred in the Middle East. Pork is eaten frequently in Spain especially in tapas and charcuterie boards (usually cured as serrano ham, chorizo, mortadella or salami) but I wont be posting many recipes with pork as I don’t cook with it. I love it cured, but not a fan of it cooked.