A quick taste of Middle Eastern cuisine

Dozens of cultures help to influence Middle Eastern cuisine. Some commonly used ingredients are olives, olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, sumac, chickpeas, mint and parsley. The three I've chosen to feature are hummus, basboosa and koshari. Here's a little background on each of these three dishes. In their respective pages you'll find the recipes for each as well as a step-by-step video courtesy of my mom, Sawsan, who's lived in the U.S. for 40 years since moving from Egypt.



The dip of choice in the Middle East.

Believe it or not, the written history of hummus dates back as early as 400 BC. During that time, Plato and Socrates mentioned the benefits of hummus in their diets. By 1200 AD, Mediterranean countries had listed hummus as a staple of their own diets. The dish has especially gained popularity in the United States in recent years. In 1910, waves of immigrants brought hummus to the country, and various flavors of the product began emerging in supermarkets under several brand names in the early '80s. For those health nuts out there, it wouldn't be a bad idea to take advice from guys like Plato and Socrates. Hummus contains no saturated fat and no cholestorol while being high in protein and fiber. Traditionally, hummus is used as a dip with pita bread, crackers or fresh cut veggies. At least, that's how my family uses it. Not to mention it's great when used as a sandwich spread.


Basboosa for everyone

Basboosa is extremely rich and sweet.

Basboosa is made year-round but especially during the holy month of Ramadan as Muslims consume more sweets and fruits during that period of time. Extremely rich and heavy, you'll struggle to muscle too much of this dessert down. However, you'll find yourself trying to make whatever room you can for a little bit more. Normally, my relatives add the "optional" coconut. I put optional in parenthesis, because my relatives can't imagine having basboosa without the coconut. They feel that's what gives basboosa it's extra sweet taste. They also do what many other Arabs do overseas, which is use rose water instead of just water. Rose water is popular for adding flavor to milk and other dairy products in the Middle East. This dish has taken on several names over the years. It's been called semolina cake here in the United States, ravani in Turkey, revani in Greece and hareesa in Palestine. More than likely, basboosa is a variant of the Egyptian dish ma'mounia. This is one of my family's personal favorites as we certainly can't wait until Ramadan to get our fix.



Rice, lentils and onions make up koshari.

I've been to Egypt on three separate occasions. I can tell you from my visits there that Koshari is a very popular meal. So popular that it's basically treated as a fast food meal as people on the streets of Cairo sell it to anyone who happens to pass by. Think of it as the Egyptian chili as it traditionally contains some crushed red peppers or hot sauce. My family isn't too hot on the hot stuff so we just stick with the tomato sauce. Many people prefer to use brown lentils opposed to orange lentils as the brown ones are said to "hold their shape better." My mom says she's never had that problem. Moreover, she insists on using the orange lentils, because they possess a distinct taste. Some people use rice while others use macaroni, typically orzo or elbows. Others use rice and a type of macaroni. My family likes orzo, but rice is almost just as good. The sauteed onions that are added after the dish is completed makes all the difference in the world. On one of my trips to Egypt, my grandmother (may she rest in peace) served us koshari-stuffed green peppers! The key to this popular dish is the uncanny harmony that's achieved when three unique flavors are blended into one dish. It's also very filling and very good for you. Lentils are a very good source of protein and iron.

Don't limit yourself to these three dishes as there are several other easy-to-make Middle Eastern recipes to try.

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