Bring Middle Eastern Cuisine to Your Dinner Table with 10 Easy Recipes
Some of our favorite meals involve the flavor contrasts of Middle Eastern cuisine. Here we share our 10 favorite Middle Eastern dishes from the Cook Smarts archives, including Middle Eastern salads, a chicken kebab recipe, and an easy falafel recipe.
Middle Eastern food is not as common in Western cultures as many other types of regional food, and that’s a shame. Featuring rich olive oil, fragrant spices, steaming fresh pita bread, and stewed vegetables and meat, Middle Eastern food has everything we love!
What is Middle Eastern food? For those of us who grew up in Western countries, many Middle Eastern ingredients are familiar or even common, but the flavor combinations are often unexpected.
Middle Eastern cuisine is famous for combining sweet with savory flavors. This is true for the seasonings as well as the produce. Sweet spices — such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are common, as well as herbs like mint — are paired with savory spices and herbs (think cumin, coriander, turmeric, thyme, and parsley). For produce, it’s common to find fresh or dried fruit, such as pomegranate seeds, dates, and figs, alongside onions, tomatoes, greens, carrots, and eggplant.
Many dishes also include almonds, pistachios, or sesame seeds, meat (especially lamb), beans (especially chickpeas and fava beans), and grains. Cheeses and yogurt are also common.
The good news is that since many of those common ingredients can be found around the world, you can make your own delicious Middle Eastern meals — and Middle Eastern–inspired meals — at home! We’ve featured several meals over the years in our meal plan service that were inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine and ingredients, and here we share our 10 favorites to help you bring a taste of the Middle East to your everyday food. These may not be the recipes you’d find in authentic Middle Eastern kitchens, but they’re a way to add the same great flavors to foods you already know and love.
Get a head start on these recipes and many more by downloading our printable pantry list for Middle Eastern cuisine below! By stocking your pantry with these ingredients, you’ll be well on your way to having what you need for the recipes listed here, and for using your own creativity to add Middle Eastern flavors to meals that need an extra “oomph.” Download it now, print it out, and tape it up inside your pantry for easy reference as you make future grocery lists and meal plans!
Middle Eastern Pantry Staples
Fill your pantry with these essential ingredients and be ready to cook delicious Middle Eastern dishes on the fly!
This pita sandwich is quick, colorful, and flavorful, and include several iconic Middle Eastern ingredients. The ground lamb filling is rich with Middle Eastern spices, including paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and fresh mint, which gives it a distinctive flavor. The wraps also include mixed greens and are finished with a crema made with harissa, a spicy, earthy chili pepper paste. To go alongside the wraps, you’ll make a Middle Eastern side salad of oranges, dates, and almonds.
A yogurt-based spiced lemon-tahini mixture doubles as both a marinade and a sauce in this dish. The mixture is richly flavored with garlic, fresh parsley, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon. For a more authentic Middle Eastern meal, cook the chicken and vegetable skewers on the grill, but feel free to cook them in a pan instead, with or without the skewers. This dish is served alongside a simple cucumber salad and atop couscous.
What is falafel, exactly? Falafel is a crispy spiced bean patty, usually fried. It’s one of the most well-known Middle Eastern dishes, but it’s not always the easiest to make from scratch. We think our baked falafel recipe is the best falafel recipe because it’s a simplified, lightened-up version of the traditional. This healthy falafel uses canned black beans instead of the more traditional chickpeas or fava beans, which must be cooked from dry to prevent the patties from becoming crumbly (canned black beans do not have the same problem). Despite the bean swap, the flavors in these patties are surprisingly authentic, calling on traditional Middle Eastern spices to flavor the patties and a harissa aioli to finish them. Coriander-spiced zucchini and a side of couscous round out the meal.
This fusion meal combines Middle Eastern spices and produce with the typically Asian dish of fried rice for a unique — and completely delicious — new take on dinner. The ingredients list suggests this is a decidedly Middle Eastern rice dish, from the spice mix of paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and more, to the raisins that get stirred into the rice, to the garnishes of yogurt, pine nuts, cilantro, and harissa that go on top. Homecooks who are familiar with how to make fried rice will recognize the technique and love the simplicity of this 30-minute meal — but will love the flavors even more.
Like the Lebanese Chicken Skewers above, this meal also consists of kebabs served over couscous. But don’t be fooled — this is not a reimagining of the same meal, but something completely new. Before cooking, the salmon is tossed with za’atar seasoning, a zesty Middle Eastern seasoning blend made of sesame seeds, sumac, and herbs, and is cooked with thinly sliced lemon for extra flavor. The dish is paired with a citrus and avocado salad for a fresh, colorful meal.
This quick and easy vegetarian meal is surprisingly filling — and delightfully flavorful. Our shakshuka recipe involves simmering a Middle Eastern–spiced tomato sauce with bell peppers, onions, and jalapeño, then poaching eggs directly in the sauce. We serve this dish with a side of pita and romaine leaves with a dill yogurt dip to add variety to the meal. This low-calorie dinner will take you just 35 minutes from start to finish, and is easily customizable with the veggies you have on hand.
Another cultural mash-up between Middle Eastern food and Asian food, these lettuce cups use traditional Middle Eastern ingredients such as ground lamb, bell peppers, and pine nuts, and are spiced with garlic, cumin, soy sauce, and hot sauce. They’re served in leaves of crunchy lettuce, such as bibb, iceberg, or romaine. Perhaps the most surprising part of this meal is the side of Szechuan green beans, which pairs surprisingly well with the Middle Eastern entree.
Now we’ve really done it — this meal is a mash-up of a mash-up! Breakfast tacos are a Tex-Mex favorite born from combining Mexican tacos with European-inspired ingredients. They commonly feature scrambled eggs, potatoes, cheese, and tomato-based salsa (among other ingredients), all of which are included in some form in this Middle Eastern meal. Our twist uses fresh tomato, feta cheese, and egg alongside cucumber and yogurt. It’s spiced with Moroccan spice mix ras el hanout, and roasted potatoes are served on the side. (We top ours with chermoula left over from a separate recipe, but you can skip it or use this recipe.)
Classic Middle Eastern ingredients couscous and feta are mixed with spiced ground beef and kale, then piled inside tender baked acorn squash in this meal that got rave reviews from the Cook Smarts community. It’s topped with fresh mint and pomegranate seeds for a distinctly Middle Eastern flair. It’s a flavor combination that’s both unexpected and absolutely delicious, especially with a dollop of yogurt on top. We like to eat ours scooped up with crisp pita chips.
This fast, simple dinner salad is packed with Middle Eastern flavors that are common outside the Middle East, yet not often put together in quite this way. Lamb is spiced with flavors including paprika, cumin, coriander, and cinnamon, and tops the salad greens alongside cucumber, cherry tomatoes, fresh mint, feta, and crumbled pita chips. The whole thing is drizzled with a unique creamy tahini dressing that brings the salad together and gives it a memorable, restaurant-worthy flavor.
Want more Middle Eastern recipes and other great dinner ideas? Our meal plan service offers 4 meals per week with the choice of original, gluten-free, paleo, and vegetarian versions, as well as an extensive archive of past recipes. All of the recipes and techniques mentioned above are a part of the service. For more info and to get a taste test with a free 14-day trial, sign up here.