Italy has pizza but the Arabic world has ’Manakeesh’! It is a round flatbread that is baked with ground meat, cheese, tomato and a herb mix known as ’zaatar’. In Lebanon these are a staple breakfast food and most people will fold thewm in half and eat them like a sandwich. The Zaatar herb mix are a key component and usually consist of oregano, toasted sesame seeds and sumac. The herb mix is combined with oilve oil and then spread on before baking in a brick oven.
Don’t whatever you do be put off by the name of this dish! Foul Medames is in fact a fabulous Lebanese mix of wonderful rich fava beans and cumin cooked with onion, parsley, lemon, olive oil and garlic. It is somewhere between a bean salad and a bean dip. This is quite commonly eaten at breakfast as an alternative to eggs. Typically, this is served with a nice side of fresh vegetables and a few olives.
Tabouleh, even the sound of the word is inviting, don’t you think? If you love parsley then this is the pinnacle of that flavour palette. This like so many classics is all in the making process as the ingredients are so simple. Take lots of parsley, tomatoes, onions, mint and bulgur wheat and combine them and season to taste. One of those wonderful dishes that will always vary and bear the makers mark on it. Season with salt, lemon and olive oil. This is of Syrian and Lebanese origin.
Another Middle Eastern delight is Baba Ghanoush which is similar to the other regional classic of hummus, just even more yummy! Take grilled or roasted aubergine and scoop out the flesh and combine with tahini, olive oil , garlic, lemon juice abd season! The addition of cumin takes this flavour to the next level! This is just great with pita bread and a side salad.
If it’s a chicken dish that you fancy then why not consider Shish Tawook from Lebanon. This is essentially all about the marinading of tender chicken breast in yoghurt, garlic and lemon. This is then skewered then grilled to perfection. The name itself originates from Turkey as Shish means skewers and tawook means chicken. This is one of those dishes that can really take generous amounts of garlic in the marinade. If you fancy following a recipe for this then allow at least 4 hours for the marinade to really add a rich taste.
One should not overlook the formidable grilled Halloumi cheese that is such a great contrast to all those meaty dishes that can dominate our diets. It is a cheese that is traditionally made from goat or sheep milk and is made without any added acid or bacteria. If you are after a very substantial veggie option then look no further!
On a somewhat sweeter note Knafeh is a must eat dish! This is made with spun pastry and soaked in an amazing syrup called ’attar’. The body of this noble dessert dish is a mix of layers of cheese, cream , pistachio nuts and is very popular and represenative of Palestinian desserts. In the Arabic language the name Knafeh refers to the string pastry which gives the dish its very special personality and feels so very different from a Western style sweet dish.