Middle Eastern cuisine is really symbolic of its geography, the point at which the east meets west, an eclectic mix of the cultures from the southern Mediterranean, India and everywhere else in between. There is as much diversity in Middle Eastern cuisine as there is homogeneity. Ingredients such as olives, honey, mint and parsley are commonly used throughout the entire region. One striking similarity is the very delicate use of spices: there is a distinct lack of heat, instead they make great use of saffron, turmeric, cumin, cloves and a very light touch of peppercorns.
A little known fact is that the Middle East is where wheat was first cultivated, along with barley, pistachios, figs, dates and pomegranates. Little wonder then that this cuisine is well known for its use of sweet and savoury flavours in the same dish. Leven bread was also cultivated here, as were the processes of fermentation and the creation of ‘beer’ – unusual for a region that forbids the consumption of alcohol.
The Middle East was really the hub of food exchange and trade. From India you saw the introduction of garlic, cumin and turmeric, and from Africa such ingredients as okra and tomatoes, whilst Spain and Italy supplied olives.
Whilst bread is popular, wheat is also used in the forms of bulgar and couscous. Bulgar is cracked wheat, made by partially cooking the wheat grains in water, drying it in the sun, then breaking it into pieces, in different grades of size. Typically, it is cooked in water, with seasoning, much like rice or eaten as a salad such as tabbouleh, with chopped parsley, tomato, lemon, and oil.
As with all spices it is that delicate skill of blending with the utmost reverence for their value, so clearly demonstrated in this beautiful cuisine with dishes such as kibbeh, tagines, baba ganoush and of course delicious baklava that gives Middle Eastern cuisine it’s unique edge.
If you would like to master the art of this mysterious cuisine, then join us at The Cooking Academy for our next Middle Eastern Cookery Class which covers some of the top dishes of the region in just 6 hours. Intensive, but fun and tasty and interactive!
Kumud Gandhi is a Nutritional Food Scientist bestselling Author, Broadcaster, and Keynote Speaker on the subject of nutritional health for productivity & performance in the workplace. In 2010 Kumud founded ‘The Cooking Academy’ a cookery school that focusses on cooking for nutritional health and wellbeing. Kumud regularly presents to international audiences on a variety of topics such as ‘Eating for Immunity and a Lifetime of Wellness’. She is an expert in the field of Wellness in the Workplace and works with organizations to create transformational change in employee health & well-being through nutrition and health coaching.