Get A Taste of The Middle East With These Arabic Food Recipes

This cuisine goes beyond shawarma and hummus.

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Talking about Arabian or Arabic food is a lot like talking about Southeast Asian food in that they both encompass a wide variety of cultures. Whereas Southeast Asian cuisine includes anything from Indian to Japanese to Filipino, Arabian cuisine covers Saudi Arabian, Egyptian, Lebanese, and Levantine cuisine, among others.

Arabian cuisine usually features lamb, beef, chicken, and goat, and less commonly, pork. It also has a lot of vegetarian dishes, and are usually served with rice or bread. Arabian food is also rich in herbs and spices similar to Indian food. Aside from this, they also use baharat, which is a spice mix that translates to "spices" in Arabic. It is usually made with black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon, but just like the Indian garam masala, every household has its own ratio, and some recipes add or substitute other spices to make it different.

Are you ready to dive into this flavorful and hearty cuisine? Here are some Arabic food recipes you can try:

Chicken Kabsa is an indulgent one-pot chicken and rice dish.
Photo by Shutterstock

1 Chicken Kabsa

Chicken kabsa is regarded as the national dish of the Arabian Peninsula and is a one-pot chicken and rice dish. Kabsa comes from the Arabian word kabasa, which translates to "to press or squeeze," referring to how the dish is all "squeezed" all in one pot to cook. It is also known as makboos or machboos. It's actually similar to a biryani dish. 

What makes Chicken kabsa such a succulent and flavorful dish is its ingenious use of broth. To make it, the aromatics, which include onion, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and dried lime among others, are sauteed in butter or oil. Then, the chicken is browned, and tomato puree and water are added so everything simmers together. Once the chicken is cooked, it is removed, and the flavor-rich broth is then used to cook the basmati rice. The chicken can be broiled or grilled, and the dish is topped with plump raisins and almonds when ready to serve. 

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Shawarma can be made with chicken, beef, or lamb.
Photo by Patrick Martires

2 Shawarma Recipes

Shawarma has to be one of the most recognizable Arab food on this list, not only because of its convenient packaging but also of its spiced and delicious fillings. Shawarma comes from the Turkish word çevirme, /chey-veer-meh/ meaning "to turn," which refers to the vertical rotisserie that is used to grill the meat. Shawarma is usually made with marinated lamb, beef, or chicken, cut into thin slabs, and stacked on a skewer. It is then slowly turned like a spit so that it is grilled slowly and evenly. When it is ready, the meat is shaved thinly so only the charred surface is removed from the spit. It is these charred bits that are stuffed into pita bread. Some then add pickled or fresh vegetables, fried potato, and doused in toum or garlic sauce and a spicy hot chili sauce. 


Shakshuka is an egg and tomato breakfast dish best served with bread.
Photo by Riell Santos

3 Shakshuka Recipe

Shakshuka is an Arabic breakfast dish that also has North African roots. Few dishes can be simpler yet more delicious than this tomato-based, one-pan dish! It is made by poaching eggs in tomato sauce spiced with onion, peppers, cumin, paprika, and cayenne. No wonder that shakshuka translates to "a mixture" as it is a spicy, flavorful mixture of eggs and vegetables. While shakshuka is usually cooked in a cast iron skillet and finished in the oven, you can also poach the eggs by simply covering the pan and letting the resulting steam do the work! It's best served with bread; if you can't find challah bread, pita bread or even a few slices of toasted ciabatta are great paired with this indulgent breakfast dish.


Tabbouleh is a light, fresh salad made with cereal grains.
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4 Tabbouleh Recipes

Tabbouleh is a salad traditionally made with parsley, mint, onion, tomatoes, and soaked bulgur, which is a cereal food made from partially boiled and dried whole wheat. It is usually served as part of a mezze, which is a platter comprised of small dishes that are meant to serve as appetizers or a light meal. If you can't find bulgur, you can also easily replace it with couscous, and still enjoy a light, herby, and refreshing salad!


Hummus can be used as a dip for pita bread, veggies, grilled meat, or anything you like!
Photo by Patrick Martires

5 Hummus and Pita Bread Recipes

Hummus is a dip made with chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, and tahini, and topped with olive oil and sometimes paprika and parsley. In other countries around the peninsula, you might find it's topped with other spices such as tangy sumac, earthly za'atar spice blend, or even the spicy berbere spice mix. It is usually paired with pita bread, which is an Arabian flatbread that is leavened with yeast and baked at a high temperature. This is to encourage the pita bread to form pockets where fillings can be inserted; this happens because the water inside the pita dough turns into steam, which causes the pita to puff up in the oven. Aside from pita bread, hummus can be used as a healthy dip for fresh vegetables like carrots or celery sticks, or even your favorite grilled meat!


Falafels are versatile and can be served in a sandwich!
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6 Falafel Recipes

If you're a fan of meatballs but don't want the meat, falafels are for you! Falafel is a deep-fried ball made of chickpeas or fava beans (or both), seasoned with herbs and spices. These fried vegetarian balls are versatile and can be consumed in many different ways; like hummus and tabbouleh, they can be part of a mezze. They can also be served as is with tahini sauce, which is made with garlic, lemon, and tahini, a Middle Eastern condiment made with toasted sesame. You can also make a pita sandwich with falafel and fresh vegetables, or even make a falafel burger!


Baklava is made by layering paper-thin phyllo pastry and nuts.
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7 Baklava Recipe

Baklava is made with such simple ingredients: phyllo pastry, honey, and nuts, but it packs a deliciously exciting bite. It is an Arabian dessert that is made by layering phyllo pastry, a paper-thin dough, and a mixture of chopped nuts such as pistachio and walnuts. After it is baked, it is sliced into smaller portions and drizzled with a honey sauce that soaks into the pastry and adds a sweet and citrusy flavor that balances out the crunch of the phyllo pastry and the earthy nut filling.


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May 30, 2016

Interested in other spicy international cuisines? Check these out:


Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!

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