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32 Middle Eastern recipes you can make at home

Hummus? Kunafa? Kibbeh? Food is never more glorious than when it comes from the Middle East
From top left, clockwise: Mint lemonade, kunafa cups, lamb shuwa, musakhan rolls (photo credits below)

The Middle East and North Africa: home to some of the most vibrant, aromatic and delicious of tastes, ranging from the adventurous and experimental to no-fuss food you can easily throw together in a  matter of minutes.

Here we’ve gathered together a list of 32 tried-and-tested recipes from the region, guaranteed to make anyone fall in love with the cuisine. 

Some are family favourites, passed down from grandmothers, who would make them for special occasions including Eid and Ramadan. Others are contemporary twists on centuries old diehards, brought up to date for 21stcentury tastes.

Our choices are authentic and wholesome, ranging from an Omani lamb shuwa to a Levantine cheese flatbread. When it comes to the desserts there is, however one rule – the more sugar and syrup, the better. 

And don’t blame us if you end up craving everything here…

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1. Fatayer with spinach and labneh fillings

Lebanese fatayer with spinach and labneh fillings
In Lebanon and Syria, fatayers usually come with fillings of egg, green vegetables or dairy produce (Anissa Helou/Feast: The Food of the Islamic World/photo by Kristin Perers)

By Anissa Helou

Fatayers are a quintessential street food in both Lebanon and Syria, sold from bakeries that make them throughout the morning. They are also served in restaurants as part of a mezze spread. 

2. Kunafa cups

Kunafa cups
Kunafa is ideal for lunch, dinner, supper - frankly whenever you want (@babylonbakehouse)

By Sura Al-Qassab and Nuha Al-Qassab

Kunafa is one of the hallmark desserts of the Middle East, with as many variations on its filling (think cheese, cream, nuts, pastry cream, chocolate, fruit, clotted cream) as on its spelling (it is variously called "kanafeh", "knafe", "kunafah"... you get the idea).

3. Tahini salad

tahini salad
The ingredients for tahini salad are light but the result is filling (@bateekh.w.jebneh/Instagram)

By Marah Abu-Dieyeh and In'aam Shaheen

Tahini salad demonstrates one of the key principles of Palestinian cuisine: simplicity almost always wins. It is, in our opinion, the most delicious oxymoron of a dish which, despite its lightness, freshness and incredible taste, can be eaten with bread as a meal on its own.

4. Cheese-filled pastry rolls (asabe zainab)

omani asabe zainab
Asabe zainab takes it name from the woman who invented the dessert a century ago (@dinewithdina)

By Dina Darweish

Asabe zainab, which translates as  "Zainab’s fingers", is a traditional pastry dessert typically eaten during Ramadan. While some Levantine countries make their version with semolina and leave out the filling, in Oman we wrap a creamy-based cheese in filo pastry, deep fry it, then finish it off by soaking it in a rich saffron and cardamom syrup.

Something similar is made in Palestine, where it goes by the great name of "znoud el sit" ("forearms of the lady").

5. Barley breakfast bowl (snayniyeh)

barley breakfast bowl
Nuts give you lots of energy and are simple to prepare (@bateekh.w.jebneh)

By Marah Abu-Dieyeh and In'aam Shaheen

This nutty and quick breakfast originates from Palestine, where it is known as "snayniyeh" or "aseeda". Easy to prepare, the bowl is packed with nutrients and is extremely filling due to the barley grains and nuts. It is then naturally sweetened with honey, combining a ton of incredible textures.

6. Chicken musakhan rolls

Musakhan chicken rolls
Musakhan is regarded by many as Palestine's national dish (@ana__lina/Instagram)

By Lina Issa

Musakhan, which translates into English as "heated up", is one of the most famous and traditional of Palestinian dishes, a perennial favourite on menus that comes to the fore during celebrations such as the olive harvest season.

It's also a strong contender for Palestine's national dish against maqlouba, the chicken, vegetable and rice meal which is famed for being turned upside down.

7. Meat-filled pies (arayes)

Arayes meat pies
Arayes make for a perfect appetiser (@catastrophiccook/Instagram)

By Nur Ashour

Arayes are filling and easy to bake, making them perfect as an appetiser or even as a main with a good side salad. The best part is that they’re so versatile: you can make some spicy while others can be kept mild.

8. Stuffed vine leaves

stuffed vine leaves
Stuffed vine leaves originate from the Levant region (@kitchnjoys/Instagram)

By Eaman Almalky

There's nothing more delicious than a yelanji plate or, as it is more commonly called in English, stuffed vine leaves. This scrumptious vegetarian dish originates from the Levant region around Lebanon, Syria and Palestine.

9. Qatayef

Qatayef come from the Abbassid Caliphate, more than a thousand years ago (@bateekh.w.jebneh/Instagram)

By Marah Abu-Dieyeh and In'aam Shaheen

Qatayef are delectable pillows of batter, cheese and nuts. Their origins date back more than a thousand years to the Abbassid Caliphate, which ruled the Middle East from modern-day Iraq and Iran. A much-sought after treat, they were mentioned in Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book Of Dishes), a cookbook by ibn Sayyar al Warraq, in the 10th century. 

10. Fried kibbeh, Aleppo style

kibbeh aleppo
Kibbeh are especially associated with Aleppo (@mounaskitchen/Instagram)

By Mouna Elkekhia

Kibbeh meqliyeh is a delicious little Middle Eastern croquette, made from a bulgur and meat shell that's filled with minced meat and nuts. It's a dish especially associated with Aleppo, Syria's largest city, where it comes in dozens of fillings, shapes and sauces.

11. Lebanese couscous (Mograbieh)

Mograbieh lebanon couscous
Mograbieh is one of Lebanon's major feast dishes (@ranas_kitchen_lab/Instagram)

By Rana Kebbi Damaj

Mograbieh is one of Lebanon's major feast dishes, made to be enjoyed by a crowd at social occasions. It's the Lebanese version of Moroccan couscous - the word "mograbieh", when translated into English, means “from Morocco”.

It is made from rolled semolina pearls which are then cooked in a meat or chicken broth. What really gives it a distinct kick is its use of earthy spices such as ground cinnamon and caraway.

12. Meatballs and rice (Dawood basha)

meatballs and rice dawood basha
Like all the best food, dawood basha was named after a real person (@babylonbakehouse)

By Sura Al-Qassab and Nuha Al-Qassab

Syria? Lebanon? Iraq? Lots of countries have staked a claim to the origins of dawood basha, a meat-licious stew. If the legend (and the internet) are to be believed, then this dish is named after a famous pasha - or high ranking officer - in the Ottoman Empire.

Dawood basha (we write "basha" instead of "pasha" as there is no letter P in Arabic) is said to have loved this meal so much that he ate it all the time and gave his name to it.

13. Mint lemonade

Mint lemonade
Mint lemonade is sold at most juice stands in the Middle East (@catastrophiccook/Instagram)

By Nur Ashour

When I was growing up we visited my family in Jordan every summer. One of my favourite things was to go to the balad - or downtown - where I would work my way through as many local delicacies as possible.

Every corner had some sort of juicing stand, many of which sold mint lemonade. The vendors would squeeze fresh lemons and blend them with mint that was so fragrant you could smell it before you even reached the stall, with ice heaped on so much it turned to slush.

14. Veal tajine with plums

Moroccan tajine veal
Tajine has many variations across North Africa (foodizfeed/Instagram)

By Houda Tahri

Tajine with dried plums is undeniably one of the most famous of Morocco's dishes, usually served at family occasions or special events, such as iftar during Ramadan.

With many variations across North Africa, it strikes a great balance between sweet and savoury. Serve to an eager social gathering with lots of crusty bread. 

15. Koshary

koshary egypt
Koshary: part Egyptian, part Indian, part Italian, all-consuming (Wikipedia)

By Naadirah Vali

Koshary is the pride and joy of Egyptian cuisine, a chaotic yet delicious concoction celebrated by almost all Egyptians.

At first glance it looks like a random – and hard to cook - mix of spice, garlic and tomato sauce poured over a bed of rice, lentils and pasta, then topped off with crispy onions. Carb free it is not.

16. Hummus

Peel chickpeas to make humus extra smooth (cooking.journey/Instagram)

By Nahed Alfar

Hummus is about the most recognisable dish or side in the Middle East and North Africa: every part of every country has their own variation, with each claiming that their version is the best.

17. Omani lamb shuwa

omani lamb shuwa
Shuwa is best served with saffron or spiced rice and a yoghurt-based salad (@dinewithdina/Instagram)

By Dina Darweish

You have not experienced Oman until an Omani has made you shuwa, an incredible Eid delicacy famed around the Gulf.

Its centrepiece is a slow roasted lamb, sheep, goat - or even camel - which is bathed for up to 48 hours in baharat spice, then wrapped in banana leaves and placed in the ground on top of hot coals.

For those outside Oman, careful testing and recipe refinement has ensured that this spice-encrusted dish can also be prepared in a conventional oven.

18. Nut cake from Tunisia (Khobzet fekia)

Khobzet fekia tunisian nut cake
Khobzet fekia is nutty on top but moist inside (@tanwicha/Instagram)

By Manel Jouini

Khobzet fekia - or nut cake - is a popular Tunisian pastry which is traditionally baked by mothers and grandmothers for family gatherings.

It's a treat to awaken the senses, with the strong smell of the nuts, the intense colour of the pistachios, the texture and sweetness of the almonds and the aroma of the syrup-scented rosewater.

19. Brioche bread from Aleppo (Maarouk)

maarouk aleppo brioche bread
One of maarouk's key ingredients comes from cherry kernels (@mounaskitchen/Instagram).

By Mouna Elkekhia

Maarouk is a sweet and fragrant brioche-like bread that is only made in Aleppo during Ramadan. It can be prepared in different shapes and fillings: here, the recipe includes some which are braided and others which are round and include dates.

20. Creamy lamb stew from Syria (Lamb shakiryeh)

lamb shakriyeha
Serve shakriyeh with spring onions and radish on the side (Dalia Dogmoch/#Cook For Syria Recipe Book)

By Dalia Dogmoch Soubra

Whenever there was a festive occasion, the Syrian women in my family would make this incredibly tender and tasty stew known as a shakriyeh.

The lamb is simmered in aromatics until tender, which infuses the meat with wonderful flavour. But what's most important is the yoghurt. Syrian dishes are often made with yoghurt sauces - but here it is hot.

21. Fried rice kibbeh from Iraq

iraqi kibbeh rice
Kubba't halab can take time to prepare but repays the effort (@addalittlelemon)

By Sara Leana Ahmad

Kubba’t halab, to give its Arabic name, is an Iraqi speciality named in homage to Aleppo, which is also known as Halab. It is done in the spirit of competition and respect, as Syria is well known for its excellent kibbeh.

This particular kibbeh is shaped into eggs, using a long-grain rice dough, stuffed with qeema and then deep fried.

22. Lamb salad

lamb salad
Prepare the salad dressing in advance and add just before you serve (@thelebaneseplate/Instagram/Facebook)

By Lina Jebeile

This salad takes as its foundation a Lebanese dish that uses fresh zataar leaves. It's popular especially during Ramadan for a couple of reasons.

First, it's easy to prepare: you can do so a day ahead. All you need do is mix in the dressing just before you serve. Second, while it is light, there is enough here to qualify it as a main rather than a side dish. To that end, I have added the tender grilled lamb, roasted vegetables, beans and chickpeas to make it more balanced.

23. Yemeni Ramadan soup

yemen ramadan soup
This Yemeni soup can also include cardamom and sweet onions (@SifraSafar/Instagram)

By Amjaad Al-Hussain

Each Yemeni family makes their Ramadan soup slightly differently but this is my method, based on what my mum used to cook for the family.

Other traditional versions include varieties of barley or grains, a pinch of ground cardamom and sweet onions.

24. Cheese flatbread (manaeesh)

cheese flatbread manaeesh
Lebanese flatbread: cheese and pastry have never worked so well (cooking.journey/Instagram)

By Nahed Alfar

Levantine flat bread, known in Arabic as "mana'esh b' jibneh", is topped with a mix of gooey white cheeses which combine well with the crunchy chia-encrusted outside and the fluffy middle. The combination of melted stringiness and pastry comfort make it a popular flavour across Lebanon.

25. Orange and coconut semolina cake

Semolina cake orange coconut
Semolina cake is best enjoyed with tea or Arabic coffee (bateekh.w.jebneh/Instagram)

By Marah Abu-Dieyeh and In'aam Shaheen

This syrup-soaked semolina and coconut delight delivers chewiness underneath a crispy, golden crust, as the flavour and aroma of the fresh orange are released with every bite. Sweet and delicate, it's best enjoyed with tea, or perhaps Arabic coffee. 

26. Date-filled cookies from Iraq (Kleicha)

kleicha iraqi cookies biscuits
Kleicha can be stuffed with nut-sugar mixtures such as walnut, sugar and cardamom or coconut and sugar (@babylonbakehouse/Instagram)

By Sura Al-Qassab and Nuha Al-Qassab

If Iraq has a national cookie or biscuit then it has to be the kleicha. No Iraqi can mark a special occasion, religious or otherwise, without this smooth date paste, wrapped in richly spiced dough.

Unlike maamoul, its more famous cookie cousin from the Levant, kleciha dough does not contain semolina. It can also be stuffed with fragrant nut-sugar mixtures such as walnut, sugar and cardamom or even coconut and sugar.

27. Freekeh soup

freekeh soup
The basics of freekeh soup are meat stock - and burnt wheat (@framed_by_rania)

By Rania Alhamed

Freekeh is a common staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, especially in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria. It is derived from wheat, which is harvested early while the grains are still tender and green. The seeds are then dehydrated, roasted, dried and cleaned.

28. Chicken fatteh

chicken fatteh syria
The whiteness of the dish symbolises good luck and a pure beginning (@mounaskitchen)

By Mouna Elkekhia

The Arabic word "fatteh" comes from an verb meaning to "shred" or "tear apart", in reference to the torn pieces of pitta that form the base of these dishes. It's a well-chosen name for a variety of dishes, built on layers of ingredients including chickpeas, stuffed aubergines, artichokes, stewed meat or tahini and garlic yoghurt.

Chicken fatteh is often eaten at the beginning of Ramadan or the start of the year: the tradition is that the whiteness of the yoghurt and of the rice symbolise good luck and a pure beginning.

29. Date-filled biscuits (makrouta)

makrouta biscuits eid dates
Makrouta is similar to maamoul biscuits but easier to make (@catastrophiccook/Instagram)

By Nur Ashour

Makrouta is just as good as maamoul, another Middle Eastern biscuit treat,  but so much easier to bake. It consists of layers of flaky dough and sweet dates, with a touch of crunch coming from the sesame seeds, anise seeds and nigella seeds. You can also store it for up to one month in a sealed container.

30. Stuffed aubergines (Fatteh't makdous)

fatteh makdous
Variations of fatteh can be found across the Middle East (Dalia Dogmoch/#Cook For Syria Recipe Book)

By Dalia Dogmoch Soubra

This fatteh from Syria bursts with different textures and flavour, thanks to the garlic tahini yoghurt, the soft aubergine, the crunchy bread and those nuts.

31. Stuffed chicken with freekeh

stuffed chicken freekeh
You can use other cuts of meat with the same stuffing (@almondandfig/Instagram)

By Mai Kakish

Arab cooks take much pride in their dishes, especially those prepared for a special occasion or celebration. Stuffed meats and vegetables take centrepiece at family gatherings during the holy month of Ramadan, using ingredients which are often seasonal and fresh.

Few meals are as popular as chicken stuffed with freekeh (a green roasted wheat). Delicious and nutritious, the pilaf is topped with toasted nuts and chewy dried fruits to further sweeten the taste.

32. Rice with carrots (timman bil jizar)

timman bil jizar rice and carrots
Timman bil jizar rice can be made as a vegetarian dish (@babylonbakehouse)

By Sura Al-Qassab and Nuha Al-Qassab

What fits the bill of being both light and hearty to fill that gap? Enter timman bil jizar, a delicious dish which ticks lots of boxes for us during Ramadan ("timman" is the Iraqi word for "rice"- and in our opinion, the right word - while "jizar" means carrots).

It's tasty, quick to make and smells amazing, with a versatility that makes it popular in our household. It can be enjoyed on its own, with a fresh salad, with plain yoghurt, even converted into a vegetarian dish by substituting the mince for mushrooms or vegetarian mince.

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