20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (2024)

Claudia Roden’s aubergine slices with pomegranate, yogurt and tahini – batinjan bil rumman wal laban

The dressing of pomegranate molasses and vinegar gives the aubergine slices a sweet-and-sour flavour. Serve them hot or cold, with the yogurt topping at room temperature.

Serves 6
aubergines 4 (1.2kg)
extra-virgin olive oil
pomegranate molasses 1½ tbsp
red or white wine vinegar 1½ tbsp
natural (full-fat) yogurt 500g
garlic 1 clove, crushed
tahini 2 tbsp
pine nuts 50g

Cut the aubergines into slices (lengthways or across) about 1¼cm thick. Place them on an oiled sheet of foil on a baking sheet or tray. Brush both sides of the aubergine slices with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Place in a very hot oven pre-heated to 240C/gas mark 9 for about 30 minutes, until they are soft and browned, turning the slices over once. Arrange on a shallow serving dish.

Mix the pomegranate molasses, vinegar and 2 tablespoons of oil, and brush the aubergine slices with this dressing. Beat the yogurt with the garlic and tahini and spread over the slices. Fry the pine nuts very briefly in ½ tablespoon of oil, stirring to brown them very lightly all over, and sprinkle over the yogurt.

Instead of the pine nuts, garnish with the shiny pink seeds of a fresh pomegranate.
From Arabesque by Claudia Roden (Michael Joseph, £30)

Fadia Chabtini’s lahm bi ajine

20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (1)

In Beirut, lahm bi ajine is done with tomatoes. But in the north, in Tripoli, it is made with pomegranate molasses. Tripoli’s cuisine and food traditions are some of the most ancient and best preserved of Lebanon.

Serves 10
For the filling
minced beef 1.2kg
onions 5, diced
pine nuts 200g
pomegranate molasses 4 tbsp
vinegar 4 tbsp
tahini 4 tbsp
dried mint 2 tbsp
labneh 2 tbsp
salt and pepper

For the dough
plain flour 875g
salt a pinch
yeast 1 tsp
sugar 1 tsp
warm water
vegetable oil 400ml
butter 200g, softened

To make the dough, put the flour and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in a little warm water, then set aside for 15 minutes. Add the yeast mixture to the flour. Pour the oil into the flour and add the butter. Knead well (by hand or machine) until the dough is smooth and well combined. Leave the dough to rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes.

Lightly oil your worktop. Knead the dough on the worktop, then roll it as thin as possible. The dough should be paper thin.

Loosely roll the dough into a log. Put the dough into the freezer for about 3 hours, or slightly longer, so it firms up a little.

To make the filling, lightly fry the minced meat, onions and pine nuts. Once cooked, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool.

Add the pomegranate molasses, vinegar, tahini, dried mint, and labneh. Mix to combine with the meat. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the dough from the freezer, and allow it to defrost a little, if needed. You want the dough to be only partially frozen, so it is a little firmer and easier to work with.

Cut the dough into small, rectangular pieces (around 7x10cm). Place a spoonful of filling in a line down the centre of the piece of dough. Roll the dough with the filling into small sausage shapes – finger size.

Place them on a baking tray and bake in an oven at 200C/gas mark 6, for around 20 minutes or until they are golden brown.
Fadia Chabtini is a cook at Tawlet in Lebanon; soukeltayeb.com/tawlet

Kamal Mouzawak’s tabouleh

20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (2)

It’s difficult to adequately describe what tabouleh means to Lebanese cuisine. It’s not just any dish, and it’s definitely not just a salad! Not a Sunday dinner, nor a mezze table, nor any celebratory meal of any kind can get started without a tabouleh. In an article about tabouleh for Lebanon’s first National Tabouleh Day, Dr Antoine Daher compared it to Lebanon: a mix of diverse ingredients, where one can distinguish every single one but can never separate one from another.

Everyone has his or her own version of tabouleh, and everyone naturally believes that their version (or their mother’s version) is the best tabouleh ever. There are those who like it without bulgur, and those who like it with loads. Should it be cracking-hard bulgur or soaked and softened? Very lemony or not? With sharab el hosrom (verjuice) or not? Chopped micro-fine or not?

There is only one way to chop the parsley: finely. Hold the bunch tightly under the palm of your hand on the chopping board and chop with a sharp knife. The blade should cut the parsley just once, never twice; otherwise, it will be fine, certainly, but it will lose its juiciness and will blacken and appear crushed. In other words, the parsley should be sliced rather than chopped. So some skill is required, and this can only be acquired with time and practice.

Tabouleh is eaten with pieces of romaine lettuce or white cabbage, or, in season, tender grape leaves. Regardless of the many variations, tabouleh is mainly made of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, a bit of mint, spring onions, tomato and bulgur.

For the record, I like my tabouleh lemony, with a note of hot green chilli, transforming each mouthful into a fresh hit of flavour on a hot summer day. I start with the tomato, diced into tiny cubes and mixed with the bulgur so it soaks up the tomato juices. Then I very finely chop the spring onions and rub them with some salt and pepper to soften their crunch.

Serves 4
tomatoes 2 medium
fine-grind bulgur 2 tbsp (20g)
mint ½ a bunch, leaves picked
fresh green chilli 1
flat-leaf parsley 4 bunches
spring onion ½ a bunch
ground black pepper ¼ tsp
lemons juice of 2
olive oil 6 tbsp (90ml)
romaine lettuce leaves, white cabbage leaves or fresh grape leaves for serving

Finely dice the tomatoes, place in a large bowl and add the bulgur. Stir so that the bulgur is well mixed with the tomatoes and soaks up their juice.

Chop the mint leaves and chilli and add to the bowl. Finely slice the parsley and add to the bowl, covering up the mint to prevent it from turning black. Finely chop the spring onions, sprinkle with the pepper and a bit of salt, and rub a bit with the fingertips, so they soften. Add to the bowl. Do not stir.

Do not mix the tabouleh until ready to serve. Start mixing with a spoon and a hand, to be sure the tabouleh is well mixed, and then add the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt.

A tabouleh should not be dry, but it should not be soupy either. Serve straightaway, with romaine lettuce, white cabbage or fresh grape leaves … a tabouleh does not wait!
From Lebanese Home Cooking by Kamal Mouzawak (Quarry Books, £15.99)

Claudia Roden’s fish with preserved lemon, green olives and capers

20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (3)

Serves 4
butter 2 tbsp
groundnut or extra-virgin olive oil 2 tbsp
ground ginger ⅓ tsp
powdered saffron ¼ tsp
fish steaks or escalopes 4, such as bream or turbot
salt and pepper
preserved lemon ½-1 (see tip below), rinsed and cut into small pieces
green olives 12
capers 2 tbsp, soaked to remove excess salt or vinegar
coriander leaves a good bunch, chopped

In a large frying pan, heat the butter with the oil and stir in the ginger and saffron.

Put in the fish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and add the preserved lemon, olives, capers and coriander. Cook for 6-10 minutes, turning the fish over once.

Preserved lemons lend a distinctive flavour to North African dishes. I am especially fond of a quick unorthodox method which gives delicious results in 4 days.

With a sharp knife make 8 fine – superficial, not deep – incisions into the lemon skin from one end of the lemon to the other. Put the lemons in a large pan with salted water (for instance, 8 tablespoons for 8 lemons) to cover. Put a smaller lid on top of them to keep them down as they float, and boil for about 25 minutes or until the peels are very soft. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh, pack the skins into a glass jar and cover with sunflower or light vegetable oil.
From Tamarind & Saffron by Claudia Roden (Penguin, £18.99)

Greg and Lucy Malouf’s butternut squash kibbeh stuffed with feta and spinach

20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (4)

This is a vegetable version of the famous torpedo-shaped kibbeh, so beloved by Lebanese restaurants. In Greg’s family, as is common in Middle Eastern Christian communities, vegetable kibbeh are often served during Lent, when people reduce their meat consumption. They are most often made with mashed potato, but we find that butternut squash works beautifully as well. When it comes to the filling, be as imaginative as you like! Use the spinach mixture below as a base and add other flavours, depending on what you have to hand. We’ve been known to use feta, halloumi, goat’s cheese or mozzarella.

Makes 12
For the kibbeh shell
butternut squash 450g
salt and freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
fine bulgur wheat 100g
onion ½ small, finely chopped
tahini 1 tbsp, well stirred
plain flour 1 tbsp
ground allspice ¼ tsp
ground cinnamon ¼ tsp
vegetable oil for frying
Greek-style yogurt to serve
extra-virgin olive oil to serve

For the feta and spinach filling
olive oil 1 tbsp
butter 1 tbsp
onion 1 small, finely diced
spinach leaves 100g, stalks removed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
feta or your choice of melting white cheese

Make the kibbeh shell first. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Cut the squash into chunks and arrange in a small roasting tin. Toss with salt, pepper and a generous splash of olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 25–30 minutes, or until very tender. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.

While the squash is cooling, soak the bulgur wheat in warm water for 5 minutes. Tip into a sieve and, using your hands, squeeze out as much water as you can. Then tip into a tea towel and twist to extract even more water. When it’s as dry as you can manage, tip it into a large mixing bowl.

Slice away the skin from the squash and weigh out 250g of flesh. Add it to the bowl with the bulgur wheat and mash the two together to form a smooth purée. Add the onion, tahini, flour and spices, and season generously with salt and pepper. Knead with your hands until the mixture is thoroughly blended. Chill for at least 30 minutes, which will make the paste easier to work with.

To make the filling, heat the oil and butter in a medium frying pan and add the onion. Sweat for 5–10 minutes, until soft and translucent. Add the spinach leaves and stir over the heat, turning it around frequently, until it wilts. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Season with salt and pepper then chop finely.

When you are ready to make the kibbeh, divide the shell mixture into 12 even portions. Take one portion in the palm of your left hand and roll it smooth with the other hand. Using the forefinger of your right hand, make an indentation in the ball and start to shape it carefully into a hollow shell. Try to make the shell as thin and even as you can. Wet your finger from time to time, to make it easier.

Fill the shell with a scant teaspoon of the spinach filling, together with a small cube of feta or your choice of cheese. Add another pinch of spinach, then wet the edges of the opening and carefully pinch it closed. Make sure you don’t trap any air inside. You are aiming to form a small torpedo-shaped dumpling, with slightly tapered ends. Repeat with the remaining mixture and filling.

Leave the stuffed kibbeh on a tray in the fridge, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or up to 4 hours, until you are ready to cook them.

When ready to cook, pour vegetable oil into a medium, heavy-based saucepan to a depth of about 6cm and heat to 180C (see note below).

Fry the kibbeh, a few at a time, for 4–5 minutes, or until they turn a deep golden brown. Turn them around in the oil to ensure they colour evenly all over. Drain them on kitchen paper and serve piping hot with a dollop of yogurt and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, the oil will have reached the correct temperature when it is shimmering, and when a cube of bread sizzles slowly to the surface and turns a pale golden brown in about 30–40 seconds.
From New Feast: Modern Middle Eastern Vegetarian by Greg & Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant, £20)

20 best Middle Eastern recipes: part 1 (2024)
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