Seeing the ancient wonders of the Middle East has been on bucket lists of people for centuries. Whether it’s beholding the Great Pyramids of Giza or strolling through the ruins of Petra, the Middle East has been endowing wonder on visiting outsiders for millennia. But beyond the region’s ancient history and being the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the region has also bestowed an impressive array of iconic dishes unto the world.
In fact, some of these dishes are so ancient that many modern Middle Eastern countries today argue over who can lay claim to inventing the recipes that now permeate the region’s cuisine. Asking a Middle Easterner where falafel was invented might seem like an innocent question, but debates over this delicious snack’s origins have raged for years. But whereas Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Palestinians all lay claim to the classic vegetarian dish, it’s impossible to know its origins for sure.
One thing is for certain, however—the current record for the world’s biggest single ball of falafel is held by Jordan, after a gigantic 164-pound snack was created in 2012 by a team of chefs in Jordan. And while no other nation has sought to beat this record, the same cannot be said for hummus, another ancient Middle Eastern dish.
While it’s known that Lebanon and Israel haven’t always had the friendliest relations, what’s lesser known is their intense rivalry for setting insane hummus records. In 2010, 300 Lebanese chefs produced twice the amount of hummus that had set the previous Israeli-held record, weighing in at an enormous 23,042 pounds. In fact, the dish has become so contested that a 2012 documentary detailing its history was released, titled “Make Hummus Not War”.
A delicious, homemade snack
While most people outside the Middle East only know the delicious falafel from food stalls and late-night eateries, this healthy, vegetarian treat can also be easily prepared at home for a portion of the cost. There is nothing quite like the taste of a freshly deep-fried, crispy, aromatic falafel. So why not try making it in the comfort of your own home?
for falafel is infinitely simpler than you’d think. The main ingredient behind these deep-fried balls of goodness are of course chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans. Fun fact: the Arabic word for chickpeas is literally “hummus”!
But chickpeas are only the beginning to a successful falafel-making session—you’re also going to need parsley, this being where the snack gets its iconic, green interior from. Add in some onion, cumin, ground coriander and garlic, and you’re almost good to go! Once you’ve shaped your falafel mix into small balls, it’s time for the fun part—deep frying these delicious snacks in boiling oil for about five minutes.
Once your falafel has attained that beautiful golden crust, it’s time to eat. Sesame sauce, hummus or yogurt all make great dipping companions for falafel.
One thousand and one kebabs
Like many Middle Eastern foods, kebab is often one consumed on the go on a night out. If you’re prone to attending nightclubs, it’s likely you’ve consumed a kebab or two from a late-night Middle Eastern eatery on your way home.
But while a midnight kebab may be the best prevention for a bad hangover the next day, this ancient dish has so much more to offer. In fact, cooking up a homemade lamb kebab with pita bread and yoghurt is going to make it much more difficult to enjoy the midnight equivalents in the future. That’s because there’s nothing quite like a fresh kebab right off the grill. And if you buy the freshest ingredients possible, you can all but guarantee that you’ll be hard pressed to fully enjoy that midnight snack again.
The secret behind a great lamb kebab is, of course, an appropriate spice mix. You’re going to want to combine your bite-sized lamb chunks with cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg and garlic. The resulting aroma is guaranteed to leave you salivating for more delicious kebab.
Chutney with a Persian twist
Venture to the eastern rim of the Middle East, and you’ll find yourself in the ancient region of Persia, where the modern-day nation of Iran finds itself situated. Iran’s ancient culture has produced some iconic dishes that are enjoyed throughout the Middle East and even India. And while chutney is usually considered an Indian dish, Iran can also lay claim to a recipe that is quite similar.
Introducing Lagan Nu Achaar, otherwise known as Wedding Pickle. This classic side dish is made by pickling a combination of apricot, dates and raisins. After leaving these key ingredients to pickle overnight, it’s time to add some aroma. Cumin, chili, cardamom and ginger are key to attaining that zesty, chutney goodness. And even though the dish takes a long time to produce, it’ll keep for up to half a year if kept in a cool place. Enjoy!