The Middle East is flourishing with breathtaking sites, marvelous cultures, and – the best of all – delicious food. But what makes the cuisine so incredible is it’s not just the byproduct of consisting, close-neighboring countries. It’s also tinted by African, Asian, and European tastes.
Thus, what makes Middle Eastern food unlike any other is that it is both a melting pot of different cultures’ bits and pieces and an identity of its own. Doesn’t that sound intriguing? If so, you should get a taste of it! Make these 12 authentic Middle Eastern side dishes for a luscious start.
If you’ve been to Persian restaurants or, at the very least, the food side of TikTok, you’ve probably encountered tahdig or crispy Persian rice. If so, you might think this tachin or Persian saffron rice is tahdig. However, the two are different! Most sources state that tahdig is only the caramelized, crispy crust. Meanwhile, the fluffy and protein parts – other recipes include chicken or meat – is the tachin.
Carbs on carbs don’t sound like a good thing until you’ve had Lebanese rice with vermicelli noodles. It offers an interesting combination of textures with fluffy white grains and toasted, crispy noodles. It’s also effortless and doesn’t call for many ingredients – just rice, vermicelli, oil, salt, and water. Serve this with flavorful and saucy Middle Eastern dishes, like vegetable stews.
Pita is the most popular type of flatbread from the Middle East. However, many more variants are worth trying, like this barbari bread from Persia. It’s chewy, tender, and thicker than typical flatbreads. The color is tantalizing, too – a rich and dark golden brown that may be dotted with sesame, poppy, or caraway seeds. Many enjoy this with soup, spread, or Middle Eastern dips like hummus!
Couscous is highly associated with Israeli and North African cuisines. However, did you know that the two regions use different types? Israel’s couscous, also known as ptitim, is not authentic. It looks like so, but tastes and feels different to the tongue. Thus, when making this salad, make sure to grab ptitim or pearl couscous, along with the other ingredients: carrots, peppers, olives, oil, lemon, and seasonings.
Lebanon has many delicious salads, and one of the most popular is tabbouleh, also spelled tabouli. Its central element is parsley, so the resulting dish is strikingly verdant and fresh. Besides the parsley, there are tomatoes, green onions, lemon juice, olive oil, and bulgur, a wheat product popular in the Middle East. Once the salad is ready, enjoy it as it is or serve it inside lettuce wraps.
Another member of the Lebanon salad assembly is fattoush, regarded as the nation’s version of garden salad. It has many leafy greens, like mint, purslane, parsley, and Romaine lettuce. There are also capsicum or bell peppers, Lebanese cucumbers, radish, onion, tomatoes, and pita bread pieces. The dressing is unique, too, so you’ll have to make it at home with lemon juice, olive oil, salt, sumac, pomegranate molasses, and dried mint.
7. Sumac Onions
Sumac onions are one of the most unique and tasty dishes you can make from a simple veggie. It’s perfect for any meal, as it contributes fresh, savory flavors and juicy, crunchy textures. You don’t need much to follow the recipe, but you must have sumac, a special Middle Eastern spice. Thus, start scouring foreign shelves or stores for that particular ingredient.
The Middle East is home to many delectable dips, the most popular of which is hummus. Thus, this side dish article won’t be complete without it! Hummus is creamy and light, consisting of chickpeas, lemon juice, garlic, tahini, ice water, cumin, olive oil, and sea salt. You can include simple add-ons, like sumac, or add a distinct ingredient that results in a unique variant, such as Kalamata olive hummus.
While hummus is loved for its creamy, dreamy flavors, muhammara brings fire to the meal. It is made with roasted red and Aleppo peppers; thus, smoky and spicy flavors dominate the palette. However, it isn’t all heat – you also get hints of tanginess and sweetness that ties the whole condiment together. Thus, don’t hesitate to serve muhammara with your favorite Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes!
Another spicy side dish from the Middle East is Lebanon’s batata harra. It’s made from roasted or fried potatoes combined with red peppers. However, you can change or modify the peppers if you want the dish to be more or less spicy. Batata harra is great with mezze platters, grilled meats, or meals where you want a potato side dish but want something unique besides mashed or roasted potatoes.
Stuffed grape leaves or dolmas are popular in the Middle East and Greece. Although they’re often treated as a side dish, snack, or appetizer, they are complete mini dishes. They have meat, rice, and leafy greens; thus, if you think about it, you’ve hit the meal trifecta already! Whether you’re eating this only or with some main course, it’s delicious, so give them a try!
Imam bayildi is an aubergine or eggplant filled with stuffing made from olive oil, onion, garlic, tomatoes, Aleppo peppers, salt, pepper, and parsley. If you don’t want it too spicy, you can set aside the Aleppo peppers. Regardless, the dish is incredibly flavorful and tender, perfect as a main course already! However, some love to use it as a side dish to meat and fish meals.