Best Middle Eastern Cookbooks for Delicious and Healthy Recipes

Best Middle Eastern Cookbooks for Delicious and Healthy Recipes

(Evening Standard)

I first experienced Middle Eastern cooking as a young child, where every morning I insisted that my parents take me the long way to school so I could go down the “smelling road”.

When researching the origins of the aromas, I was both delighted and shocked to discover a small hole in the wall where a Lebanese chef made dozens of traditional flatbreads. For just a few pounds you got what felt like an endless supply of the most amazing thin and crusty bread.

Since my early introduction, I have been regularly looking for delicious Middle Eastern dishes and ingredients, whether that be in restaurants or on trips to Turkey and Morocco.

Even the simple kebab, if done correctly, can be an absolute delight. Forget the late night takeaway and instead of richly flavored meats that have been marinated for hours, think flatbreads with the perfect balance of crispiness and fluffiness, and fillings so tasty you never knew a tomato could taste so good.

Despite the increasing popularity of Middle Eastern food—I was once greeted by a sea of ​​angry faces after forgetting to bring hummus and falafels to a friend’s picnic—it can be tricky to know where to start when you’re this kitchen is trying to cook at home.

As a tribute to the forgotten falafel, this week I tried Ottolenghi’s recipe on how to make these explosive bundles of flavor at home.

The Middle East, comprising about 20 countries, encompasses a vast area and includes different cuisines. From Persian and Turkish to Israeli, this cuisine is a fusion of bold flavors and foods.

To help you on your way, we spoke to the Persian and Middle Eastern Chef Sabrina Ghayour to get her top tips on cooking Middle Eastern dishes at home:

  • Most importantly, stay relaxed! This is home cooking – it’s neither fancy nor flashy and what makes it extra special is the process, the love and time that goes into each dish and the convivial way we love to share and party.

  • Find a trusted source for your recipes and don’t tackle anything too complicated to get started. Try to build your repertoire of recipes from the ground up.

  • In terms of ingredients, prepare yourself with a few essential ingredients, such as spices, pomegranate molasses, za’atar, and sumac.

  • Read through recipes beforehand and make sure you are aware of the processes at every stage. Then divide your menu into stages and do some stages ahead of time if necessary.

Read on to discover how to recreate the tantalizing aromas and vibrant colors of Middle Eastern cuisine, all from the comfort of your own home.

Persiana: Recipes from the Middle East and Beyond

Middle Eastern food is synonymous with partying and with that comes a range of great mezze dishes: small plates of food shared between people. In just six chapters, Persiana presents modern and accessible recipes of bread, salad and sharing plates that are impressive enough to serve at large gatherings, but also easy enough to rustle up for the family on a weeknight.

In addition to these recipes comes photography of dishes like Walnut and Pomegranate Chicken and Bejewlled Rice, which alone will make your stomach growl. Be prepared to bathe your home in these bold scents as you try out cooking dishes fit for an Arabian king.

For starters, stock your pantry ahead of time with important Middle Eastern spices like sumac, zaatar, and cinnamon, as these recipes call for a lot of them.

Buy now £17.25, Amazon

Sumac: Recipes and Stories from Syria

As a country that has faced ongoing political instability and war for over a decade, Syrian culture and its gastronomic delights have been relatively overlooked, but Sumac wants to change that. Paying tribute to his homeland, Atassi feeds you off the plate while taking you on a journey through Syrian family life and what is at the heart of it: food.

With more than 80 recipes that perfectly blend traditional and contemporary, Sumac explores the regional nuances of the country and presents dishes such as Mediterranean-inspired grilled eggplant with yogurt sauce, simple tomato soup with barley and lamb shank from Damascus and Chicken Shish Kebab, bursting with Armenian and Turkish flavors.

Despite the vastly varied cuisine, there is one ingredient that is shared by all these cultures and influences: sumac. This dark red spice is the common thread that connects these recipes and will help you explore the world of Syrian gastronomy.

Buy now £16.44, Amazon

Falastin: a cookbook

Written by the co-authors of many Ottolenghi cookbooks, this priceless compendium of Palestinian dishes that align with tradition and modernity comes to create 110 mouthwatering recipes that will make you want to cook them all.

We were most struck by the endless flavor combinations and each recipe feels like an experience in itself as you admire the rich photography, read stories from the unheard voices of Palestine and inhale the rich aromas of your cooking.

The cookbook really contains everything: summer salads, heartwarming soups, simple one-pan dishes and the lightest bread you can imagine. Try the Eggplant, Chickpea and Tomato Bake to brighten up a vegan meal or the Chicken Musakhan to brighten up a Sunday lunch.

Buy now £20.19, Amazon

The Lebanese Cookbook

Located on the edge of the Mediterranean and often referred to as the gateway to the Middle East, Lebanon boasts world-class cuisine featuring honeyed spices, fragrant herbs and an abundance of fresh produce.

With over 500 recipes, The Lebanese Cookbook is the definitive guide to the country’s cuisine, exploring the history of food and regional variations in classic dishes like flatbread dough and spicy sauces like the pomegranate and walnut dressing.

With authentic recipes that can be adapted to be feasible in a western kitchen, this cookbook is an absolute must for beginners and masters of Middle Eastern cuisine.

We loved everything from grilled meats to delicious desserts, but our absolute favorites were the Pomegranate Chicken and Sweet Ricotta, and Rose Petal Jelly Cookies, both of which are surefire crowd pleasers.

Buy now £39.59, Amazon

Ottolenghi SIMPLE

Whether you’re an avid home cook who enjoys creating elaborate dishes or a 10-minute all-in-one pan cook, you’ve probably heard of Yotam Ottolenghi. Simple is suitable for all skill levels as it pairs perfectly with the celebrity chef’s signature ingredient combinations, while ensuring you don’t spend hours in the kitchen.

These flavorful 130 recipes are some of the Middle East’s most inventive and surprising dishes — and they take just under 30 minutes to cook and usually less than 10 ingredients.

Our favorites? Whip up the Pappardelle with rose harissa, black olives and capers for a good carb feel. Or try Bridget Jones’s Baked Salmon with Pine Nut Salsa for a light summer meal to enjoy outside (weather permitting).

Buy now £18.49, Amazon

The Palestinian table

The joy of cooking comes not only from the food we produce, but also from what we learn about the history and importance of the dish. This is certainly the case with Palestinian food, whose subtleties and nuances remain relatively unexplored.

The Palestinian Table is a wonderful cookbook that transcends political divisions through food. It weaves together historical information, local customs, and a rich tapestry of personal stories to create 150 easy-to-follow and authentic recipes inspired by multiple generations and long-standing traditions.

Don’t miss the Nine Spice Powder recipe that will elevate these dishes and give them an unimaginably delicious taste. Give the cabbage and mint salad a whirl, too; it’s an easy summer dish that will be piled high on everyone’s plate.

Buy now £19.45, Amazon

The Levantine table

Looking for a comprehensive guide to Middle Eastern food? Look no further than The Levantine Table, which presents a collection of heartwarming recipes scattered across the vast region.

We loved every recipe in this book and tried some popular mezze dishes like baba ganoush, hummus, and tabbouleh, all of which were an absolute treat. For a family-friendly weeknight meal, try the grilled beef skewers with a tahini-based tarator sauce or for those that can handle the heat, try one of the spicy marinated chicken dishes – you won’t regret it.

In addition to delectable dishes, photography comes so perfect that you can almost taste the flavors of the dishes. Truly a delight to all the senses, this cookbook is a kitchen staple that can be used for all occasions.

Buy now £22.00, Amazon

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Intuitive cooking can be difficult. You may regularly find yourself standing in front of a kitchen cupboard or refrigerator, absent-mindedly staring at the tin of tomatoes in the corner or the block of half-eaten cheese and wondering how this can be made into a nutritious and tasty meal. If ever there was a cookbook to help with this age-old problem, it’s Shelf Love.

These evocative Ottolenghi recipes are exactly what you’d expect from the creative chef, but this time they give us more flexibility to use what we have on hand to craft and modify these dishes. Each recipe has a ‘make it your own’ box that allows you to substitute different ingredients or simplify the process if you’re short on time.

We made the Creamy Dreamy Hummus with a can of chickpeas and leftover chillies in the fridge and followed it up with a tomato salad to use up other veggies we already had.

Buy now £16.99, Amazon