For the sheer sense of history and ancient influences it brings to the tables, few cuisines can match the intrigue of Middle Eastern food—originating, by most accounts, in Lebanon and radiating out to Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Armenia, and Morocco. Some dishes, like hummus, have entered the American snacking canon and become as ubiquitous and salsa and ranch dip. Others are more obscure, though no less rewarding.
While many Americans were introduced to this cuisine through non-Middle Easterners like Paula Wolfert and Claudia Roden—cooks who spent years learning, then teaching the rest of us, about the ingredients, textures, and flavors that characterize the flavorful cooking—the Internet allows access to a broader well of recipes. You just have no where to look.
The more you delve into Middle Eastern cooking, the more you’ll notice the similarities among these cuisines, from a deep love of rice to a deft touch with sweetness in savory food. Many Middle Eastern dishes make the most of the harvest from the region, the Fertile Crescent, which translates cleanly to summer eating here: what sounds better than a table laid with creamy hummus, crisp tomato-cucumber salad, and warm homemade pita?
Our experts—food writers, recent transplants from Israel (by way of Lebanon and Morocco), and bloggers who both grew up on these cuisines and made them their own—picked out the mezze, the meats, and the sides you need to know to cook Middle Eastern food at home, as well as the most tried-and-true recipes for making them shine.
Ron and Leetal Arazi, cooking teachers and owners of homemade couscous store NYShuk
Louisa Shafia, author of the acclaimed cookbook, The New Persian Kitchen (Ten Speed Press, 2013), whose Silk Road-inspired cooking has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and New York Magazine
Shayma Saadat, award-winning food writer, photographer, and supper club host, and creator of The Spice Spoon
Liz Della Croce, creator and author of The Lemon Bowl, a healthy food blog inspired by her Syrian heritage
Cara Eisenpress, editor at Big Girls, Small Kitchen, author of In the Small Kitchen, and First We Feast contributor