Freshly baked flatbreads topped with zaatar, sweet medjool date pastries and spices piled high in market baskets. Middle Eastern nations, with their rich and varied cultural heritages, offer the world an overwhelming array of delicious flavours.
Australians have embraced Middle Eastern cuisine and we are lucky to be able to sample the tastes of the region in our major cities. And why wouldn’t we? When Middle Eastern cuisine is not only delicious but also (more times than not) incredibly good for you!
By now most Aussie foodies are familiar with such delicacies as lamb shish, moussaka, tabouleh and the sweet goodness that is baklava, so for this article we thought we’d focus on a few of the Middle East’s most awesome snacks/meals and drinks that have yet to gain widespread notoriety in Australia; the unsung heroes if you like.
- Because you can’t go past a creamy crumbly cheese ball: try shanklish. This simple concoction is made from cow or sheep’s milk which is rolled into a ball and coated in zaatar/chilli flakes and or thyme – the end result looks quite like a rumball! Knock it back with a shot of arak (a popular shanklish accompaniment). If you’re not familiar with this distilled spirit; it’s guaranteed to give you a kick – made from grapes and aniseed it’s not for the faint-hearted.
- Breakfast, lunch or dinner; anytime is perfect for a slice of manakeesh. Freshly made dough is topped with haloumi, tomatos, zaatar or spiced lamb mince. Think mini-pizza but with much simpler toppings than we commonly eat in Australia, so each flavour can be truly savoured. Manakeesh is a constant presence on many Middle Eastern breakfast tables.
- When we think curry, we think the sub-continent or, South East Asia, but Middle Eastern states have their own take on the curry, including the popular Quwarmah al dajaj (Kuwaiti curried chicken). We’ve included this hearty dish in our list because it’s packed with flavours, like dried lime and ginger, and sizzling with spices – turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and paprika to name a few. The chicken should melt in the mouth and the dish is often served with saffron rice.
- Wrap your teeth around a ma’amul biscuit or three. These delectable shortbread confections are a hugely popular snack across the Arab world. And how can you go wrong combining butter, sugar and semolina with rose water, orange blossom, pistachios and dates? Ma’amul biscuits are stuffed with either dates or pistachios and traditionally decorated by pressing intricate moulds into the top of the biscuit which is then dusted with icing sugar.
- Try jallab – the ultimate beverage for those hot, never-ending days. Served with crushed ice, jallab is made with a rich syrup of grape molasses, dates and rose water. Jallab often comes topped with nuts or raisins.
- If you want a more filling drink, opt for laban, it’s made with fresh buttermilk; a product that’s often hard to find outside artisanal markets in Australia. The buttermilk is flavoured with dashes of orange blossom, rose water, and spices like cardamom or saffron. Sublime!
If we’ve got you craving a Middle Eastern flavour hit, book your table tonight.