All about Middle Eastern cooking: Part 1

Find out what Middle Eastern cooking is all about.

This article series will focus on Middle Eastern cuisine as the cuisine of various countries located in west Asia, not to be confused with the cuisine of countries in North Africa. Dishes and ingredients can vary from country to country within the Middle East, but there are common ingredients widely used such as olives, olive oil, sesame seeds and sesame paste, lots of legumes such as chick peas and beans, lamb, yogurt and rice. The Middle Eastern cuisine is also known for its exotic spices that add aroma and flavor to food. Some of the spices used include cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, cardamom and black pepper.

About 12,000 years ago hunters became farmers and wheat was first cultivated, followed by barley, pistachios, figs, pomegranates and dates. Fermentation was discovered in the Middle East and used to leaven bread.

The Middle Eastern cuisine has been influenced by many cultures and civilizations. Some of the most influential civilizations that influenced the cuisine were the Byzantine, Persian, Arab and Ottoman; each leaving their distinct marks on the cuisine.

Middle Eastern food is becoming very popular these days. This can be attributed to the Mayo Clinic’s high regards of the Mediterranean diet and its many benefits that range from reducing risks of heart disease to reducing incidences in Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. The Middle Eastern diet is a relatively healthy cuisine compared to its other competitors because of its antioxidants. Middle Eastern cuisine is packed with fruits and vegetables and high fiber content legumes.

With fresh tomatoes right around the corner, here is a recipe for a basic salad that accompanies many Middle Eastern dishes.

Ingredients:

2 ripe tomatoes (diced)

1 small cucumber (peeled, halved length wise, seeded and diced)

1/4 cup chopped scallions or red onion

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley (curly or flat leaf)

For the dressing:

Juice of half a lemon

2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Wisk lemon juice and oil, add salt and pepper. Combine with the remaining ingredients.

Michigan State University Extension reminds you that before you alter your eating habits and/or try a new diet that it is very important to first discuss with your physician.

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