Tastes of the Middle East
Quick and easy Middle Eastern recipes to savor and share.
When I think of food, a smile so large grows across my face … it can’t be contained. I’d like to share with you a story my parents lovingly tell about me, as a child, eating peas. They tell me about how they’d love to watch me eat peas one by one and savor every little morsel before moving on to the next bite. I still eat most food that way, and am usually the last one sitting at the dinner table. Food is in my blood.
It wasn’t until I moved to Israel in 1998, at the age of 23, when my passion for food was re-awakened. The first words I learned in Hebrew were the food words—all the words for the fruits, vegetables, cheeses, spices and ethnic foods I found in the outdoor market (the shuk) in Jerusalem, one of my favorite places in the world. There were some foods that I recognized and some that I’d never seen before in my life. I was determined to know all of them, every last one. It was like my senses were being stirred for the first time: The vegetables tasted alive, like nothing I’d ever experienced. Food became an experience. The sights, the smells, the bright colors, the flavors… I was in love.
Years later, I moved to San Francisco and had another awakening around food, this time around what the proper nutrients in real food can do for your body and soul. I transformed my family’s life through the foods that we eat and haven’t stopped talking about food since.
With all of the food traditions that I’ve been exposed to, the one I have come to love most is the food of the Mediterranean. All of the spices, the flavors, the bright colors… this beautiful food speaks to me as if an artist is painting my palate. I experience all of it. If I’m really present to what’s happening in my mouth when I chew, I can almost taste the farmers’ love for their craft and the richness of the earth.
Some of the most delicious food I’ve ever tasted comes from the Middle East. My mouth is watering as I think of all of these tasty dishes… vegetables such as courgette stuffed with rice or meat, grape leaves filled with rice, kubbeh (a small pocket of dough stuffed with ground beef) soup, kanafeh (a sweet cheese pastry soaked in sugar syrup), burekas (a baked pastry filled with delectable fillings), hummus, falafel, I could go on and on.
It’s my wish for you to bring the beauty of the Middle East to your own tables this fall. The recipes that I chose are a few of my favorites, things I crave, true comfort food. Majadera might not sound like much—it’s essentially lentils and rice— but once you put the caramelized onions and the cumin in there your mouth will be exploding with flavor. Add tahini sauce and our Naked Hummus– brand Roasted Garlic Hummus and your taste buds will be shouting from the rooftops with joy.
I invite you to take the time to enjoy a meal (or 20!) with family or friends this fall. Spread the love of food, family, community. I hope that you enjoy a few of my favorite easy-to-make dishes that are always good to have on hand (just in case an unexpected guest shows up or you need something quick and easy and knock-your-socks-off delicious.) Enjoy!