I am so happy to observe that there is gradually a heightened awareness in the UK on the health benefits of Middle Eastern cuisine. Besides being close in location, the Middle East and the Mediterranean share similar cuisines, which are known to be some of the healthiest in the world. To read part one of this article, click here.
Feast fit for a Pharoah
The Middle Eastern diet falls into a larger category of “Mediterranean diet,” and has been influenced by countries throughout Asia, Europe and the Mediterranean region, making the diet what it is today.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
The Egyptians in particular follow the FOG eating plan, only eating food that has been grown on a Farm, came from the Ocean or from the Ground. They pride themselves in using food that will benefit their health and enhance their celebrations!
Bread is made from a simple recipe & forms the backbone of Egyptian cuisine. Most households in Egypt make their own fresh bread daily for their family and friends; It is consumed at almost all Egyptian meal times.
The local bread is a form of hearty, thick pitta called ‘Eish Masri’ which translates to ‘the meaning of life,’ or ‘the way of living’.
Fruit and Vegetables
Rather than eating sugary or caloric cakes as a sweet, Middle Easterners often consume fruit for dessert. Not only does fruit satisfy a sweet craving, but also it leaves individuals feeling fuelled and fuller longer due to its fibre content.
Typical fruits in the Middle Eastern diet include: cherries, apricots, pomegranates, dates, watermelon and mangos. Egyptians have believed for many years that apricots prevent the onset of cancer. The fruits are also incorporated in main dishes in various salads or as sauces, such as lamb served with fresh figs and dates, garlic and sesame seeds.
It is also believed that courgettes are good for healthy joints and to prevent rheumatism. Vegetables are very common in the Middle Eastern diet. The primary vegetable used is the eggplant, other common vegetables include: onion, spinach, cucumber, okra, cauliflower, cabbage and potatoes.
Like fruit, vegetables can also be added to other meals as salads, side dishes or stuffed with meats, rice or couscous. A typical Egyptian dish is called ‘Mashi’ which is rice sautéed with tomato and garlic, parsley coriander and dill and stuffed into an onion, courgette or a pepper.
Healthy grains are eaten throughout the day in the Middle Eastern diet. Those who follow this diet eat about six to eleven servings of grain each day, says livestrong.com. Studies have proved that whole grains can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Whole grains also keep the human body fuller for a longer period, which helps individuals control overeating.
Middle Easterners use olive oil in many of their meals, which not only adds flavour to dishes, but also contributes to many health benefits. Unlike unhealthy fats such as butter, olive oil is much better for the heart. Multiple studies have proven that olive oil helps decrease blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Common dishes that use olive oil include: couscous, chicken, fish and dips such as hummus.
The Middle Eastern diet is said to have a positive influence in lowering the risk of strokes and heart disease, it also contributes to improved brain health and longer lives. Livestrong.com said that a 2008 study in the British Medical Journal showed how a Middle Eastern diet could improve overall health.
The Egyptians have always used coconut oil in their cooking and beauty regimes, and both applications have a multitude of health benefits.
Tea is the national drink in Egypt, followed only distantly by Egyptian coffee. Tea is uniformly black and sweet and is generally served in a glass, sometimes with milk. Tea packed and sold in Egypt is almost exclusively imported from Kenya and Sri Lanka. The Egyptian government considers tea a strategic crop and runs large tea plantations in Kenya. Egyptian tea comes in two varieties, Koshary being lightly stewed and Saiidi would be strong.
Besides true tea, herbal teas are also often served at Egyptian tea houses. Karkadeh, (or in English the Roselle plant) is a tea of dried hibiscus petals, is particularly popular, as it is in other parts of North Africa. And I have to say it is really tasty and refreshing especially with a splash of honey. It is generally served extremely sweet and cold but may also be served hot. This drink is said to have been a preferred drink of the Pharaohs.
In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in downtown Cairo, one can find many vendors and open-air cafés selling the drink. In Egypt, Karkadeh is used as a means to lower blood pressure when consumed in high amounts and is full anti-oxidants, which improves our immune system.
Infusions of mint, cinnamon, dried ginger and aniseed are also common. Most of these herbal teas are considered to have medicinal properties as well; particularly common is an infusion of hot lemonade in which mint leaves have been steeped and sweetened with honey and used to combat mild sore throat.
I have such belief in and commitment to fine Eqyptian and Middle Eastern food that I opened Arabesque Restaurant in Sunderland – the UK’s first authentic Egyptian Restaurant. All aspects of the menu are authentically sourced and prepared and we focus on delivering fresh, nutritious meals without compromise. This is because we believe you can’t go wrong within your daily diet, nutrition and health routine by following the natural methods Egyptians use when preparing their fine dishes.