Middle Eastern cuisine has always held a fascination for me, probably as a result of sharing 50% of my heritage with it. My father is from Giza in Cairo and my mother is born and bred in the North East of England, so I have had quite a varied diet growing up!
In recent years I’ve been happy observe Middle Eastern food gaining momentum and popularity here in the UK. I might be biased but I believe it tastes great and it is, more often than not, very good for you.
Egyptian cuisine makes heavy use of legumes and vegetables, since Egypt’s rich Nile valley and delta produce large quantities of these crops in high quality. Traditionally the food is extremely healthy and full of nutritious goodness. They pride themselves on preparing their ingredients with precision and care, the result being pure tasting simple dishes.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
Ancient Egyptians are known to have used a lot of garlic and onions in their everyday dishes. Fresh garlic mashed with other herbs is used in spicy tomato salad and also stuffed in boiled or baked aubergines.
Garlic fried with coriander is added to Molokheyya, known as one of Egypt’s national dishes, it is a popular green soup made from finely chopped jute leaves, sometimes with chicken or rabbit. The health properties of this leaf are too many to mention.
The leaves are rich in betacarotene, iron, calcium, Vitamin C and more than 32 vitamin and minerals and trace elements. The plant has a potentantioxidant activity with a significant α-tocopherol equivalent Vitamin E.
Egyptian food isn’t traditionally spicy but they will spice it up upon request!
The Molokheyya plant is grown in Egypt, and it is prepared by removing the central spine from the leaves, and then chopping the leaves finely with garlic and coriander. The dish generally includes some sort of meat; in Egypt this is usually chicken or beef but rabbitor lamb are preferred when available, particularly in Cairo.
Egyptian food is known for having a good balance of Carbohydrate, proteins and good fats for a healthy balanced diet.
Popular starters within Egyptian cuisine are characterised by dishes such as Molokheyya soup, and Ful Medames, mashed fava beans served with vegetable oil, cumin and optionally with chopped parsley, garlic, onion, lemon juice and chili pepper.
It is a staple meal in Egypt, especially in the northern cites of Cairo and Gizah. Dips such as hummus, babaganoush, a garlic, tomato and aubergine dip, zabadee yoghurt dip & tahina a creamy sesame dip are all served with Arabic bread. The Fava bean is also used when making falafel with coriander and garlic. All so incredibly tasty!
Popular main courses include the Koshari – a mixture of rice, lentils and macaroni, known to be the national dish. Fried onions can be also added to Koshari as a treat.
Okra is used to make a thick stew often with meat. If you don’t think you’ve heard of Okra you may have encountered its other name – ‘Ladies Fingers’. This is another extremely healthy choice.
The Egyptians love their meat and take great pride in secret recipes for marinating their Shish Taouk chicken, Lamb Shawarma and Lahem Meshwi. All meats are grilled and very lean.
Popular desserts include Baklava which is a rich, sweet pastry made of layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and sweetened and held together with syrup or honey. It is characteristic of the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and is also found in Central Asian, Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian cuisines.
Om Ali is a traditional Egyptian dessert. Legend has it that Om Ali was the first wife of the Sultan Ezz El Din Aybek. When the sultan died, his second wife had a dispute with Om Ali, resulting in the second wife’s death. To celebrate, Om Ali made this dessert and distributed it among the people of the land. It is an Egyptian version of Bread and Butter Pudding topped with pistachios – a real treat for the taste buds!
You can cook Middle Eastern dishes yourself at home by buying ingredients from a local supermarket and give it a go for yourself. Some simple seasonings that can be picked up from a local supermarket: Coriander, garlic, cumin, salt, black pepper, paprika, cardamom & bay leafs to add to your dishes to give it that Egyptian flavour.
I felt it was my responsibility due to my background and keen interest to educate the UK on the beauty and health benefits of Egyptian food, to encourage people to eat more nutritiously and experience this culture. I actually believe in this food so much that I established Arabesque Restaurant in Sunderland, UK. It is Britain’s first authentic Egyptian restaurant, with ancient surroundings that give you the full experience of eating in Egypt.
Read part two of this article here.
* At the opening of my restaurant with the extraordinary talents of: Tim Minchin, Mel C, Chris Moyles and my brother & business partner.