Middle Eastern Cuisine Guide, Recipes, Info & Tips | Tilda Rice (2024)

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When you think of the Middle East, visions of never-ending deserts and the aromatic smells of bustling spice markets flood your imagination. It’s a full-blown sensory experience, and nothing takes you there faster than whipping up a dish rich with the deeply fragrant spices of this part of the world.


When you think of the Middle East, visions of never-ending deserts and the aromatic smells of bustling spice markets flood your imagination. It’s a full-blown sensory experience, and nothing takes you there faster than whipping up a dish rich with the deeply fragrant spices of this part of the world. There are a vast array of differences of dishes across regions, from Basmati rice to Sumac, each country has developed their own unique tastes.

Middle Eastern and Arabic food facts

Influences for Middle Eastern culinary traditions include the Mediterranean climate and ancient religions. You’ll often find things like olives, honey, sesame seeds, mint and chickpeas in delicious spreads.

The Persion language is poetry indeed. In fact, the English term ‘paradise’ originates from the Persian word for ‘enclosed garden’.

Rice is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine and is often flavoured with spices like saffron or cumin.

Sitting between Asia, Africa and Europe, the area was rich in trade along the Silk Road. Spices were often traded and this shaped the flavours of the area, including coriander, cinnamon, cassia, turmeric and saffron.

Middle Eastern desserts often feature ingredients like honey, nuts, rosewater, and floral essences. Baklava, halva, knafeh, and Turkish delight are popular examples.

Hummus, a creamy dip made from chickpeas, tahini, garlic, and lemon juice, originated in the Middle East and is now popular worldwide.

Mezze culture is a popular way of eating in the Middle East and is similar to Spanish tapas. Mezze refers to a variety of small dishes served as appetisers or a meal on their own. It often includes dips like hummus and baba ghanoush, salads, pickled vegetables, olives, cheese, and small pastries. Mezze encourages sharing and allows for a diverse range of flavours and textures.

Bread holds great significance in Middle Eastern cuisine. Flatbreads like pita, lavash, and khubz are used for scooping up food, wrapping kebabs, or creating sandwiches. Breaking bread together is seen as a symbolic act of unity and respect.

Middle Eastern cuisine is known for its rich and aromatic spices. Common spices used include cumin, coriander, cinnamon, turmeric, sumac, cardamom, and saffron. These spices add depth and complexity to dishes.

Middle Eastern cuisine often features slow-cooked dishes and flavourful stews. Tagines, ghormeh sabzi, and kabsa are examples of such dishes. Slow cooking allows the flavours to meld together and results in tender and flavourful meat or vegetable dishes.

During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims in the Middle East observe fasting from sunrise to sunset. Iftar, the meal to break the fast, is a significant event with a variety of special dishes and drinks served.

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A staple in Middle Eastern cooking, Baharat is an all-purpose spice blend that gives that signature warm, earthy, sweet and smoky flavour to the most popular dishes. Though it varies from place to place, it’s usually made from a combination of black pepper, coriander, paprika, cardamom, nutmeg, cumin, cloves, and cinnamon.


Also known as garbanzo beans, are a staple legume in Middle Eastern cuisine. They are used to make dishes like hummus, falafel, and stews such as chickpea curry or Moroccan tagines.

Olive oil

It is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and is used abundantly in dressings, marinades, and sautéing. It adds a distinctive flavour and richness to dishes.


Meats are also a key part of the Middle Eastern diet, with lamb, chicken and beef used in kebabs, stews and shawarmas. Goat is also used in tagine and saltah, and camel meat is a delicacy in some parts of the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia; fish and other seafood are also popular. Neither Jewish nor Muslim people eat pork.


Rice is a fundamental ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, used in dishes like pilafs, biryanis and stuffed vegetables. It is commonly cooked with aromatic spices and served as a side dish or used as a base for meat or vegetable preparations.


Nuts such as almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, and walnuts are widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. They are often toasted and sprinkled over dishes as a garnish, used in desserts, or ground into pastes to add richness and texture.


Tahini is a paste made from ground sesame seeds that adds a nutty and creamy element to dishes. A key ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, it is often used in dips like hummus and baba ghanoush.


Bulgur is a cracked wheat product commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is made by parboiling, drying, and coarsely grinding wheat berries. Bulgur is a versatile ingredient and is used in dishes such as tabbouleh (a parsley and bulgur salad), pilafs, and stuffed vegetables.


Freekeh is a type of wheat that is harvested while young and then roasted. Cracked freekeh refers to the cracked grains of this wheat. It has a smoky flavour and a slightly chewy texture. Cracked freekeh is used in pilafs, soups, and salads.


Yoghurt is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine and is consumed in various forms. It can be enjoyed plain, used as a base for dips like tzatziki, incorporated into marinades, or used in desserts and drinks. Yoghurt adds creaminess, tanginess, and a cooling element to dishes.


Molasses are thick, syrupy ingredients used in Middle Eastern cooking. Carob molasses is made from carob pods and has a sweet, caramel-like flavour, while pomegranate molasses is made from reduced pomegranate juice and has a tangy, slightly sweet taste. Both are used to enhance the flavour of dishes, marinades, and dressings.

Dried berries

Dried barberries are small, tangy berries that are used as a souring agent in Middle Eastern cuisine. They add a burst of tartness to dishes like rice pilafs, salads, and stews, and are often used as a garnish.

Floral waters

Floral waters, such as rosewater and orange blossom water, are used sparingly in Middle Eastern desserts and beverages to add a subtle floral aroma and flavour; they are distilled from rose petals and orange blossoms, respectively.

Dried limes

Dried limes, also known as black limes or loomi, are limes that have been dried to remove moisture. They have a tangy and slightly smoky flavour. Dried limes are commonly used in stews, soups, and rice dishes to add a unique citrusy and tangy taste.

Middle Eastern Spices

Spices are the heart and soul of Middle Eastern cuisine, elevating dishes with their aromatic flavours and vibrant colours. From warm and earthy notes to tangy and pungent undertones, spices are crucial components that define the culinary heritage of the region.

Whether it’s the warm depth of cumin, the sweet fragrance of cinnamon, or the tangy zing of sumac, spices enhance and intensify the flavours of Middle Eastern dishes. The aroma of certain spices evokes a sense of warmth and comfort, making them integral to celebrations and rituals.

Arabic spices also represent the centuries of trade, exploration, and culinary exchange that have shaped Middle Eastern cuisine. Many of the spices used today have been part of the region’s culinary heritage for thousands of years, contributing to the distinct identities of different Middle Eastern cuisines. The spices used in each country or region reflect its unique history, geography, and cultural influences.

Before the advent of refrigeration, spices played a crucial role in preserving food in the Middle East. Spices like coriander, fenugreek and turmeric were used for their antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, helping to extend the shelf life of ingredients and protect against spoilage.

Below are some of the most present spices used in Middle Eastern cooking:


Fenugreek seeds and leaves are used in Middle Eastern cuisine for their distinctive flavour and aroma. The seeds have a slightly bitter, nutty taste, while the leaves have a milder flavour. Fenugreek is often used in spice blends, curries, and stews, adding depth and complexity to dishes.


Saffron is highly valued for its vibrant colour and delicate flavour. It is used sparingly in Middle Eastern cooking, especially in rice dishes like Persian saffron rice (jewelled rice) and desserts such as saffron-infused milk-based sweets. Saffron lends a unique floral and earthy taste to dishes.


Tamarind is a sour and tangy fruit used as a souring agent in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is a key ingredient in dishes like Persian fesenjan (a walnut and pomegranate stew) and various curries. Tamarind is also often used in chutneys, marinades, and sauces, adding a pleasant tanginess to dishes.


Cinnamon is a warm and aromatic spice that adds a sweet and woody flavour to both savoury and sweet dishes. Cinnamon is often used in spice blends, such as baharat and ras el hanout, which are used to season meat, rice, and vegetable dishes. It is also used in desserts, such as rice puddings, pastries, and spiced teas.


Coriander is a versatile spice used in various forms in Middle Eastern cooking. Coriander seeds have a citrusy and slightly floral flavour, and they are commonly found in spice blends, marinades, and pickles. Ground coriander is a staple in Middle Eastern spice mixes and is used to season meat, vegetables, and lentil dishes. Coriander leaves are used as a garnish and to add freshness to salads, soups, and sauces.


Turmeric is a vibrant yellow spice widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a warm, earthy flavour and is known for its health benefits and vibrant colour. Turmeric is used in various forms, including fresh roots, ground powder, and as an ingredient in spice blends. It is a key component of curry powder and is used in dishes such as rice pilafs, stews, and lentil soups.


Sumac is a tangy spice derived from the berries of the sumac plant. It has a tart, lemony flavour and is used as a souring agent and a seasoning in Middle Eastern cuisine. Sumac is sprinkled over salads, grilled meats, and rice dishes, adding a tangy and slightly fruity taste.

Urfa biber pepper

Urfa biber pepper, also known as isot pepper, is a dried chilli pepper from the Urfa region of Turkey. It has a smoky and slightly sweet flavour with mild heat. Urfa biber pepper is often used in Middle Eastern cuisine to add depth to dishes like kebabs, stews, and marinades.

Marash chilli

Marash chilli flakes are made from a variety of Turkish chilli pepper and have a moderate heat level. They have a fruity and slightly smoky flavour and are used as a seasoning in dishes such as kebabs, pilafs, and dips.

Aleppo peppe

Aleppo pepper is a moderately hot chilli pepper that is commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. It has a fruity and slightly tangy flavour. Aleppo pepper is used in spice blends, sprinkled over dishes for added heat, and incorporated into marinades and sauces.


Za’atar is both a spice blend and a type of herb commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. The leaves of the za’atar herb have a fragrant, savoury flavour and are often used fresh or dried in salads, dips, and as a topping for bread or roasted vegetables. The spice blend, also called za’atar, contains dried za’atar leaves, sumac, sesame seeds, and sometimes other herbs, and is used as a seasoning.


Dukkah is an Egyptian spice and nut blend typically made with toasted sesame seeds, nuts (such as hazelnuts or almonds), coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and other spices. It is served as a dip with bread or used as a seasoning for salads, roasted vegetables, or grilled meats.


Advieh is a Persian spice blend that varies in composition, but typically includes spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and rose petals. It is used in a wide range of Persian dishes, such as rice pilafs, stews, and grilled meats, providing a complex and aromatic flavour profile.

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Cooks In 91 – 120 Minutes View recipe Grand Extra Long Basmati Persian Jewelled Rice This Persian Jewelled rice dish is a real celebration of taste and aroma also known as Javaher Polo.

Explore Middle Eastern recipes


Each variety brings something different so choosing the right type of rice for your dish is important. Your meals deserve the best, so let’s take it to the next level and create authentic plates that impress.

Extra Long Basmati grains are a popular pairing with Middle Eastern and Persian dishes, especially one-pot sharers made to impress. Our Grand Extra Long Basmati and Grand Sella offer separate and extra-long elegant grains that go so well with Biryanis and Polos.

Explore rice for Middle Eastern cuisines








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Middle Eastern Cuisine Guide, Recipes, Info & Tips | Tilda Rice (2024)


When did the Middle East start eating rice? ›

Rice was first cultivated in the Middle East around 2,000 years ago, quickly becoming a dietary staple. The fertile plains of Iran, Iraq, and Egypt were ideal for growing rice, leading to its integration into the region's diet and subsequently, its culture.

What are the main ingredients in Middle Eastern food? ›

  • Chickpeas. Also known as garbanzo beans, are a staple legume in Middle Eastern cuisine. ...
  • Olive oil. It is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and is used abundantly in dressings, marinades, and sautéing. ...
  • Meats. ...
  • Rice. ...
  • Nuts. ...
  • Tahini. ...
  • Balgur. ...
  • Freekeh.

What is traditional Middle Eastern food? ›

Common ingredients include olives and olive oil, pitas, honey, sesame seeds, dates, sumac, chickpeas, mint, rice and parsley, and popular dishes include kebabs, dolmas, falafel, baklava, yogurt, doner kebab, shawarma and mulukhiyah.

What is the Middle Eastern term for meal of many small dishes? ›

Mezze are small plates and appetizers that are often shared before a meal in the Middle East. This mezze platter includes an assortment of these types of snacks, spreads, and dips, and it's perfect for entertaining.

What type of rice do they eat in the Middle East? ›

The rice cooking method is known as pilaf, by which the rice is fluffy, light and does not stick. Traditionally, a long-grain rice, such as basmati or jasmine, is used, although short-grain rice, such as bomba or misri ("Egyptian"), can be used perfectly. Brown rice can also be used.

Who was the first to eat rice? ›

The oldest archaeological evidence of rice use by humans has been found in the middle and lower Yangzi River Valley region of China. Phytoliths, silicon microfossils of plant cell structures, from rice have been found at the Xianrendong and Diotonghuan sites and dated to 11 000–12 000 bc (Zhao, 1998).

What makes Middle Eastern food so good? ›

One characteristic that distinguishes most Middle Eastern cuisine is the abundance of highly aromatic and flavorful spices, including cumin, cardamom, nutmeg, sumac, and turmeric.

Why is Middle Eastern food so delicious? ›

By relying on ingredients that are in-season and locally-sourced, Middle Eastern dishes achieve an authenticity and depth of flavor that's hard to replicate 1. More than Just Food: These ingredients are not just about taste. They're symbols of the region's rich agricultural heritage.

What is the most popular food in the Middle East? ›

Falafel. Made with ground chickpeas and fava beans, falafel is hailed as the most popular Middle Eastern dish, aside from hummus. Sometimes served with salads and hot sauce, falafel is most often stuffed inside pita bread to make a healthy, vegetarian sandwich.

What are the unique food in Middle East cuisine? ›

Here are some of the weirdest Middle Eastern foods that you may not have heard of before.
  • Camel Meat. Camel meat is a delicacy that is commonly consumed in countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Oman. ...
  • Stuffed Camel. ...
  • Fried Grasshoppers. ...
  • Kapsa. ...
  • Saffron Ice-Cream. ...
  • Balut.
Feb 13, 2023

What is a common food taboo in the Middle East? ›

Pigs were also taboo in at least three other cultures of the ancient Middle East: the Phoenicians, Egyptians and Babylonians. In some instances, the taboo extended beyond eating pork, and it was also taboo to touch or even look at pigs.

What is the most popular meat in the Middle East? ›

Lamb and mutton are favorite meats of the region, as pork is prohibited by Islam and Judaism and is not commonly eaten. Meats are commonly grilled and eaten as kebabs, a preparation in which meat is cubed, cooked and eaten on skewers.

What is Middle Eastern meat called? ›

Shawarma is prepared from thin cuts of seasoned and marinated lamb, mutton, veal, beef, chicken, or turkey.

Do Middle Eastern people eat rice? ›

This rice pilaf is commonly called Middle Eastern Rice or Arabic Rice. It's a standard (and possibly the most popular) side dish in that region. We typically serve it with meat dishes like kafta and shawarma, but we also use it as a base to accompany many of our stews.

When was rice introduced to Egypt? ›

The Arabs brought rice to Egypt when they conquered the country around 640 A.D., perhaps through Spain. Since then, rice has been one of the main crops that plays a key role in the Egyptian economy.

When was rice introduced to Israel? ›

Rice was introduced during the early Second Temple period through contact with the Persians. By the Roman period, rice had become an important export, and the Jerusalem Talmud states about rice that “there is none like it outside Israel,” and that notable rabbis served rice at the Passover seder.

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