I grew up in Jordan near the Mediterranean Sea sharing the climate, cuisine, and culture of its Mediterranean neighbors. I learned about food and regional diversity at a very young age from my family. The Arabic accents around me were diverse yet similar, as was the food. My Syrian grandmother shied away from garlic, while my Palestinian grandmother made up for it.
Follow these 8 recipes to get you started on Middle Eastern cuisine. You’ll find these base recipes in several of my more elaborate dishes, such as chicken & hashweh, shawarma or eggplant fatteh.
Homemade Jordanian sweet crepes "lazagiyat"
Basic Arab spice mix recipes
These are needed for full recipes, but if you’re running low on time or patience you can use store-bought ready-made spice mix if available. They can be used alone and with a combination of other spice blends
Shawarma spice mix
- ½ cup mild chili powder
- 1 cup ground coriander
- 1 cup ground cumin
- 1 cup ground cinnamon
- 1 cup sweet paprika
- ¾ cup of salt
- 1/3 cup ground cardamom
- 1/3 cup black pepper
- 1/3 cup ground allspice
Eight spice mix
- 1 cup ground allspice
- ½ cup ground cinnamon
- ¾ cup ground coriander
- ¼ cup ground black pepper
- 1 tbs ground cardamom
- 1 tbs ground cumin
- 1 tbs ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
Mix all ingredients in a dry bowl and whisk to thoroughly combine. If you’re very into spices then you can take this a step further and choose the whole spices, toast them up in a hot pan or oven and grind everything up together. Store in a dry container, and label. Applies to both spice mixes.
Mafroomeh (meat mince or mixed mushroom mince (VG))
- 1 kg (2lbs) minced beef/lamb or chopped mushroom medley (my mom only cooked with beef, but you can choose your preference)
- 1 large onion small diced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tbs eight spice mix (check spice mix above)
- 2 tbs sumac
- Salt and pepper
Heat a pan with oil, cook minced protein until all water comes out, drain the protein and set aside. In the case of mushrooms cook them until dry and set aside. In the same pot add the chopped onion and cook until tender, return the meat or mushrooms mix with the spices, sumac, salt and pepper. Adjust seasoning and set aside. This is a freezer staple, it’s practically used with any recipe that calls for minced meat.
Hashweh (rice stuffing)
- 1 cup meat mince or mushroom mince
- 1 cup uncooked short-grain rice
- 1 ⅓ cup water or stock
- ½ cup chopped parsley (optional)
- ½ chopped fresh tomato (optional)
In a pot, mix the uncooked rice and cooked meat mix together, add liquid, bring to a boil for one minute, lower to a simmer cover and steam for 14 minutes. When done uncover and fluff the rice, mix in chopped parsley. Set aside.
Tahini garlic yogurt
- 3 cups plain full-fat yogurt (if using Greek add 2.5 cups and 1/2 cup water)
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- 1.5 tbs tahini paste
- 1 tsp lemon juice (if yogurt is not sour enough)
- ½ tsp salt and pepper
Whisk all ingredients in a bowl together and store for later use.
- 1kg (2lbs) cut up cleaned chicken
- 1.5 tbs shawarma spice mix
- 1.5 tbs sumac (if not available sub for extra lemon juice, when sauteeing)
- ½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 cup olive oil
It can be either the breast or thigh or a mix of both, preferably clean the chicken from any unwanted particles, place in a sieve/mesh strainer and sprinkle with some vinegar or lemon juice to get rid of any “zanakha” or unwanted flavors. Some cooks may even add flour to help in that process. Cut up the chicken in bite-size pieces. Leave marinating overnight or for a few hours.
When you’re ready to assemble the dish
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Oil for sautéing
Heat up saute pan, add a bit of cooking oil and then saute your chicken pieces until fully cooked. Taste and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper.
Mushroom shawarma (VG)
- 2 cups stemmed fresh shitake mushroom (sub for maitake or mix both)
- 2 tbs shawarma spice mix
- 1 tsp sumac
- ½ cup lemon juice
- 1 tbs chopped fresh cilantro
- Oil for sautéing
Heat up saute pan, add a bit of cooking oil. When pan is hot but not smoking add the mushrooms, saute until cooked and crispy, season with shawarma spice mix, lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
Crispy pita chips
Traditional you need pita but any bread will do (can sub for store-bought pita chips or croutons if that is what you have)
Heat oven to 400ºF or 200ºC, cut up the bread into bite-size squares, place on a tray in the oven for 12 minutes. When golden and crispy toss with olive salt and pepper in a large bowl.
Local dinner in an ancient roman village called Um Quais
Middle Eastern grocery list
If you've enjoyed testing out some of these recipes, the Below is a general grocery list that will help you cook Arab food. Keep some or all of these items at home if you want to give your cooking skills a Middle Eastern upgrade.
- Mild chili powder
- Sweet paprika
- Black pepper
- Zaatar mix
- Tahini paste
- Lentils (red split and brown whole)
- Rice (short grain and long grain)
- Nuts of preference
- Dried fruits (raisins, apricots, dates)
- Fresh herbs (parsley, mint, cilantro)
- Garlic, onions & shallots
- Stock of choice
- Minced meat or mushroom medley mix (dry or fresh)
- Whole plain full-fat yogurt
- Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, eggplant & fresh veggies of choice
- Canned tomato
- Citrus (lemon, lime, orange)
- Good quality olive oil or cooking oil
For spices, try to find a good source, that sells a lot of spices in order to obtain the freshest ingredients. If possible avoid pre-packaged ground spices found in stores.
This is me cooking shakshoukeh and mufarakeh in Karak with locals on the Jordan Trail
About Chef Karmah Tabbaa
I'm captivated by the recipes that have been passed down for generations through my family and friends. Most people in the region develop close connections to the land where the ingredients grow. I observed this in 2016, when I was one of the first women to hike the Jordan Trail, a 430-mile hike across Jordan. When I wasn’t walking, I was eating in local homes in villages and towns in the Mediterranean hills—sampling fresh cheeses in goat haired tents deep in the desert. That was when I understood the relationship between cuisine, land, and migration. The food of the region is heavily laid with stories of tradition, seasonality, migration, and the environment.
Hiking Zarqa Main to Wadi Hidan, Jordan Trail with a few friends
I have trained as a cook in three Michelin starred restaurants and completed several courses from Italian to Japanese cuisine. I even had my own restaurant, Karmah’s Kitchen in Jordan before moving to the USA to finish my degree at the Culinary Institute of America and worked as a line cook in Jean George’s vegan/vegetarian-friendly restaurant, ABC V.
I would describe myself as Jill of all trades—trades that need patience, time and unconditional love. And I'm constantly trying to find the fine line between cooking for a living, cooking for nourishment and cooking as a meditative hobby. During quarantine, since I can't cook at any establishment, I'm currently self-employed and would describe my job as a home pantry logistic specialist and consultant ;)