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Learn 8 Basic Recipes for Arab Food from a Jordanian Chef

Karmah Tabbaa

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Learn 8 Basic Recipes for Arab Food from a Jordanian Chef

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"

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

Eight spice mix 

Instructions:

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))

Instructions:

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)

Instructions:

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

Instructions:

Whisk all ingredients in a bowl together and store for later use.

Chicken shawarma 

Instructions:

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

Instructions:

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) 

Instructions:

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)

Instructions:

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 ancient roman village Um Quais.jpg

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.

Pro Tip

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.

shakshoukeh and mufarakeh in Karak

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. 

karmah_.jpg

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 ;)

Karmah Tabbaa
Writer
Jordan
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