Popular Arab Foods Found In Arab American Kitchens
By: Udochi Esomonu/Arab America Contributing Writer
The Arab world is widely known for its diverse, rich, and dynamic cuisine. A variety of important spices, oils, and food products are essential to the Arab cuisine, making them impossible to miss in a common Arab American household. This is especially true for the new Arab American immigrants. Merchants for the ingredients of such food can be found across America, especially, in big cities. Arab Americans in remote areas travel hundreds of miles to big cities’ Middle Eastern grocery stores to purchase the items urgently needed for preparing Arab foods.
Chickpeas are commonly found in Arab American households, as they are used in a variety of staple dishes and cuisines. They are most commonly ground to make hummus and are accompanied by pita bread. They are also commonly cooked into soups, stews, salads, etc…
Olive Oil is a very common product to find in an Arab American household. Olive Oil is used for a variety of things: cooking, salads, skin care, hair care, etc.. Due to its wide variety of uses, it has become a staple for many Arab American homes. Known for its health benefits, it is commonly found in an edible capacity, whether it is cooked into food or used as a sauce.
Sesame oil, known also as tahini, is used in a variety of dishes. It’s documented that it improves hair, skin, and bone health; it reduces blood pressure and maintains good heart health. Sesame oil is one of the healthier alternatives to vegetable oil. It is considered the healthier alternative due to its variety of vitamins and minerals.
Za’atar (thyme) is a seasoning made from dried hyssop seeds. It’s a combination of the seeds, sesame seeds, salt, sumac and other common spices. It is essentially used as a seasoning for bread, meats, and sometimes hummus. Its leaves may also be kneaded in the dough. It is also eaten with labneh, bread, and olive oil for breakfast throughout America, consumed mostly by Arab Americans who originally from Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Zaatar is also popular not only for its taste but also for its positive impact on memory.
Pita (Arab) bread
Pita Bread, originating in the Middle East, is commonly used in many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. Pita can be used to scoop hummus and other sauces and also can be used to wrap any ingredient such as labneh, hummus, cheese, cold cuts, falafel, shawarma, shakshouka, gyros, kebabs, and many other items used for a sandwich.
One can hardly find an Arab home that doesn’t have olives in their kitchen. They are rich in nutritional value and are commonly regarded as one of the healthiest foods in the world. Olives, while being a food to many, are seen as a symbol of culture for Arabs, especially the Palestinians.
Finding an assortment of mixed nuts is common in an Arab American household. A mix of common nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, and pecans) is full of great nutritional value, as nuts contain high levels of protein, unsaturated fats, and magnesium. They are used for food, snacks, and very often offered to guests.
Spices: Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Cardamom
Spices are essential to finalizing the dynamic feast that is Arab cuisine. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom are three spices, among many, that have remained essential to a variety of prominent dishes, including soups, hummus, desserts, etc… Cardamom is mostly found in beverages, known for giving Arab and Turkish coffee its unique and rich flavor. Nutmeg is mostly used as a seasoning for a variety of meats. Cinnamon is commonly found in a seasoning mix known as baharat. Altogether, these three essential spices add to the great flavor of Arab cuisine.
Dates, known in the Arab world for their powerful, naturally sweet taste, are often used as a light snack. They are commonly paired with coffee. The date is also a renowned snack for its health benefits. In most Middle Eastern and North African countries, you will find a variety of stuffed dates filled with almonds, cashews, pecans, and covered with chocolates. Dates remain a staple to the Arab cuisine’s identity, especially during holidays.
The Arab and Turkish coffee style, originating in Yemen, is known to be a staple of Arab culture. Turkish coffee is a method of brewing unfiltered coffee-it isn’t necessarily a specific kind of coffee bean. The secret is in the method of brewing, making Turkish coffee so unique. Arab coffee and Turkish coffee do have a slight difference: Arab coffee is prepared using heavily roasted and prepared beans with added spices such as cardamom, whereas Turkish coffee is only made with roasted and finely ground coffee beans.
Cracked Wheat & “Bulghur”
Cracked wheat is a cereal-like food that is made from the groats of a variety of wheat species. It finds its origin in Middle Eastern cuisine. Cracked wheat is commonly mistaken with “bulghur” which, in contrast, is made from parboiled groats. Cracked wheat can be used in pilafs, soups, baked goods, or even as a food stuffing. It is one of the main ingredients used in tabbouleh, kibbeh, and mujaddara.
Rice is a staple of Arab and Middle Eastern cuisine. Rice is often cooked with a variety of spices, nuts, and leaves to create a burst of flavor. It is often paired with a variety of chickens, meats that are cooked with vegetables, such as peas, okra, green beans, spinach, and even molokhia (leaves of Corchorus commonly known as Jew’s mallow)
Lentils are legumes which are commonly found in Arab dishes. They are usually made in soups, mujaddara, and found in the traditional Levant dish known as Maqluba, which includes cooked lentils, bulghur, meat, rice, and fried vegetables; it is quite popular in Lebanon and Palestine. Maqluba is known as the national dish of Palestine and is cooked on special occasions such as Ramadan, Eid al-Fitr, births, and large dinner gatherings.
Couscous is mostly very popular in the Maghreb, which is the North African nations: Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. It is a common dish which consists of small steamed balls of crushed durum wheat. Couscous is commonly served with varieties of stews. It is known to be a staple food product for North African countries. Each North African country has its own unique method and way of preparing and eating couscous. Couscous remains a prominent food product in North African cuisine.
Pine Nuts are often cooked into or are topped onto a variety of dishes, such as hummus, kabsa, rice, hashweh (stuffing) kafta, mansaf, and sfeeha. They are also simply used as quick healthy snacks.
Seeds: Pumpkin, Watermelon, Sunflower
Roasted seeds are also very common to find in the kitchen of Arab American homes. They are used to entertain guests, while conversing and watching TV, just like the popcorn. The most common ones are the pumpkin, watermelon, and sunflower seeds. These three seeds are also commonly utilized as quick and easy snacks or are found essential in mixes with other seeds and nuts for a great source of protein.