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Arab World Vegetarian Patio Delights for the Days of Summer

posted on: Jun 27, 2023

By: Habeeb Salloum/Arab America Contributing Writer

Without doubt, when one in the West thinks of the foods of the Middle East the diffusing aroma of barbecuing shish kebabs and other meats comes first to mind. Indeed, few realize that behind these tempting aromas is a world of vegetarian delights.  Even though, in the historic Middle Eastern lands non-meat dishes have been the food of the working masses since time immemorial, these dishes have become popular today as the source of healthy, nutritious and appetizing meals for almost everyone.  

During the hot summer months, there is no more a fulfilling meal than a cold vegetarian Arab midday repast held in the traditional homes of cities such as Damascus.  This courtyard meal can be duplicated here in the West by serving the same type of dishes during the summer months enjoying them on the outside deck or patio.  

The ingredients used in the preparation of these dishes are varied and many.  Broad beans, burghul, chickpeas, eggs, grains, lentils, rice, yogurt and all types of cultivated and wild greens, flavored by just the right amount of condiments, produce hearty scrumptious appetizers, salads, soups, stews and vegetable patties. 

          With the skillful use of herbs and spices, a combination of tempting aromas which stimulate and invigorate the sense of taste and smell is created.  This spicy heady fragrance whets the appetite and brings about a gratifying feeling of anticipation. The rich aromatic tasty patties, gravies and soup stocks, created by seasonings mixed with the vegetables, pulses and grains make these dishes mouth-watering – a gourmet delight.

Yet, condiments are only used in moderation, just enough to give taste and enticement. 

Vegetable and yogurt appetizers, salads, soups, bean patties and egg omelets can themselves be made into main courses or served as side dishes with the stews and stuffed leaves.  Many of these foods are eaten either hot or cold and at times their leftovers the next day are even tastier.   

On a hot summer day, one’s appetite is not usually up to par especially after a long hard workday or just being at home, languishing in the heat.  On such occasions, cold vegetarian food is heaven-sent.  What could be more appropriate then, when you know family and friends are languishing in the heat, to surprise them with an outdoor feast fit for kings – and a refreshing vegetarian one at its best!  

Eggplant Purée-Baba Ghannuj

Serves from 8-10

Originating in the Greater Syria area, this purée has become very popular in all the Arab countries and beyond.  In North America it is gaining ground as a superb exotic appetizer in that it is not only tasty and nutritious but easy to prepare.  

1 large eggplant, about 2 pounds, pierced with a fork on all sides

2 cloves garlic, crushed 

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/3 cup lemon juice 

4 tablespoons tahini 

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted 

1/2 small tomato, diced

olive oil for garnish (optional)

Place eggplant in a pan then bake in a 425oF oven, turning frequently until tender and until the skin is crisp. Allow to cool then remove and discard skin.  Mash pulp well then place in a mixing bowl and set aside. 

Place remaining ingredients, except pine nuts and tomato, in a blender, then blend for a few moments, adding a little water if too thick.  Stir into eggplant then spread on a platter.  Decorate with pine nuts and tomato then serve.  Also, a little extra olive oil can be sprinkled over top just before serving if desired.

Potatoes in Tahini Sauce –Batata Maqliya  wa Matabala

Serves about 6 

In this dish potatoes reach their epitome of taste with the tahini sauce that works wonders with the fried potatoes.

oil for deep-frying

4 cups potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

4 tablespoons tahini

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

6 tablespoons water

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil, then deep-fry potatoes.  Place potatoes on a platter then set aside.

Thoroughly combine remaining ingredients, adding more water if necessary to make a smooth sauce, then spread evenly over potatoes and serve.

Yogurt Soup

Serves 8

This tasty soup is excellent and especially refreshing on hot summer days.

4 cups plain yogurt

3 cups water

1 cucumber, about 6-inches long, peeled and diced into small pieces

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 hard boiled eggs, chopped  

2 teaspoons sumac

2 teaspoons dried, crushed  mint  

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

pinch of teaspoon cayenne  


Thoroughly combine yogurt and water in a serving bowl then stir in remaining ingredients, except croutons.  Chill then serve with each diner adding croutons to taste.

Pine Nut Taboula-Taboulat Snober

Serves about 8

The Arab East has introduced to the kitchens of the world, the delicious and nutritious parsley and burghul salad – taboula.  This recipe is another take on it but with an added flavours and crunch. 

1 cup lightly toasted pine nuts

1 small bunch  coriander leaves (cilantro), finely chopped

1 large bunch of parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper  

Place pine nuts, coriander, parsley and green onions in a bowl then thoroughly combine.  

Mix remaining ingredients, then stir into salad bowl contents and serve.

Avocado Salad -Salatat Abakaadoo

Serves about 6

The avocado, a Mexican contribution to the world, has become well integrated into Middle Eastern cuisine.

1 large avocado, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large tomato, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 small hot pepper, seeded and very finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place avocado, tomato, onion and hot pepper in a salad bowl, then combine remaining ingredients and pour over vegetables.  Toss and serve.

Bread Salad – Fattoosh

Serves 8

One of the most popular salads in the eastern Arab world, this salad can serve as a main course – perfect for a summer brunch or lunch.  The toasted bread should be added just before serving to keep the crunch in the salad.

1 large English seedless cucumber, chopped, or 1/2 head of medium lettuce, chopped 

3 medium firm ripe tomatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes

1 small sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped into bite-size pieces   

1 small bunch green onions, chopped

4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves or 1 teaspoon of dried crushed mint

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice 

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon sumac

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 medium loaf Arab bread (pita), toasted light brown, then broken into small pieces 

In a salad bowl, thoroughly combine the cucumber, tomato, red pepper, green onions, coriander leaves and mint. 

In a small bowl combine the remaining ingredients, except the bread, then pour on the vegetables and mix well.  Stir in the bread then serve immediately, before the bread becomes soft.

Vegetarian Lentil Pottage – Mujaddara

Serves about 4

In the Bible, Esau sold his birthright to his twin brother Jacob for a bowl of pottage – believed to be Mujaddara.

1 cup lentils, rinsed

6 cups water

1/4 cup white rice, rinsed

5 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium onions, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seeds

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Place lentils and water in a saucepan then bring to boil.  Cover, then cook over medium heat for 40 minutes, stirring a few times.  Add rice then bring to boil.  Reduce the heat to low, then re-cover and cook for further 30 minutes or until both lentils and rice are well cooked, stirring a number of times and adding more water if necessary.

In the meantime, heat oil in a frying pan, then sauté onions over medium heat until  golden brown.

Stir in the frying pan contents and remaining ingredients into the saucepan, then stir and cook for a further 5 minutes.  Allow to cool then serve.

Cabbage Rolls in Oil – Mihshee Malfoof bi-Zayt

Serves about 8

Stuffed cabbage rolls, vegetarian style, have the unique attribute of tasting even better cold. I often make these a day ahead of time when planning to have friends over.

1 medium head cabbage

1 cup white rice, rinsed

1 cup dried whole lentils, soaked overnight and drained

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 small bunch green onions, finely chopped

1 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint

1 cup olive oil

2 teaspoons salt 

1 teaspoon black pepper  

1 teaspoon cumin

2 large tomatoes, finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

2/3 cup lemon juice

Core cabbage; then place in a large pot.  Cover with water then boil until leaves soften. Separate leaves then slice off any thick ribs and set aside. These trimmed ribs can be placed along with any ripped leaves to cover bottom of he saucepan.  

Mix rice, lentils, onion, green onion, parsley, coriander leaves, mint, half of the oil, half the salt, half the pepper, half the cumin and the tomatoes to make the filling.  Place a heaping tablespoon of filling on the bottom (stem end) of the leaf, then roll, tucking in the ends.  Squeeze the rolls gently; then place compactly in pot on top of trimmings, sprinkling garlic pieces between the layers .

When all rolls are placed in the saucepan, sprinkle remaining oil, salt, pepper and cumin over top. Place an inverted dish on top of rolls, then add water to almost cover dish.  Bring to boil; then cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes.  Turn heat to low then pour in lemon juice and cook for a further 15 minutes.  Serve either hot or cold as a main course or for snacks.

Rice Pudding

Serves 12

During the hot summer days on the farm mother often prepared rice pudding for snacks, but more often as a dessert with any leftover for next day’s breakfast.

3 cups water

1/2 cup rice, rinsed

4 cups milk

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup raisins, soaked for about 15 minutes then drained well

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons chopped pistachios  

  Place water and rice in saucepan, then bring to boil.  Cover, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes.   Stir in remaining ingredients, except pistachio, then bring to boil. Cook over medium-low for further 15 minutes, stirring constantly.  

Immediately place in 12 serving cups then allow to cool.  Sprinkle with pistachios, then serve.

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