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Vegetarian Arab Cuisine--9 Vegetarian Dishes

posted on: Sep 28, 2022

A pan of shakshouka, Photo Credit: Downshiftology

By: Caroline Umphlet / Arab America Contributing Writer

Have you worried about having vegetarian or vegan options at a restaurant with family or friends? Arab food actually has an impressive array of options for a vegetarian diet. Despite many popular Arab foods including meat, there are traditional meals that are perfectly hearty and healthy without it. To clarify the difference, vegan refers to a diet without any animal products at all, like eggs or milk, while vegetarian is just without meat. Although an Arab mother will definitely tease you for it, being vegetarian is becoming an increasingly popular decision across the globe. 

Here are some Arab foods that are vegetarian friendly, and some of the tastiest dishes.

1. Shakshouka

A pan of Yemeni shakshouka, Photo credit: Tara’s Multicultural Table

Shakshouka is a North African, or maghrabi, vegetarian dish, although not vegan. It consists of poached or sunny-side up eggs in a spicy tomato sauce. The exact recipe varies by region and preference but the meal is usually eaten for breakfast time. Although, it can be eaten during lunch or dinner as well. Shakshouka is usually paired with fluffy pita bread or sliced bread. Yemeni shakshouka, pictured above, is slightly different in that it resembles more of scrambled eggs than eggs sitting in tomato sauce. Any way shakshouka is cooked it is delicious and a favorite even in American restaurants.

2. Falafel/Tameya

Classic falafel pita sandwiches, Photo Credit: The Feed Feed

Falafel is the staple food of the Middle East and North African region, also called tameya in Cairo. It is very easy and cheap to make, while simultaneously delicious and filling! Falafel is eaten in great variety, in sandwiches, for breakfast, in salads, and more. As per usual, there are differences between regions and countries in the exact ingredients and ways to cook it, but falafel is essentially made from chickpeas or fava beans. It is also almost always vegan.

3. Moussaka

Lebanese Moussaka, Photo Credit: Foodaciously

Moussaka is a baked dish with eggplant, tomatoes, and an array of seasonings. This dish is Palestinian but is eaten across the entire Mediterranean region, with great variation. The greek version is not traditionally vegetarian because it includes beef or lamb. Some people also prefer to add chickpeas or potatoes. Depending on the recipe, this dish can also be vegan.

4. Manakish

A plate of za’atar manakish, Photo Credit: Cookin’ with Mima

This food is more of a snack or breakfast item and sometimes eaten for lunch, but still a flavorful and versatile option. Originating from the Levant region, Manakish is flat bread usually baked with za’atar and cheese. Za’atar is a mix of spices but mostly thyme. Manakish can also be topped with a variety of food items, such as minced meat, spinach, yogurt, and more. It is quick and easy to make for anyone craving a taste of Arab cuisine.

5. Molokhia

A bowl of molokhia, Photo Credit: Healthy Life Trainer

Molokhia is an Egyptian dish usually served by itself or over rice. It is made from green molokhia leaves that are cut up and ground into very fine pieces. The pieces are then made into a delectable soup. The green soup may not look very appealing, but the taste is incomparable. The leaves are used for a multitude of dishes, like in salads, other soups, curries, etc. Molokhia is a great and healthy vegetarian option.

6. Koshari

A bowl of koshari, Photo Credit: America’s Test Kitchen

Koshari is an Egyptian street food, and a very filling option for vegetarians. The dish is a mixture of lentils, noodles, chickpeas, and fried onions. It is topped with a tomato sauce as well as a vinegar and cumin sauce to taste. Koshari actually has origins in India but took root in Egypt and has become infamous for how easy and cheap it is to make.

7. Cauliflower Shawarma

A cauliflower shawarma wrap, Photo Credit: The Seattle Times

This dish is a vegetarian twist on the meal we all know and love, shawarma. Shawarma is traditionally made with lamb, chicken, turkey, or beef and originates from the Levantine region. Cauliflower is a common substitute for meat in many dishes across the globe like chicken wings and taco meat. The meat is switched out for roasted cauliflower and pairs nicely with the classic tahini flavor. This could also be a vegan option.

8. Mujadara

A bowl of mujadara, Photo Credit: The Kitchn

This Lebanese dish is a great vegetarian option and also vegan. It is made with few ingredients but packed with flavor; rice, lentils, and caramelized onions. Mujadara has lots of nutrients and protein beneficial for anyone, even someone still eating meat. This dish was actually “peasant food that was developed out of need.” It has since developed into a tasty staple meal.

9. Lentil Soup

A bowl of lebanese lentil soup, Photo Credit: Plant Based Folk

Everyone loves a nice hot soup when they’re feeling a little under the weather, but vegetarian cannot indulge in the classic American choice of chicken noodle soup. Instead, lentil soup is a perfect alternative to warm the soul. Lentil soup is made from orange lentils, vegetables, rice, and a mix of spices. Lentils supposedly originated from the Levant/Mediterranean area, but lentil soup is now enjoyed all over the world.

Hopefully this list of vegetarian dishes takes some stress off of anyone wanting to try Arab food, but worried about the traditional meat included. Arab food has such a wide variety of ingredients that there is a meal for everyone to enjoy, regardless of dietary restrictions. You will still be stuffed to the brim after grabbing seconds and thirds at any Arab household or restaurant.

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