Middle East cuisine is defined as the various regional cuisines spanning the Arab World from Iraq to Morocco to Somalia to Yemen, and incorporating Levantine, Egyptian and others. It has also been influenced to a degree by the cuisines of Turkey, Afghanistan, Iran, India, the Berbers and other cultures of the peoples of the region before the cultural Arabization brought by genealogical Arabians during the Arabian Muslim conquests.
Originally, the Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula relied heavily on a diet of dates, wheat, barley, rice and meat, with little variety, with a heavy emphasis on yogurt products, such as labneh (yoghurt without butterfat). As the indigenous Semitic people of the peninsula wandered, so did their tastes and favored ingredients.
There is a strong emphasis on the following items in Arabian cuisine:
Lamb and chicken are the most used, beef and camel are also used to a lesser degree, other poultry is used in some regions, and, in coastal areas, fish. Pork is not commonly eatenfor Muslim Arabs, it is both a cultural taboo as well as being prohibited under Islamic law; many Christian Arabs also avoid pork as they have never acquired a taste for it.
Dairy products are widely used, the most of which is yogurt and white cheese. However, butter and cream are also used extensively.
Herbs and spices:
Mint and thyme (often in a mix called za’atar) are widely and almost universally used; spices are used much less than the Indian cuisine but the amount and types generally varies from region to region. Some of the included herbs and spices are sesame, saffron, turmeric, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and sumac. Spice mixtures include baharat.
Hot beverages are used more than cold, coffee being on the top of the list, mostly in the Gulf countries, although tea is also served in many Arab countries. In Egypt tea is the more important hot beverage than coffee for instance.
Rice is the staple and is used for most dishes; wheat is the main source for bread, as well as bulgur and semolina, which are also used extensively.
Lentils are widely used as well as fava beans and chick peas (garbanzo beans).
Vegetables and fruits:
This cuisine also favors vegetables such as cucumbers, aubergine (eggplant), courgette (zucchini), okra and onions, and fruits (primarily citrus), are often used as seasonings for entrees. Olives are a large part of the cuisine as well in addition to dates, figs and pomegranate.
Almonds pine nuts, pistachios, and walnuts are often included.
Parsley and mint are popular as seasonings in many dishes, while spinach and Corchorus (called “molokhia” in Arabic) are used in cooked dishes.
Dressings and sauces:
The most popular dressings include various combinations of olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, and/or garlic, and tahini (sesame paste). Labaneh, thinned yogurt, is often seasoned with mint and onion or garlic, and served as a sauce with various dishes.
Notably, many of the same spices used in Arabian cuisine are also those emphasized in Indian cuisine.
This is a result of heavy trading between the two regions, and of the current state of affairs in the wealthy oil states, in which many South Asian workers are living abroad in the Arab Gulf states.