txu-oclc-192062619-middle_east_pol_2008Roughly speaking the Middle-East sweeps south from Egypt through Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and the Arabian Peninsula, through to Iran and Turkey. The majority of the people speak Arabic and share a common heritage. While parts of the Middle-East are largely desert, elsewhere it is a fertile basin. The first great influence on the regions food came Persian Empire between 550 BC–330 BC. This was followed by the expansion of the Greek and Roman empires and then the spread of Islam from Arabia.

As a member of the Ottoman Empire for hundreds of years, there are a number of similarities between many of the dishes found in both Turkey, and the Middle East, especially Syria, Egypt and Lebanon. The most notable are the breads, kebabs, the use of yoghurt and stuffed vegetables. Although the cuisines of the various countries in the Middle East may differ, there is a common thread, especially regarding mezzes, stuffed vegetables and rich sweetmeats.

Of all the Middle East cuisines cuisines the Jordanian is the most basic, while the Lebanese are known for their stylish presentation and infinite variety of dishes. Today it is this cuisine that dominates the region, with Lebanese chefs found in most of the top restaurants throughout the region. If any race lives to eat, it is the Lebanese, a nation of entrepreneurs who find any excuse to mix business with the pleasures of eating. They are an incredibly hospitable race who have a saying – when someone is in your house they are your family. It is not uncommon for invited guests to bring guests themselves.

31251_lBeing at the crossroads between east and west, spices play an important role in the region’s cuisine. The most commonly used spices are:

  • Anise seed – an oil bearing seed with a strong licorice flavour.
  • Allspice – a berry with a fragrance similar to a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, used in stuffings.
  • Cardamom – the most commonly used spice throughout the Middle-East blended with meat, desserts and even coffee.
  • Paprika – used for flavour (chilli has really restricted its use to Yemen).
  • Cinnamon – used in a variety of dishes from meats to desserts.
  • Cloves – often used in conjunction with cinnamon.
  • Coriander – native of the region, the seeds being the most frequently used part of the plant.
  • Cumin – native of the region, its delicate aroma is found in many vegetable dishes and salads.
  • Fenugreek seeds – used to thicken stews.
  • Sesame seeds (and Tahini) – raw or roasted sprinkled into dishes, while the ground seeds are used to make tahini sauce, the Middle-Eastern mother sauce, as soy sauce is to the East.
  • Sumak – a sour powder with a lemony flavour, substitute for lemons.
  • Pomegranate molasses – similar to treacle with sweet/sour flavour.



Wickedfood Cooking School

Sunninghill – (011) 234-3252 sunninghill@wickedfood.co.za

Wickedfood Cooking School Johannesburg runs cooking classes throughout the year at its purpose-built cooking studios. We offer a variety of Middle Eastern cooking classes. Cooking classes are run in the mornings and evenings 7 days a week (subject to a minimum of 12 people). This team building venue is also popular for corporate events and private functions – team building cooking classes, birthdays, kitchen teas, and dinner parties with a difference.

Our cookery classes are hands-on, where every person gets to participate in the preparation of the dishes. They are also a lot of fun where you not only learn new skills, but get to meet people with similar interests. For corporate groups and team building cooking classes these classes are a novel way of creating staff interaction or entertaining clients.