It's the hottest food on the planet right now according to the coolest chefs, but do you know your freekeh from your fattoush? The ultimate guide to Middle Eastern eats

 

  • Middle Eastern food is delicious, healthy and oh so pretty 
  • Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi has created a culinary empire with his modern Middle Eastern cooking
  • New chefs are experimenting with herbs, spices and grains from the region
  • New M&S Taste range features food from Lebanon, Morocco and Istanbul 

Eating clean and lean is one of the coolest ways to fill your plate right now.

And whilst the Mediterranean diet has often been hailed as the quickest way to a smaller waist and glowing skin, fashionable foodies are now looking east for healthy eating inspo.

Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi is the original Middle Eastern master chef, creating a culinary empire out of his incredible kitchen skills and ways with pomegranate. 

And now a new wave of style-conscious celebrity chefs like Deliciously Ella and the Hemsley sisters are incorporating Arabic and African foods, herbs and spices into their Instagram-worthy dishes, with Ella Woodward calling Quinoa her 'go-to' grain while Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley love tahini (sesame seed paste) to sex up salads and even dessert.

Nutritious AND stylish: Middle Eastern food is big news for autumn. here jewelled salads and fresh greens make for delicious-looking  mezze plates, and M&S have released a mouth-watering new range of dishes 

Nutritious AND stylish: Middle Eastern food is big news for autumn. here jewelled salads and fresh greens make for delicious-looking mezze plates, and M&S have released a mouth-watering new range of dishes 

Trendy chefs Deliciously Ella (left) and the Hemsley sisters (right) are some of the chefs using Middle Eastern ingredients in some of their Instagram-worthy dishes
Trendy chefs Deliciously Ella (left) and the Hemsley sisters (right) are some of the chefs using Middle Eastern ingredients in some of their Instagram-worthy dishes

Trendy chefs Deliciously Ella (left) and the Hemsley sisters (right) are some of the chefs using Middle Eastern ingredients in some of their Instagram-worthy dishes

Yotam Ottolenghi (left) is the original Middle Eastern master chef. He's pictured here with Sammi Tamimi preparing a recipe from their cook book Jerusalem

Yotam Ottolenghi (left) is the original Middle Eastern master chef. He's pictured here with Sammi Tamimi preparing a recipe from their cook book Jerusalem

As well as tasting great, the Middle Eastern diet is generally low in fat and contains lots of health-giving grains, pulses, vegetables and legumes. 

And it looks so damn pretty: jewelled couscous, rust-coloured tagines and mini mezze bowls dotted with fresh green leaves are guaranteed crowd-pleasers at dinner parties, with the best part being that most traditional Middle Eastern dishes don't require a degree in Cordon-Bleu cooking,

Even better, this month M&S is launching a delicious new Taste collection of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ready meals, making it even easier to enjoy the flavours of Turkey, Lebanon and Morocco at home.  

Caroline Crumby, Product Developer for M&S, says: 'Chefs like Ottolenghi with his cookery books and restaurants have really boosted appetite for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines and their popularity continues to rise as people are always seeking out the latest food trends and ingredients.

'Once considered exotic, ingredients like harissa are becoming more common and people are trying them in their own cooking. We've created some fantastic dishes using authentic ingredients that people can enjoy at home without the hassle of preparation. The lamb in one of our new tagines for example is marinated in Ras el hanout, a classic spice mixture used in Moroccan cuisine.'

Sounds tasty. But do you know your freekeh from your fattoush? Or your tahini from your tabbouleh? Read our handy Middle Eastern cheat sheet to get you started...

Know your freekeh from your fattoush! The Middle Eastern master chef cheat sheet

1. FREEKEH

What is it? The hot new grain on the block, freekeh is young, green wheat that is toasted and then cracked. Hailed as a superfood the grain has an earthy flavour and a coarse texture and is a brilliant source of protein and fibre. 

How to serve it? Cook and use it as you would quinoa or other grains, by bringing to the boil and then simmering until just softened, before adding to pilafs or salads. Ottolenghi serves up a cinnamon-infused pilaf with Greek yoghurt and pine nuts, and it makes a healthy and pretty lunch mixed with kale leaves and berries. 

Fast foodie fact: Freekeh actually means 'to rub' or 'the rubbed one' and according to legend was discovered by Middle Eastern villagers attempting to salvage burning crops by rubbing away burned chaff to reveal roasted wheat kernels on the inside.

Freekeh, often served in pilafs, is the hot new superfood grain on the block 

Freekeh, often served in pilafs, is the hot new superfood grain on the block 

Feekeh is young, green wheat that is toasted and then cracked and has an earthy flavour and a coarse texture

Feekeh is young, green wheat that is toasted and then cracked and has an earthy flavour and a coarse texture

 

2. FATTOUSH

What is it? A slightly sour bread salad made from fried pieces of pitta mixed with radish, tomatoes, cucumber and greens.

How to serve it? Sprinkle with sumac, mint, lemon juice and parsley to make a cool crunchy side dish, a light starter or even a lunchbox filler.

Fast foodie fact: You can take down the calorie count by toasting the pitta pieces instead of frying them.

Fattoush is a slightly sour bread salad made from fried pieces of pitta mixed with radish, tomatoes, cucumber and greens

Fattoush is a slightly sour bread salad made from fried pieces of pitta mixed with radish, tomatoes, cucumber and greens

 

3. PRESERVED LEMONS 

What are they? Whole lemons pickled in salt and their own juices, with different herbs and spices added according to local tradition and recipes. Preserving them intensifies the lemon flavour while tempering the sourness, making them sweet enough to eat whole. 

How to serve them? Best known for adding some zing to tagines and slow-cooked vegetable stews, these bright slices also work with every kind of lamb dish and even pasta, served very simply mixed in with olive oil and garlic. M&S have included preserved lemons in their Lemon & Saffron Chicken Tagine; chargrilled chicken in a cumin, honey, preserved lemon and saffron sauce with butternut squash, chickpeas and fresh coriander.

Fast foodie fact: Preserved lemons are a cinch to make yourself, and they will last for up to a year, but make sure you use ripe, Moroccan 'Meyer' lemons for the best result.

Best known for adding some zing to tagines and slow-cooked vegetable stews, preserved lemons also work with every kind of lamb dish and even pasta, served very simply mixed in with olive oil and garlic

Best known for adding some zing to tagines and slow-cooked vegetable stews, preserved lemons also work with every kind of lamb dish and even pasta, served very simply mixed in with olive oil and garlic

 

4. TAHINI

What is it? An oily paste made from ground sesame seeds, tahini is jam-packed with vitamins and minerals including vitamin E and B1, B2, B3, B5 and B15 as well as calcium, phosphorus, lecithin, magnesium, potassium and iron. Boom.

How to serve it? Best known for its' starring role in hummus, this paste also works mixed into salad dressings and drizzled on falafel or whizzed up with aubergine to make a smoky baba ganoush dip. Sweet tooth? Then try it in place of a standard nut butter in protein balls or even cake.  

Fast foodie fact: Tahini comes hulled and unhulled, choose the unhulled version for loads more nutrients.

M&S's Spiced Lamb & Apricot Tagine is a seriously tended shoulder of slow cooked, marinated lamb 

5. HARISSA

What is it? A deep orange and seriously hot pepper paste from Tunisia made with chillis, olive oil and paprika.

How to serve it? The paste makes an instant rub for cuts of meat and is perfect in a marinade for chicken legs and oily fish like mackerel and sardines. Or try mixing with mince for a gourmet burger with a difference or folding into scrambled eggs for a breakfast guaranteed to wake you up.

Or try the new M&S Spiced Lamb & Apricot Tagine, which is a mouth-watering slow cooked shoulder of lamb marinated in ras-el-hanout, slow cooked in sweet tomato, harissa and apricot sauce, and shredded.

Caroline explains: 'A fiery harissa paste can add real depth to slow cooked meats. Our lamb tagine uses tomato, harissa and apricot sauce for a hearty, rich flavour.'

Fast foodie fact: Rose petals can be added to the paste, giving it a delicate and fragrant flavour, why not serve with edible flowers for a super stylish flourish.

Tahini is an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds
Harissa is a deep orange and seriously hot pepper paste from Tunisia made with chillis, olive oil and paprika

Tahini (left) is an oily paste made from ground sesame seeds while harissa (right) is a deep orange and seriously hot pepper paste from Tunisia made with chillis, olive oil and paprika

Tahini's light, nutty flavour is the perfect complement to salty falafel balls

Tahini's light, nutty flavour is the perfect complement to salty falafel balls

 

6. KOFTE

What is it? Grilled meatball or meatloaf made with minced lamb or beef and herbs.

How to serve it? Usually served in a kebab style with salads and a garlicky yoghurt sauce. Or, if you want a quick but delicious option, M&S has brought out Lamb & Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads as part of their new Taste range.

Containing minced lamb and beef for a rich favour and seasoned with pul biber – a dried, crushed chilli that’s a signature ingredient in Turkish food they are as close to Middle Eastern cuisine as you can get without getting on a plane! They come with lightly pickled vegetables and a creamy lemon and tahini dressing.

Fast foodie fact: Jamie Oliver is one of the super chefs who offers a veggie version of this Turkish classic, using courgettes, chick peas and breadcrumbs.

Kofte is grilled meatball or meatloaf made with minced lamb or beef and herbs usually served in a kebab style with salads and a garlicky yoghurt sauce  (Pictured: M&S's Lamb and Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads) 

Kofte is grilled meatball or meatloaf made with minced lamb or beef and herbs usually served in a kebab style with salads and a garlicky yoghurt sauce  (Pictured: M&S's Lamb and Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads) 

 

7. TABBOULEH 

What is it? An Arabian salad made with finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, tomatoes and onion.

How to serve it? This is a great dish for veggies seasoned simply with olive oil and lemon juice and served as part of a mezze spread. Or try it with a fillet of grilled fish for a more substantial meal.

Caroline agrees, saying: 'We’ve added pomegranate to the tabbouleh in our mezze selection for a fruity twist on a classic. This works really nicely alongside the falafels, houmous and a yoghurt and cucumber dip. A great starter for two to share.'

Fast foodie fact: Modern versions of the deeply traditional dish swap the mint for other herbs. Try adding handfuls of coriander, some spicy salsa and garnishing with nachos for a Mexican take on the Middle Eastern classic.

Tabbouleh is an Arabian salad made with finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, tomatoes and onion

Tabbouleh is an Arabian salad made with finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur wheat, tomatoes and onion

 

8. BOREK

What is it? The ultimate veggie comfort food: baked or fried wafer-thin pastry layers stuffed with a variety of fillings including feta cheese, chopped vegetables, potatoes and parsley. A little bit naughty, a lot nice.

The seriously moreish M&S Feta and Herb Boreks - part of their new Taste Istanbul range - come with a tomato, mint and Sumac dip

The seriously moreish M&S Feta and Herb Boreks - part of their new Taste Istanbul range - come with a tomato, mint and Sumac dip

How to serve it? Borek makes the perfect appetizer for a group dinner, often being prepared in a large pan and cut into slices before being served with a tomato-based dip. The seriously moreish M&S Feta and Herb Boreks - part of their new Taste Istanbul range - come with a tomato, mint and Sumac dip.

'These delicious pastries originate in Turkey and can be stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables. We’ve filled ours with a combination of feta, onion, mint and coriander which work beautifully together. They come with a sumac dip – sumac is a lemony spice often used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking instead of lemon juice, traditionally used when lemons were out of season in those countries.' Caroline says.

Fast foodie fact: Sweet versions of the parcels are becoming increasingly popular, try swapping the cheese for Nutella for a neat little chocolate dessert.

Boreks are the ultimate veggie comfort food: baked or fried wafer-thin pastry layers stuffed with a variety of fillings including feta cheese, chopped vegetables, potatoes and parsley (Pictured: M&S Feta and Herb Boreks)

Boreks are the ultimate veggie comfort food: baked or fried wafer-thin pastry layers stuffed with a variety of fillings including feta cheese, chopped vegetables, potatoes and parsley (Pictured: M&S Feta and Herb Boreks)

9. FALAFEL

What is it? Protein-rich balls of deep-fried spiced and mashed chickpeas.

How to serve it? Several 'balls' are usually served in fluffy warm pitta bread dotted with tahini and hot sauce. They also go brilliantly with hummus, wrapped up in a warm flat bread and topped with a tomato and red onion salad.

Fast foodie fact: The Egyptians use creamy fava beans instea of chickpeas, and other variations on the standard falafel theme include beetroot styles (which look great on the plate), extra spicy bites and recipes calling for handfuls of spinach to be added to the mix.

Falafel are protein-rich balls of deep-fried spiced and mashed chickpeas

Falafel are protein-rich balls of deep-fried spiced and mashed chickpeas

TASTE ISTANBUL, MOROCCO AND LEBANON AT M&S THIS AUTUMN

The Taste range of twenty Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes is available in store now.

The Lamb Kofte Pide, £3.50, is crispy pastry filled with lightly spiced meat and topped with Pul Biber chilli flakes, while the Lamb & Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads, $5, star lightly pickled vegetables and tahini dressing
The Lamb Kofte Pide, £3.50, is crispy pastry filled with lightly spiced meat and topped with Pul Biber chilli flakes, while the Lamb & Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads, $5, star lightly pickled vegetables and tahini dressing

The Lamb Kofte Pide, £3.50, is crispy pastry filled with lightly spiced meat and topped with Pul Biber chilli flakes, while the Lamb & Pistachio Kofte Flatbreads, £5, star lightly pickled vegetables and tahini dressing 

Two Moroccan tagines on offer include the Lemon & Saffron Chicken Tagine and the Spiced Lamb & Apricot Tagine, both £4.50
Two Moroccan tagines on offer include the Lemon & Saffron Chicken Tagine and the Spiced Lamb & Apricot Tagine, both £4.50

Two Moroccan tagines on offer include the Lemon & Saffron Chicken Tagine and the Spiced Lamb & Apricot Tagine, both £4.50

Inspired by Istanbul the Feta & Herb Boreks, £3.50, come with a tomato, mint and sumac dip while the Lebanese Falafel Flatbreads, £5, are served up with a  cruncy slaw and a roasted red pepper dressing
Inspired by Istanbul the Feta & Herb Boreks, £3.50, come with a tomato, mint and sumac dip while the Lebanese Falafel Flatbreads, £5, are served up with a  cruncy slaw and a roasted red pepper dressing

Inspired by Istanbul the Feta & Herb Boreks, £3.50, come with a tomato, mint and sumac dip while the Lebanese Falafel Flatbreads, £5, are served up with a  cruncy slaw and a roasted red pepper dressing

 

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