All about Middle Eastern cooking: Part 2

Grains in Middle Eastern cuisine.

Grains constitute the basis of the Middle Eastern cuisine. Some of the most common grains used are rice and wheat. While brown rice is not very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine, many other whole wheat grains are commonly used such as bulgur, freekeh and cuscus. Aside from whole grains, rice and bread are eaten at almost every meal.

Bulgur – known as cracked wheat, is made out of boiled wheat kernels that are then dried, cracked and sorted by size. Bulgur is most often made from durum wheat, but in fact almost any wheat – hard or soft, red or white can be made into bulgur, hence the different colors of bulgur. Bulgur is precooked and tried, which minimizes its cooking time. When boiled, it can be ready in less than 10 minutes. Michigan State University Extension says that bulgur is very nutritious. It can be a great base for salads, pilafs or as a side or main dish. Traditionally, bulgur is a main ingredient in the tabbouleh salad, mujaddara (bulgur and lentils), and many other dishes. According to the Whole Grain Council, bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat or corn.

Freekeh is another form of young wheat that has been toasted and cracked. Toasting the freekeh gives it a very distinct smoky flavor. Freekeh, just like bulgur is a great source of fiber, is packed with essential nutrients and makes a good source of vegetarian protein. To cook freekeh, simmer it for at least 20 to 25 minutes and use it as a side dish with stews. A popular Middle Eastern dish is freekeh soup, similar to chicken noodle soup, only you add freekeh instead of the noodles.

There are many types of rice produced and consumed in the Middle East region. Plain rice is served under grilled meats or with meat/vegetable stews. In more complex rice dishes, there are layers of meat, vegetables, sauces, nuts or dried fruits. Pita bread is also a main staple and is eaten at almost every meal when rice or other grains are absent. It can be used in a variety of ways – baked and used as chips, rolled sandwiches and pita pockets. It’s very easy to make at home and can be very nutritious if made with whole wheat flour.

Here’s an easy pita bread recipes that makes eight pitas.

Peppy’s Pita Bread


1 1/8 cups warm water (110 degrees Fahrenheit)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 1/2 teaspoons white sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast


Place all ingredients in bread pan of your bread machine, select dough setting and start. When dough has risen long enough, machine will beep.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface. Gently roll and stretch dough into a 12-inch rope. With a sharp knife, divide dough into eight pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. With a rolling pin, roll each ball into a six to seven inch circle. Set aside on a lightly floured countertop and cover with a towel. Let pitas rise about 30 minutes until slightly puffy.

Preheat oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Place two or three pitas on a wire cake rack. Place cake rack directly on oven rack. Bake pitas four to five minutes until puffed and tops begin to brown. Remove from oven and immediately place pitas in a sealed brown paper bag or cover them with a damp kitchen towel until soft. Once pitas have softened, either cut in half or split top edge for half or whole pitas. They can be stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for several days or in the freezer for one to two months.

For more on Middle Eastern cuisine read part one.

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