More and more people are turning to a vegan diet all around the world. Whether it is due to ethical reasons or environmental concerns and climate change, veganism is growing in popularity in every continent.
Vegan restaurants are also becoming some of the most renowned places to eat in capital cities. When thinking of middle eastern cuisine, most people may think of rice and meat-based dishes. However, there are now many popular middle eastern foods that are not only vegetarian but also vegan too. Read on for 10 must-try vegan dishes in the Middle East.
These crispy deep-fried balls are another ode to the vegan-friendly chickpea. The chickpeas are mashed with herbs, spices and sometimes onions. It is often made into a ball-like shape, but you can also find larger and flatter versions. It is thought to originate in Egypt, but is widely available across the Levantine countries and the Gulf too. In many places, falafel is made into a vegan pita sandwich with salad and hummus.
Manakeesh or Mana’eesh Za’atar
Za’atar or thyme, often mixed with sesame seeds and sumac, is a popular condiment all across the Levant. It is usually eaten with fresh bread and olive oil. It can also be made into a pizza-like dish for easy eating. A soft dough is rolled out and topped with za’atar spices and olive oil before being baked. It is widely available in bakeries or made at home. Manakeesh can be consumed for breakfast, or when served with fresh mint tea it also makes a wonderful light lunch or snack.
While this green leafed soup is often made with chicken or meat broth, it is possible to find a vegetarian version made simply with aromatic spices too. It is often referred to as the food of the pharaohs. In English, these luscious green leaves are known as Nalta jute, tossa jute, or Jew’s mallow. The texture sometimes divides people, since it can be smooth but also heavy in the mouth. However, served with steamed white rice it makes the perfect hearty meal on a winter’s day. While it may have originated in Egypt, it is widely made and eaten in the Levant too.
While millennials are often described as avocado toast lovers, love of hummus is certainly a close runner up today. If you aren’t familiar with this vegan dip or dish, then hummus is made from chickpeas blended with lemon juice, tahini and garlic. It is also often drizzled with olive oil. The garlic and lemon is essential for the tasty and zesty zing that hummus is known for. It is popular all across the Middle East. Served with warm bread or pita, it is delightful to enjoy as part of any meal of the day.
This humble and filling dish is essentially a complete vegan protein. This is because it is made up of rice and lentils. The crispy fried onions that are usually placed on top give it the perfect textural contrast. Warm, gooey and crispy all at once. It is popular in Lebanon and Syria.
This is another vegan delight that originated in Egypt but is popular all across the middle east. It is a fava bean stew. The beans can be left whole or mashed, and the key ingredients are onion, garlic and lemon juice. Other herbs such as parsley, and spices like cumin are also commonly added. This dish is often served alongside hummus. Scooped up with warm pita, it can be enjoyed at breakfast or for any meal of the day. In Egypt especially, it is considered a staple dish.
Lentil soup is particularly popular in Turkey and Lebanon. It is also considered a staple starter in many other countries too. When it comes to Yemeni cuisine, for example, lentil soup usually kick starts the meal before the rice dish is served. It is full of flavour, largely owing to the generous amounts of cumin, garlic and lemon.
Fatayer are breads packed with anything ranging from za’atar and cheese to mince and salami. However, the traditional spinach fatayer is delicious and vegan-friendly too. The layers of spinach within the bread are often seasoned with chilli and lemon. This breaded delight is popular all across the Levant, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon. They can be made into long slabs which are sliced, or as smaller finger food pieces. The dough is often drizzled with olive oil, making them extra nutritious as well as tasty.
Koshari is a traditional Egyptian dish which is actually considered the national dish of the country. It consists of lentils, macaroni pasta and rice which is then topped with a spicy tomato sauce, fried onions and garbanzo beans. Lemon and garlic oil is often also available. While it may not be low carb or keto-friendly, you may want to ditch any diet plan you are on to taste this unique blend that makes koshari so beloved in Egypt and beyond. Street vendors sell this comforting dish for next to nothing which means everyone can afford it. It can be found outside Egypt in specialist restaurants but is not as popular as in its home country.
Vine leaf dolma
The term “Dolma” comes from Turkish and means “to stuff”. These are stuffed or rolled vine leaves. Some recipes contain mince, however, the dolma that are served cold with salad are traditionally stuffed with only white rice, currants, mint, parsley and allspice. They are popular all across the middle east, and particularly in the Levantine countries. Dolma are often made to honour a guest since they take time to prepare. They are refreshing and easy to eat on the go too.
There may be many reasons compelling you to follow a vegan diet, but this does not mean that you have to neglect your taste buds as you travel through the Middle East. The region is full of recipes and flavours which bring together the best of plant-based diets. From comforting mains like mejadra to light and healthy breakfasts consisting of ful and hummus, the vegan cuisine available in the Middle East will be its own gastronomical adventure as you explore this spectacular region.
You may also be interested in our article on How to Travel the World as a Vegan.
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