13 Healthiest Dishes From Middle East

March 10, 2014

Middle Eastern cuisine has become increasingly popular in Western cultures in the 21st century because of its wide variety of healthy dishes. Many Middle Eastern dishes contain high amounts of olive oil, beans, lentils and chickpeas.

Olive oil provides the body with a good source of healthy fats while chickpeas beans, and lentils are high in protein and fiber to aid in digestion. Branching out to try new cuisine can be intimidating, so consider the following recipes that rank among the healthiest Middle Eastern dishes available.

1. Hummus

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The chickpea is a powerhouse in Middle Eastern cuisine. Although typically seen in American homes as an appetizer with crackers, pita bread and vegetables paired as a dipping partner, hummus is extremely versatile. Hummus is traditionally prepared by mashing chickpeas and combining them with garlic, olive oil, tahini and lemon juice.

The combination of ingredients results in a dip that is high in healthy fats with a low calorie count. Hummus can also be used as a spread on anything from baked potatoes to burgers and pita bread sandwiches.

2. Baba Ghannouj

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Another healthy dip in Middle Eastern cuisine, the primary ingredient in baba ghannouj is the antioxidant packed eggplant. The eggplant has a high concentration of Nasunin in its skin, an antioxidant that fights free radicals in the body and protects healthy fats in brain cell membranes.

Eggplants are also rich in antimicrobial and antiviral nutrients and they help lower bad LDL cholesterol levels as well as providing the body with a good source of fiber, potassium and vitamin B1.

3. Tahini

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The final dip recipe to be featured on the list, tahini is a sesame seed paste that is combined with several other ingredients to make up a variety of dishes. Tahini is one of the key ingredients in both hummus and baba ghannouj, but can also be found in the sesame dish halvah. This key dish can also be added to lemon juice and used as a sauce for meats, vegetables and salads.

Sesame seeds contain beneficial fibers that help lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and increase vitamin E. Additional health benefits from tahini include preventing oxidative damage to the liver and providing rich sources of calcium, iron and vitamin B1.

4. Peasant Salad

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Salads play a big role in Middle Eastern cuisine and are a popular appetizer and entrée option. Typical Middle Eastern salads feature more interesting ingredients and a deeper flavor palate than those served in traditional Western cuisine.

Peasant Salad (also referred to as Shepherd’s Salad) is made with a combination of tomato, cucumber, olive oil and lemon juice as well as the occasional addition of peppers and eggplant. Peasant Salad is higher in calories than Western salads, but the higher concentration of olive oil provides the body with necessary healthy fats.

5. Yogurt Salad

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Another popular appetizer that is particularly healthy is Yogurt Salad. Aside from the key ingredient of yogurt, this salad is often blended with shredded cucumber and flavored with mint, parsley and/or dill. The variety of flavoring options makes it a versatile dish that is low in calories and fat while packing a decent protein punch.

Fresh mint leaves are frequently used in Middle Eastern dishes due to their high manganese, vitamin C and vitamin A concentrations. Mint leaves and peppermint oil extracts have also been found to help soothe stomach problems such as indigestion and aid the body in neutralizing free radicals among other benefits.

6. Lentil Soups

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There are a variety of lentil soups served in Middle Eastern cuisine, and for good reason. Lentil soups are a great option for calorie-conscious foodies, primarily because the beans that make up the bulk of the meal are very filling without providing a high calorie count. Lentil soups are a great source of fiber and are low in calories and fat.

Most of the fats present in lentil soups come from olive oil, making them healthy fats. Popular recipes for lentil soup vary, but some of the common ingredients aside from lentils include diced tomatoes, garlic, onions, olive oil, carrots and celery.

7. Chicken Shawarma

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Beef and lamb are common main ingredients in many Middle Eastern entrees, but chicken is not uncommon and is often a healthier choice. Chicken Shawarma is a dish with marinated chicken cut into thin slices (or chunks) that is often served with rice. Variations on the common dish include serving the chicken with hummus, grilled tomatoes and grilled peppers either in conjunction with the rice or instead of the rice.

There is a great deal of variety available with Chicken Shawarma courtesy of the numerous sides, making it a flexible meal for different individuals. Occasionally chicken Shawarma is even served in a pita bread sandwich.

8. Shish Taouk

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Shish kebab is a popular appetizer and entrée in Middle Eastern cuisine, but it is not typically a healthy meal to consume on a frequent basis. Shish kebabs are commonly prepared with beef and lamb which contain higher fat counts.

Shish taouk is a chicken shish kebab meal that, like chicken shawerma, can be served with a variety of components including tomatoes, peppers and onions. Unlike beef and lamb shish kebabs, the shish taouk is served with white meat chicken (make sure to get white meat) which is a leaner meat that has a lower fat content.

9. Vegetable Tagine

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Many people don’t commonly associate Middle Eastern cuisine with vegetarian meals. There is a seemingly endless list of Middle Eastern dishes containing beef and lamb which have high fat contents. Vegetable Tagine is a Moroccan dish that offers a nice vegetarian option for fans of Middle Eastern cuisine.

Tagine is a stew-like dish that is often served in a clay pot and consists of a tomato base with chickpeas and raisins as the primary ingredients. Vegetable tagine has a high fiber count and healthy antioxidants that make it a good choice for dieters and the health conscious alike.

10. Vegetarian Moussaka

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Moussaka is a popular dish in many Middle Eastern countries, but it is often served with beef or lamb as the primary ingredient. Beef and lamb moussaka are both flavorful dishes, but they are also both high in cholesterol. Vegetarian moussaka on the other hand is often made with eggplant as the base ingredient along with the occasional potato.

Olive oil is another key ingredient, providing a higher fat count but also a good level of healthy fat. One item to watch out for however is moussaka with a béchamel topping. Made from cream, cheese and eggs, the béchamel topping can make vegetarian moussaka as unhealthy as beef and lamb varieties.

11. Lemon & Oregano Lamb Chops

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Even though the negative health impacts of beef and lamb were just skewered in the last few recipes, that doesn’t mean there aren’t healthy lamb and beef dishes served in Middle Eastern cuisine. The key to making beef and lamb dishes healthy is controlling portion size and combining them with beneficial extras.

This dish combines lamb chops with an herb-lemon rub with a tangy cucumber-tahini sauce drizzled on top. Healthy side dishes include couscous, rice pilaf or a green salad.

12. Chickpea Burgers

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This isn’t your average triple cheese and bacon burger served in the United States. The chickpea burger is often served on pita bread with a thick slice of tomato, plain yogurt, brown rice and wheat germ (for added whole grain fiber benefits). For an extra bit of pizazz in the meal, consider adding a drizzle of minced garlic, tahini and lemon juice sauce on the burger.

The beef component in the burger provides a rich source of protein while the brown rice and wheat germ aid in digestion with high fiber counts. The benefits of tahini and chickpeas have already been covered in depth, but needless to say this is an extremely healthy alternative to your average burger.

13. Lamb & Eggplant Kebabs

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Finally, here is yet another healthy lamb option to consider with your next dinner. The lamb and eggplant kebab is a staple in Turkish restaurants and homes and provides a number of benefits to your health thanks to the inclusion of eggplant in the kebab. In addition to the benefits mentioned earlier, eggplant is also believed to help prevent cancer.

This succulent dish often contains a traditional Arabic spice rub that consists of olive oil, lemon, garlic and tomato paste. The addition of olive oil to the rub provides a good source of healthy fats in a meal that would otherwise be blacklisted for high fat and cholesterol counts.


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