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Preparing a Holiday Meal with Middle Eastern Foods

More than 70% of those of Middle Eastern descent living in the West are also of Christian descent and celebrate the Christmas holidays. While there are numerous dishes that are part of Middle Eastern cuisine that can be a wonderful component to any holiday meal, there are also several dishes that are characteristic of the season.

Mezza

Mezza is considered by many to be the most important part of the meal. This appetizer course is served on several small plates, or passed to standing and assembled guests. No matter what the main course is at your holiday get together, Middle Eastern mezza can be passed to assembled guests to add an exotic flavor to the festivities.

Holidays in many Middle Eastern countries, such as Lebanon are not complete without the following dishes:

  • Hummus
  • Baba Ghanoush
  • Stuffed grape leaves

Main Courses

The main course in many Middle Eastern homes during the holiday season is lamb. This extremely flavorful meat absorbs spices evenly, can be prepared in a wide variety of ways including stewing or roasting.

If you are looking to add some Middle Eastern flavor to more traditional dishes, pomegranates, dried limes and other foods can be incorporated. Turkey is eaten less frequently in the Middle East because of the small size of the birds, but by combining it with other dishes and flavors it frequently graces the tables of those of Middle Eastern descent. Try any of the following for a flavor filled main dish.

  • Roast leg of lamb – prepare this simply by rubbing the meat with olive oil, garlic and other spices to taste and cooking it on low heat for several hours
  • Turkey with pomegranate stuffing – Prepare a standard turkey stuffing with dried bread, mixed peppers, onions and seasonings and add in place of water, use an equal amount of pomegranate juice. Stuff your turkey as usual to turn up the flavor of the entire meal.

Side Dishes

To enliven the holiday meal with subtle flavors, textures and fragrances adopt a Middle Eastern array of side dishes with a more traditional holiday dinner. Any of the following side dishes can accompany lamb or turkey with ease.

  • Asparagus with lemon – Simply steam fresh asparagus and drizzle with lemon oil for fresh tasting side.
  • Green beans with pine nuts – Instead of slivered almonds or fried onions, try garnishing sautéed green beans with pine nuts. Sauté the beans in olive oil, season with red pepper and top with toasted pine nuts for a simple and flavorful dish.
  • Yellow rice – if a starch is required at the table, try adding saffron and raisins to your rice dish for complex flavor with a hint of sweetness.

Desserts

At the end of a big meal, keep your desserts light and simple to round out the evening. Fruit has a natural sweetness that makes an excellent ending to any meal when prepared properly.

  • Stuffed dates – Dates stuffed with a mixture of rolled oats, pistachios, cardamom and other spices are a wonderful ending to any meal.
  • Baked quince – Rather than a baked apple or pear dish, hollow out a quince, fill it with oats, nuts, honey and spices and bake it in the oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. The resulting sweet and tart dessert is unlike any traditional pie.

Holiday meals made with Middle Eastern cuisine can be a new way to spice up your holiday gathering. Give any of these dishes a try and impress your family guests this holiday season.

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