Hummus is popular world over; falafels too! But do you know other vegetarian Middle Eastern dishes? Having grown up in Dubai, I can safely say that Middle Eastern cuisine is my ABSOLUTE favorite. It is so damn delicious, SO healthy, and super vegetarian-friendly. It's sad, though, that most people only really know about hummus, pita and falafels (and shawarma, of course, but let's stick to vegetarian). I guess that happens with all cuisines? Do we really know much about Italian cuisine beyond pizza and pasta, or Indian cuisine outside of naan and paneer?
Anyway, let's change that! Next time you're at a Middle Eastern restaurant, make sure to try out all of these delicious vegetarian mezze options.
So... what makes a vegetarian Middle Eastern feast?
The most famous of them all - this creamy chickpea dish needs no introduction! Forget all those ridiculous versions of hummus you've tried at fancy restaurants - beetroot hummus, avocado hummus, roasted red pepper hummus. Have the original version to taste its authentic flavors!
Pro tip: I add a little bit of parsley when I make hummus at home, which gives it a fresh herby taste.
Again, super popular! These deep-fried goodies can be eaten by themselves (dipped in the various sauces listed below) or in a falafel sandwich (with lots of veggies).
A simple vegan, gluten-free dip made from sesame seeds. I add yogurt to the one I make at home, to make it a little thicker than the one you'd get at restaurants. Tahini is a great sauce to dip your falafels in, or to drizzle on top of your falafel sandwich.
This guy is my favorite of them all, and relatively undiscovered by the larger global audience. It's a delicious garlic dip, that's made simply by whipping garlic and olive oil together. That's it! If you whip long (and fast) enough, you'll end up with a fluffy white dip like this. It's so incredibly delicious, and something you MUST order the next time you're at a Middle Eastern restaurant!
Another delicious dip - this one is made from roasted red peppers and walnuts. The ideal muhammara should be coarse, not smooth!
This is basically like Greek yogurt (although a little less thick), and is often served with zaatar spices. It's great to dip your falafels or pita in, or spread inside a falafel sandwich.
One of two famous Middle Eastern salads (and my personal favorite), tabbouleh is packed with parsley and mint, and little bits of cucumber, tomatoes, onions and broken wheat (bulgur). It's got a lemon seasoning so it's acidic and zesty!
This salad has larger chunks of cucumber, tomatoes and onions, as well as lettuce (missing from tabbouleh). It's also got toasted pita chips, radish, and sumac for flavoring.
9. Foul Medames
A hot dish of cooked fava beans and lightly spiced. This is actually a breakfast item in the Middle East! One of the few rare hot vegetarian dishes, so definitely order this.
This one is pretty unknown but it's one of my favorites! Another hot dish, this includes warm hummus, hot chickpeas, crunchy pita and olive oil, topped with cool labneh yogurt. Phenomenally delicious!
11. Mouttabal or Babaghanoush
You have probably tried these eggplant dishes before, or at least heard of them. While the base ingredient in both is smoked eggplant, there are slight variations between the two. Mouttabal has tahini mixed in, and is much smoother and creamier; babaghanoush is more coarse, and contains onions, tomatoes and other veggies.
12. Batata Harra
Somehow, this dish seems to have gained a lot more popularity, despite not being as intrinsic to Middle Eastern cuisine as the others. These are basically French fries in cubed form, with some spices. They actually taste delicious when dipped in hummus, toum, tahini or muhammara.
One of my all-time favorite snacks as a child, a manakeesh is a hot wrap made with thick pita bread, zaatar spices and various toppings. You can get a plain manakeesh (just zaatar on bread), a cheese manakeesh (melted Arabic cheese with zaatar) or one with tomatoes and olives. The cheese one is a winner!
Hope you feel a little bit better prepared to order vegetarian dishes like a pro, next time you're at a Middle Eastern restaurant! Be sure to check out my guides for vegetarian food in Paris, New York, Prague, Vienna, Florence, Rome, Iceland, San Francisco.