Looking for the best Middle Eastern cookbooks? We’ve got you covered with these suggestions.
Finding Middle Eastern Cookbooks
“The region of Middle East constitutes the lands around the Southern and Eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, encompassing at least the Arabian Peninsula and, by some definitions, Iran, North Africa, and sometimes beyond.”
Having been born and raised in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), my love for Middle Eastern food knows no bounds. Situated at the North East end of the Arabian Peninsula, UAE is the home of many immigrants from all around the world, particularly the Middle East. With that in mind, one finds that it does not have one particular cuisine. It is, in fact, a place where you can find a Lebanese shawarma (always with fries) next to an Irani kofta kabab.
Our apartment in UAE was above a Lebanese bakery. Every morning at 4:00 the smell of fresh khubz (pita) would waft through our windows. Having Za’atar with melted goat cheese on a crunchy khubz was the snack of choice at all hours. To this day I feel an unrealistic amount of excitement when someone asks me on what can they put Za’atar on (You can put it on everything, really). It always takes me back home.
In the search to make my sense of home more flexible and able to travel with me, I started searching through cookbooks that would help me simulate the experience in my own kitchen. Like any other cuisine, Middle Eastern cuisine is constantly evolving; changing with the people and landscapes. What I can say for sure is that it is evolving into the best of its kind, incorporating ingredients from different regions like South East Asia and adapting their recipes to latest researches and trends. Keeping the ever changing cuisine in mind, the list of the best Middle Eastern cookbooks mostly covers books published in the last two years, with few exceptions that I think are essential for an overall context of the cuisine that holds the key to my heart, and my belly.
Feast: Food of the Islamic world by Anissa Helou
Spanning over 300 recipes, Helou traces the journey of Islam from its 7th century origins to the present day. This is perfect for understanding how this cooking has been shaped by people’s beliefs and practices. Three of my favorite tried recipes include Mario Haddad’s Fatoush, Smoky Eggplant Dip, and Pistachio Ice Cream.
Tahini and Turmeric: 101 Middle Eastern Classics — Made Irresistibly Vegan by Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox
A vegan Middle Eastern cookbook! The authors have a fantastic first chapter called “Middle Eastern Pantry” which breaks down everything you will ever need for this cuisine. A favorite recipe is za’atar pita toast with avocado and tomato.
Falastin: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley
With beautiful images and history, the author brings the Palestinian style of cooking to your home. A tried favorite is warm hummus with toasted bread and pine nuts.
Under the Mediterranean Sun: A food journey from Northern Africa to Southern Europe and the Middle East by Nadia Zerouali and Merjin Tol
This book is broken down by each country and their famous dishes and is excellent for slightly more advanced cooks. It takes you from Morroco to Catalonia, and a must-try recipe is the Sahran tea with Zemmitah.
Saffron in the Souks: Vibrant recipes from the heart of Lebanon by John Gregory Smith
A humble account of exploring Lebanese cooking. The author beautifully captures how the recipes of various regions have amalgamated into each other. A favorite recipe is Garlic Chicken Wings with Coriander and Pistachio Pesto.
The Saffron Tales: Recipes from the Persian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan
Khan has divided her book into courses and then tells tales of the staples included based on the region they come from. Two of my tried favorite recipes are; Persian Ajil Granola, and Date Almond and Tahini energy balls.
The Arabian Nights Cookbook by Habeeb Salloum
This features Arab Gulf Cooking and features my childhood home. It explains the cuisine in a contextual manner and how each region impacts what is made in the kitchen. The list of tried recipes is a long one; all the drinks are a must-try, Spicy Meatballs in a Creamy Yogurt Sauce, and Spicy falafel patties (I cannot believe falafels are making a feature this late).
Arabesque by Claudia Roden
This is the cookbook for people who take the books to bed and like to dream about food (Hopefully I am not alone in doing this). The author captures the intersection of three regions and cuisines; Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon. The Chicken and Onion pie is a signature Moroccan dish and a must try.
In my very subjective opinion, Feast: Food of the Islamic World by Anissa Helou is an excellent place to start your journey. You can find most of the ingredients in International aisles of supermarkets, or look up a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern store near you. Your journey to another region is closer than you think!