Middle Eastern dishes may sound incredibly exotic but many of the flavor combos you might be more familiar with than you may think. This easy guide includes a brief overview of Middle Eastern food and great resources to interest children and get them excited about trying new flavors and ingredients.
If you haven’t gone over the above guide it’s a good place to start so that you can successfully introduce your children to new and adventurous foods. Here’s some things to get you started on your next food adventure to the Middle East!
Tips to Make Middle Eastern Dishes Kid Friendly:
Mix new ingredients in with old favorites– if your family has never had ingredients like lamb or eggplant before, they might be hesitant to try them. Start with ground lamb and mix it in with ground beef the first few times, the lamb will be less apparent and they can slowly become accustomed to it. I do the same with eggplant since my family isn’t a huge fan. I cut the eggplant smaller and use less the first few times I make a dish.
Top Ten Flavors of Middle Eastern Cuisine:
- Rice - rice features very heavily and is the staple grain in Middle Eastern cooking. They usually use long grain white rice like Basmati or Jasmine rice.
- Saffron - This unique spice is used in both sweet and savory dishes. A little goes a long way and the best saffron is in threads and not ground since most ground saffron is diluted with other similar colored spices.
- Turmeric - Turmeric lends a very unique coloring to dishes but like saffron, a little goes a long way. It’s used frequently but in very small amounts.
- Cinnamon - Another spice used in both sweet and savory dishes and something you are sure to have in your cupboard already. Although cinnamon sticks are best for drinks, ground cinnamon works just fine for everything else.
- Sumac - The tart and tangy taste of this spice is often loosely compared to lemons. It’s less common to find in stores but is readily available online.
- Garlic - Keep fresh and powdered garlic on hand because it’s used in both forms.
- Mint - Fresh or dried are added to salads, stews, and yogurt. Yogurt topped with cucumber and mint is often served at dinnertime.
- Yogurt - yogurt is used in side dishes, dips, and even marinades. Plain Greek yogurt is the best to use in Middle Eastern cuisine.
- Nuts - Nuts used plain or seasoned with salt and other seasonings are used. Of course they are tasty on their own as well.
- Dried fruit - Some of the most common dried fruits are apricots, currants, dates, figs, and raisins.
Tools and Gadgets for Cooking Middle Eastern Food At Home:
Although these aren’t 100% necessary, these special gadgets or tools will aid you in making Middle Eastern food at home.
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- Mortar and pestle/ spice or coffee grinder – it’s suggested to have two separate spice grinders- one for saffron and one for everything else. Freshly ground spices have a much more intense flavor and aroma so it really is worth the extra effort. Grinding spices is a fun job for children to do! A spice or coffee grinder takes the elbow grease out of the equation, but make sure you have one grinder dedicated to spices only (the flavors of coffee beans can cross contaminate your spices).
- Rice Cooker or nonstick rice pot – If you make a lot of rice (and many countries throughout the world eat mainly rice) a rice cooker is a great investment. It is a set it and forget it appliance that makes it easy to have lots of rice ready to go without having to watch over it. The one I have also has a delay timer so you can use a slow cooker or instant pot and come home to a house full of ready to go food.
- Food Processor - Whether you use it for chopping all those veggies or mixing up some awesome dipping sauces, a food processor just makes life easier.
- Skewers - Middle Eastern cooking involves a lot of meat on skewers. The cheap wooden ones are fine, but they require soaking (which requires fore-thought beyond me) and often splinter. Stainless steal ones are a much better buy - they are easier to use, easier to clean, and you don't have to dispose of them after each meal.
Additional Kid Friendly Resources About Middle Eastern Culture:
A big part of getting kids excited about new cuisines is introducing them to other aspects of the culture. Using music, books, and movies help spark children’s interest and open them up to trying new foods.
- Wild Arabia (Netflix)
- Little Pim- Arabic for Kids (Amazon)
- Malala’s Magic Pencil - As a child in Pakistan, Malala made a wish for a magic pencil. She would use it to make everyone happy, to erase the smell of garbage from her city, to sleep an extra hour in the morning. But as she grew older, Malala saw that there were more important things to wish for. She saw a world that needed fixing. And even if she never found a magic pencil, Malala realized that she could still work hard every day to make her wishes come true. This beautifully illustrated volume tells Malala's story for a younger audience and shows them the worldview that allowed Malala to hold on to hope even in the most difficult of times.
- Sitti and the Cats - A beautiful Palestinian folktale teaches the golden rule.
- Listen to the Wind: The Story of Dr Greg and the Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson stumbled, lost and delirious, into a remote Himalayan village after a failed climb up K2. The villagers saved his life, and he vowed to return and build them a school. The remarkable story of his promise kept is now perfect for reading aloud. Told in the voice of Korphe’s children, this story illuminates the humanity and culture of a relevant and distant part of the world in gorgeous collage, while sharing a riveting example of how one person can change thousands of lives.
- Librarian of Basra - Alia Muhammad Baker is a librarian in Basra, Iraq. For fourteen years, her library has been a meeting place for those who love books. Until now. Now war has come, and Alia fears that the library--along with the thirty thousand books within it--will be destroyed forever.
- How Many Donkeys? An Arabic Counting Tale - Jouha is loading his donkeys with dates to sell at the market. How many donkeys are there? His son helps him count ten, but once the journey starts, things change. First there are ten donkeys, then there are nine! When Jouha stops to count again, the lost donkey is back. What's going on? Silly Jouha doesn't get it, but by the end of the story, wise readers will be counting correctly-and in Arabic!
- Four Feet, Two Sandals - Inspired by a refugee girl who asked the authors why there were no books about children like her. With warm colors and sensitive brush strokes, this book portrays the strength, courage, and hope of refugees around the world, whose daily existence is marked by uncertainty and fear.
LEARN THE LANGUAGE
Incorporating a new language into meal time is also a good way to engage children with the culture. Here are some resources:
- Use Hebrew at Home
- Use Arabic at Home (coming soon)
We use the German and Spanish series at home and I love it. This is not about grammar or sentence structure. It’s learning applicable phrases that your family can actually use. There are also awesome activity boxes that you can get that are more focused learning activities like learning all about food and mealtime!
Kid Friendly Middle Eastern Recipes: