Pretty much everyone living in the Middle East eventually ends up developing a taste for Arabic cuisine. It might take you a week, maybe a month, but Arabic cuisine is simple, delicious and easy on the palate. It’s hard not to fall for it. The proof lies in our random 3 a.m. cravings for shawarma, and if you’re living in Dubai, you have most probably made that middle of the night trip to Al Reef Bakery for piping hot manakeesh (if you haven’t then please stop reading and get in the car asap).
Now, if you’re Arab, you are probably more familiar with the differences between the Arab countries and their cuisines (including some disputed claims about the origins of certain dishes), but for the rest of us, having dined in restaurants vaguely defined as Arab fusion or Levantine, most of these dishes fall under the blanket of Arab cuisine (forgive us, purists).
The beauty of Arab cuisine lies in its simplicity. Yes, some of the ingredients sound foreign and intimidating. But the advantage of living in the Middle East is that all of it is so readily available, it would be a crime not to make use of this opportunity and try some Arab classics at home.
lazy pressed for time cooks at Nomsville have tried, tasted and come up with a guide to help you shop for ingredients that will help you make not only delicious, but also quick and easy Arabic food at home.
This should probably be designated as the official food of Middle Eastern expats. A meal in its own right, comfort food if you get the hassan mathar version (shawarma with the ultimate comfort ingredient, cheese) or even as a midnight snack if you manage to find a cafeteria where it isn’t sold out by 12 a.m., the shawarma has got to be one of the most versatile foods in the cuisine. It is also seemingly impossible to make at home because of its unique cooking method. Which is why we love this substitute Shawarma Mix from Maggi. It can be baked in the oven, pan-fried on the stove, or grilled on a grill. When you start cooking it, you will smell that familiar waft of shawarma chicken, and the taste is as close to the real thing as you can get without actually cooking it on a spit.
Here’s an easy recipe for a quick homemade shawarma fix.
Where to buy: most major supermarkets across the UAE.
Isn’t it great how Arabic cuisine is so vegetarian friendly, despite being better known for its meats? The falafel is the vegetarian answer to the shawarma, and proves that you don’t need meat to have an awesome meal. While falafel can be made from scratch at home, when in laziness we like this boxed mix from Chtaura Conserves. It’s quick, easy and serves up good falafels, you can’t really go wrong with this one.
Where to buy: Mostly available in Carrefour stores (let us know if you’ve seen it elsewhere!).
3. Tahini/tahina Paste
You know what they say. Behind every successful shawarma, there is a tahini sauce. Whichever way you spell it, this magic ingredient forms the basis for the famous tahini dressing which makes shawarmas & falafels what they are. Get it right and half your shawarma cooking worries are over. We like this one from the Halwani Bros, a company known for sesame based products.
Where to buy: widely available across all major supermarkets.
4. Garlic Sauce
Is there anything you cannot dip in garlic sauce? You can make this at home, but if you want to save some precious minutes in the kitchen, we suggest you pick some up from the supermarket along with your groceries. Highly recommended is the Garlic Cream from the Spinneys fresh foods section (it is replenished religiously in our kitchen). Union Co-op also does a great version. We also recommend you stay away from the one at Lulu, it looks good but is greatly lacking in flavor.
Where to buy: Spinneys, Union Co-op.. or share with us your favorites!
5. Hummus & Labneh
Even though making humus at home is seemingly easy, a lot of people face issues with getting the right texture. An easy alternative? Just buy some freshly made humus at the store. Most large hypermarkets do really good humus, and because of the high turnover, it’s usually made fresh everyday. Same goes for labneh. There’s a wide variety of plain & flavored hummus & labneh available, and we like the high quality & taste of those at Carrefour, Spinneys, Union Coop & Aswaaq.
Where to buy: Carrefour, Spinneys, Union Coop or Aswaaq. Or experiment with others.. you never know!
6. Syrian Chili Paste
Finally an ingredient with a strong national identity. Syrian food is typically spicier than the rest of its Arab counterparts, and a key ingredient in making it so is their famous chili paste. If you ask for it at Arab restaurants, there is a 50% chance they will have it. And if you like a bit of spice in your Arabic food, this goes nicely with just about everything. We love adding it to our tahini dip for a spicier dressing. Our favorite store bought one is from Carrefour, but Union Coop also do a good version. Found in the fresh food section along with the cheeses & olives.
Where to buy: Carrefour & Union Co-op (and maybe order some to go if you dine at Aroos Damascus!)
So there you go with the basics.. happy lazy cooking! If there’s anything you think we missed out on, or would like us to recommend, let us know in the comments below 🙂