An Irish Twist on Middle Eastern Appetisers

Living in the Middle East was quite the experience; the people, the sun, the scenery and the culture were all incredible. Not quite everything left as great of an impression on me as the food, however. If I were to host an Arabic style dinner for you, I would probably serve an assortment of different appetizers that I experienced in Abu Dhabi, instead of sticking with a specific dish or two, because I would like you to try a bit of everything!

Unfortunately it’s not possible within one article to share all of the delicious dishes I experienced abroad, but I have whittled them down to three delicious appetizers that always bring me back to the first time I tried them with my friends; being in awe of the experience, hanging out under the sultry summer sun. Not only are these three dishes very fresh, filling and tasty, they are healthy and very easy to make.

Fūl Medames – Fava Bean Dip (Vegan)

After I gained the courage to break away from the safety of the familiar, the first Arabic style dish I went for was this one – fūl medames or fava bean dip. This dip is a staple food in Egypt and very popular in other Arab, Middle Eastern and African countries. The style of cooking this dish varies from culture to culture and cook to cook. The foundation of the dip, which the alterations work around, however, is the boiled and mashed fava bean (also called the broad bean). Traditionally, the recipe includes or is served with the likes of olive oil, onions, tomatoes, lemon juice, chilli and cumin. Thanks to the Wizard of Yum – one of my favourite Arabic bloggers who first taught me how to recreate this dish. I’ve been a massive fan ever since.

Ingredients:

  • Fava beans, 1 can, drained
  • Garlic clove, 1, chopped finely
  • Lemon juice, ½ lemon
  • Olive oil, 2 tbsp
  • Salt, pinch
  • Plum tomatoes, 4, chopped into quarters
  • Fresh parsley, 2 tbsp, chopped
  • Spring onion, 1, to garnish (optional)
  • Water, 1 cup, for boiling
  • Laffa/Arabic pita bread to serve

Method:

  1. Heat the water on a frying pan and add the fava beans, leaving it to boil for 5 minutes.
  2. Drain half of the water from the pan.
  3. Using a fork, mash the boiled fava beans. For a smoother dip, remove the fava bean skins before mashing them.
  4. Add the chopped garlic, followed by the salt and lemon juice to the mashed beans and mix well. Slowly add some more water if the mixture is becoming too dry.
  5. Pour the dip into a serving dish and even it out using the back of a spoon. Add the chopped tomatoes around the sides of the dish, creating a well in the centre, then sprinkle on the parsley, spring onions and olive oil.
  6. This dish goes best with some heated Arabic pita bread, or laffa as it is often called!

Baba Ghanoush (Vegan)

​​Traditionally, this Levantine dip or appetizer is made from mashed aubergine with added tahini or sesame seed paste, the aubergine is cooked over a flame until the pulp inside is softened, and variation in the recipe can be found among Arabian countries. My version doesn’t involve any open flames, nor does it include sesame seed paste. It is a very easily made, healthy, feel good recipe that is full of a lot of the good stuff. People normally eat this dip with pita bread; I try to go with whole grain pita bread or else some carrot sticks to dip into it. This has a nice salmon-like texture which I enjoyed and it also leaves you full afterwards.

Ingredients:

  • Aubergine, 2
  • Garlic clove, 1
  • Lime juice, ½ lime
  • Chilli flakes, ½ tsp
  • Sumac powder, ½ tsp
  • Olive oil, 1 tbsp
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Prick the aubergines about six times with a fork and place them on a baking tray and into the oven for 30 minutes.
  3. With five minutes to go, chop the garlic and fry it off on a pan.
  4. After the 30 minutes are up, cut the aubergine in half and scoop out the softened pulp with a spoon from the in one direction.
  5. Add all of the pulp to a mixing bowl and mash it well with a fork or a pestle. Add in the garlic cloves, lime juice, chilli flakes, sumac powder, olive oil, salt & pepper and mix very well before serving.
  6. Garnish with some fresh parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

Spiced Chicken or Tofu Hummus

Without a doubt, one of the most well known Arabic dishes has got to be this one. I love playing around with hummus recipes, and since living in the UAE where I tasted a lot of Lebanese cuisine in particular, I have gravitated toward meaty versions. I’m not much of a beef eater, which is integrated a lot into Lebanese cuisine, so I normally use chicken instead. This can also be substituted for baked tofu, while keeping all other ingredients and methods the same. Here  you go, and thank me later!

Ingredients:

For the hummus:

  • Chickpeas, 1 400 g tin
  • Tahini/sesame seed paste, 3 tbsps
  • Olive oil, 1 tbsp
  • Lime juice, 1 lime
  • Garlic cloves, 2
  • Water, 3 tbsps
  • Salt & pepper to taste

For frying:

  • Chicken breast, x1 large (or equivalent amount in tofu)
  • Onion, 1
  • Garlic, 2 cloves
  • Cumin powder, 1 tbsp
  • Paprika powder, 1 tbsp
  • Veg stock, ½ of a cup
  • Fresh parsley, 2 tbsp
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

  1. Drain the chickpea water, place the chickpeas in a sieve and run tap water over them until clean. Shake the excess water off the sieve and place the chickpeas into a blender.
  2. Add the tahini, olive oil, lime juice, chopped garlic cloves, water, salt and pepper into the blender as well and blitz. Add more water if needed for easier blending, but I didn’t need to. Place the hummus aside for now.
  3. Chop the onion and garlic. Oil a frying pan and place on the hob over medium heat.
  4. Add the onions and allow to sautée alone for a couple of minutes.
  5. Add the garlic and fry for another couple of minutes with the onion.
  6. Add the cumin, paprika, fresh parsley (after chopping finely), and stir well.
  7. Add the veg stock and cover the pan with a lid.
  8. Chop the chicken breast up into small cubes and toss into the pan. Cover with a lid for 10 mins. Check that the chicken is fully cooked by piercing a couple of pieces with a knife and checking for a complete white color.
  9. Place some of the meat mixture into a bowl and top with some hummus.
  10. Serve with some freshly chopped tomatoes, fresh parsley or a squeeze of lemon or lime juice and olive oil.

WRITTEN BY RYAN MANGAN

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