14 Eastern Culinary Secrets That Can Add Some Spice to Your Cooking
Middle Eastern cuisine is famous for its vivid colors and flavors. It is also renowned for its unusual cooking tricks that don’t require any exotic ingredients or spices and can be quickly adopted, even by beginners. So let’s look together at how to make our dishes more colorful with the help of some Middle Eastern cuisine secrets.
1. They salt lemons.
We often use lemons only as an additive to our cup of tea. But Middle Eastern culinary traditions suggest using this fruit in many other ways. For example, fresh lemon juice is added to meat, soups, and appetizers. They also use pickled lemons, especially in Moroccan and Persian cuisines. To preserve the lemon, it is packed in salt and lemon juice and stored for at least a month.
2. They peel eggplants in a special way.
Usually, young eggplants are not peeled before cooking, but larger or older eggplants should be peeled because their skin becomes bitter. But if you leave no skin on the vegetable, it will turn to mush. This is why some Middle Eastern recipes recommend peeling an eggplant in “zebra stripes.” After that, it can be cut into circles, cubes, or stuffed.
3. They add salad to soups.
We tend to add croutons or herbs to soups, but Middle Eastern cooks recommend not limiting yourself only to these ingredients. You can also add olives, lettuce, or fried noodles. However, remember that this trick is good for pureed soups only.
4. They heat coffee twice and add spices.
Coffee, which would please even the most fastidious sultan, is brewed uniquely in the Middle East. First, finely ground coffee and spices are mixed with water and heated, then cooled and reheated. It’s necessary to make sure the heating temperature is low enough. This is why Turkish coffee is brewed on sand or coals.
As a result, you’ll get a robust, aromatic, and decadent drink. Traditionally, Turkish coffee is served with sweets — Turkish delight or baklava.
5. They use yogurt to make soups.
In Middle Eastern cuisine, they use yogurt not only in cold dishes, but also in hot ones. For example, in Turkey, yogurt is a common ingredient used in soups, like Yayla çorbası, which is made from yogurt, eggs, and mint rice. Variations of this soup can be found throughout the Middle East. The main thing when preparing this dish is not to boil it. Otherwise, the yogurt will curdle.
To make yogurt more resistant to curdling, they strain it and remove most of the whey. In addition, strained yogurt has less sugar and more protein than regular yogurt. It also becomes thicker without artificial thickeners. To make this yogurt at home, you can strain the regular yogurt you bought at a supermarket through a cheesecloth.
6. They soak rice before cooking it.
According to Middle Eastern cookbooks, rice should be rinsed and soaked in water before cooking to make it more fluffy. This trick is unnecessary for most long-grain rice varieties, but works well for rice types like Basmati. Soaking rice for 2 hours in cold water makes the grains less sticky and improves the flavor.
7. They know how to make perfect fried eggs.
A traditional Turkish breakfast usually consists of many cold starters and a portion of fried eggs. Fried eggs are served in a special copper frying pan. And this is done for a reason, as copper has high thermal conductivity. While thick-walled pans are best for searing meat, thin-walled pans are ideal for cooking eggs.
8. They use oregano, thyme, and marjoram as seasoning.
Aromatic herbs, which many people associate with soothing tea, are used in main courses, including meat, by Middle Eastern chefs. Oregano, thyme, and marjoram are related to the herb, za’atar, the main ingredient of the famous seasoning of the same name, which existed even before written history.
It’s made from dried herbs mixed with sesame seeds, sumac (which can be replaced with lemon), salt, and other spices. For Middle Easterners, za’atar is almost as important as salt or pepper. Za’atar is usually eaten with flatbread.
9. They add cinnamon to more than just sweets.
Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the world. Thanks to its sweet aroma, it goes well with many desserts. Of course, this spice is an essential part of Middle Eastern cuisine as well. But local chefs add it to meat dishes, cereals, and snacks. The Syrian spaghetti recipe includes cinnamon and tomato sauce.
- “When we moved to a small Turkish village, we became friends with a neighbor who treated us to her daily cooking. How surprised we were to discover that authentic Turkish cuisine differs entirely from what tourists think. We were most impressed by the fact that they added cinnamon to almost all foods. Salad, rice, soup — everything had the flavor of a candy store.”
10. They cook meat in a clay pot.
Pottery kebab is a traditional meat dish of the Turkish region of Cappadocia, which has always been famous for its ceramics. Pottery kebab is cooked from lamb, beef, or chicken with vegetables in a tandoor or clay oven.
The pot is sealed, and the meat is left to simmer in its juice for several hours. During cooking, a small hole is made in the lid, creating a pressure cooker effect. When the dish is ready, the hot pot is taken to the table and broken with a special hammer.
11. They make coffee from pistachios.
The drink brewed from the roasted fruits of the turpentine tree is called pistachio coffee, or menengiç coffee in Turkish. The turpentine tree is related to the pistachio and grows in some parts of Turkey. Menengiç coffee is served in small cups, just like Turkish coffee. The drink doesn’t contain caffeine, so it can be consumed before bedtime.
12. They soak beans in baking soda and don’t add salt to it before it’s cooked.
Legumes are a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, and fava bean stew is a typical breakfast in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and other countries of the Middle East. It’s no wonder that people there know various tricks to cook beans. For example, they recommend soaking them in water mixed with baking soda but rinsing the beans afterward. If you add baking soda during cooking, the beans will also cook faster, but you may end up with foam and a soapy taste.
The other trick suggests that you salt beans only when they are ready, not earlier.
13. They eat “raw meatballs.”
Çiğ köfte, or “raw meatballs,” is a popular dish in Turkey, with variants also existing in Lebanon and Armenia. It’s cooked from raw minced beef or lamb with a mixture of spices. Even though cafes serving chig kofte can be found almost everywhere in Turkey, you won’t find natural meatballs there. Due to health regulations, this dish is prohibited by law.
However, chefs have come up with a solution: they make vegan “meatballs” from spicy bulgur and nuts served with pomegranate sauce and herbs.
14. They make a drink from pickled turnips.
Not all tourists like this spicy, salty drink made from turnips, black carrots, and wheat through lactic acid fermentation. Some people even consider this drink quite disgusting. But the locals love it and say it tastes like spicy pickle juice. Şalgam — this is the name of the drink — is often served along with çiğ köfte in local cafes.
Do you know any other interesting cooking traditions?