Essential Middle Eastern Ingredients You Need In Your Pantry

There’s nothing like the aromatic taste of home-cooked Middle Eastern dishes, am I right? And the best part is that you can easily prepare all those delicious recipes in your own home with the right Middle Eastern ingredients.

Our cuisine is rustic and forgiving in so many ways, making it perfect for all the novice cooks out there. So if you’re new at cooking, don’t hesitate to try some of my simple authentic recipes. Only remember that the main focus is the flavour, not having the perfectly served dish. 

There are a few key Middle Eastern ingredients that I always have around in my kitchen, which will help you get that delicious flavour each time. You can find these ingredients in supermarkets or Middle Eastern markets.

From the well-known chickpeas to the more exotic orange blossom water, I want to share with you my top 12 staple ingredients and how you can use them for cooking authentic Middle Eastern food that the whole family will love:

1. Chickpeas

The humble main ingredient of the legendary hummus, chickpeas are very popular in Middle Eastern cuisine. They are nutritious, great for your digestive health and very versatile when cooking. 

Chickpeas are the basis for several delicious vegan dishes such as chickpea and eggplant rice and eggplant and chickpea stew, and also for the traditional chickpea fatteh

What is more, if you thought there’s only one way to eat hummus, check out my latest article on homemade hummus and let me prove you wrong.

2. Cracked Wheat

wholegrain cracked wheat in tomato broth served in individual glasses

Cracked wheat or bulgur in Arabic is an excellent source of protein and fibre. It’s also the main ingredient for wholesome and healthy meals such as the delightful caramelised onion and walnut potato bake (see picture above), my modern take on the original Spicy Potato Mash (kibbet batata) recipe. 

Other hearty dishes where you can use cracked wheat are broad-bean and bulgur pilaf, caramelised lentil pilaf, and the king of Middle Eastern salads, tabouli. I also recommend you try my vegan finger food recipe for these savoury mushroom and spinach stuffed potato croquettes.

3. Tahini

eggplant with tangy tahini sauce

Made from ground hulled sesame seeds mixed with oil, tahini will add a lovely boost of flavour to your food. You can find tahini in hummus and several other dishes, usually in the form of tahini sauce

The baked eggplant with tangy tahini sauce recipe is just one out of the appetising ways you can use tahini in your cooking

4. Sesame Seeds

sweet makaroun served on a tray

Apart from their use in making tahini paste, sesame seeds are also common in Middle Eastern desserts like the sweet makarouns. You can also use sesame seeds to make these easy gluten-free seeded crackers or these scrumptious sesame cheese muffins, both great lunch snacks.

5. Pistachios

apricot and pistachio baklawa parcels

Pistachios are native to the Middle East and have numerous health benefits, including improving heart health, lowering blood sugar levels, and supporting weight loss. 

They are typically found, either as a crunchy filling or as a colourful topping, in traditional desserts such as baklawa, mamoul cookies, shay’biyat creamy pastries, Arabian milk pudding (Mhalabiyeh), and caraway spice pudding (Moghli)

Moreover, you can try pistachios in modern sweet recipes such as pistachio delight sandwiches, pistachio rose brownies or pistachio and coconut chocolate log. The simplest way to eat pistachios, however, is to add them to your cheeseboard.

6. Dates

dates stuffed with nuts and served in a glass box

A great source of natural sugars and other essential nutrients, dates are a popular Middle Eastern healthy sweet.

Most Muslims will associate dates with Ramadan because, during this period, it’s customary to break their fast with a date. When Eid comes, you can find date-stuffed mamoul cookies in many households around the Middle East.

I like to stuff my dates with nuts or coconut flakes for a quick crunchy snack to have whenever I’m craving something sweet. For a creamier dessert alternative, my date delight sandwiches with ricotta cheese filling won’t disappoint.

If you’re looking for a sugar-free treat, you must try my recipe for date cookies (Makroota), an authentic Palestinian delight.

7. Flatbread

Flatbread is a great staple ingredient I always have in my kitchen, which helps me whip up a quick wrap for my hungry boys until dinner is ready. We also use it to scoop up food or enjoy a creamy dip.

You can try flatbread with hummus and veggies or with falafel, or you can make some grilled lamb pitas, one of the tastiest Middle Eastern street foods.

8. Za’atar

mini zaatar manoushi served with fresh vegetables

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern aromatic spice blend containing thyme, sumac, oregano, salt and sesame seeds. It’s usually used on top of flatbreads or for seasoning meat dishes. 

One of my favourite recipes is mini za’atar man-oushicrispy homemade fried dough sprinkled with this tangy spice mix. I also love sprinkling za’atar on top of my homemade labneh (strained yogurt) or mixing it with olive oil and making some za’atar croissants for breakfast.

If you’re looking for an easy savoury lunch snack that your kids will love, don’t forget to check out my one-bowl recipe for za’atar cheese muffins.

9. Sumac

Fattoush Herb salad served in a bowl

Sumac is a spice made by crushing the red dried fruits of the sumac bush, which grows in the Middle Eastern region. It’s very rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and it adds a lemony tartness to a dish, making it a perfect substitute for lemon juice or zest. 

I often use sumac in salad dressings when making sumac herb salad or the well-loved crunchy fattoush salad for a light weeknight dinner. It can also be used in marinades or rubs for meat and fish dishes, such as my msakhan sumac chicken with caramelised onion. 

10. Arabian Spice

maqloubi ready to eat

Arabian spice, known in the Middle East as Baharat, is my go-to 7-spice blend whenever I have to season meat dishes. This mix contains black pepper, paprika, cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 

Here are my family’s favourites when it comes to delicious and super filling meals containing Arabian spice: maqloubi – upside down chicken and rice pilaf (see picture above), Arabian spicy nut rice, string bean stew, and white bean stew

11. Rose Water

Rosewater is fragrant flower water mostly used in dessert recipes such as Arabian milk pudding (Mhalabiyeh), walnut mamoul, and the date and rose jallab drink.

The floral aroma of the rose water will add an exotic taste to the most common sweet dishes, as in the case of my pistachio brownies mentioned in a previous section.

12. Orange Blossom Water

Orange blossom water is a citrus-flavoured cooking ingredient made by water distillation of the orange tree’s blossoms. It’s commonly used in Middle Eastern cakes and pastries but can also be added in lemonades or even in your coffee. And there’s a good reason for that— apart from its great aroma—as orange blossom water soothes the stomach and promotes better digestion.

You can use orange blossom water in recipes such: sahlab dessert drink, knafeh – buttery shredded pastry with orange blossom creamy filling (see photo above), honey ricotta and pear cake, and salted orange blossom semolina cakes.

Are there any other ingredients you think should be on this list? Let me know in the comments below.


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2 Responses

    1. Hi Nirishma,
      that’s a good question. Here in Australia, our supermarkets have started to stock so many Middle Eastern products. Some of these products could also be available in gourmet stores or Indian grocery shops. Otherwise, buy them online. I hope that helps

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