Admittedly, I am not a great cook. My husband, on the other hand, is a fantastic cook and has done most of our family’s cooking over the years. He enjoys it tremendously, and unlike me, can whip up a gourmet meal in minutes, without once looking at a recipe. He has a natural gift for cooking. However, the subject of cooking is one that I get the feeling I would rather avoid here in the Kingdom because cooking is definitely considered a woman’s job here. I can tell by the sideways glances and stunned looks I get when I say that my husband does most of the cooking in our house that maybe I should keep this little bit of information to myself around here. I have always said that I would enjoy cooking so much more if there was no heat involved! My body runs hot to start with (I have extra natural insulation!), and in a hot kitchen, I am just not comfortable. I do roast our Thanksgiving turkey, make good mashed potatoes and a mean lasagna, and am also pretty good at cookies and desserts. But most things where I have to stand over a hot stove, forget it! I will play the role of dishwasher and assistant chef to my husband in the kitchen the rest of the time.
We can make or get most American foods here. For breakfast we can have typical American fare of eggs (but no bacon or sausage - pork is forbidden here, for ancient religious reasons), coffee, fruit juices, French toast (Adam's favorite), pancakes, or cereal with fruit. But traditionally, breakfast for the Arabs here is much different. My favorite choice is the "Foul" (pronounced fool) which is a deliciously flavored fava bean dish. It's a vegetarian dish that is so flavorful, it tastes like it has meat in it. It can be made with onion, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salsa type ingredients. Many mornings after Adnan and I drop Adam off at school, we will often stop by one of the many little shops where you can buy foul, along with fresh local hot-from-the-oven tasty breads called "Tameez." For about $1 US, we get enough foul and tameez to easily feed four people breakfast. I wait in the car while Adnan walks up to get it. Usually there are at least a dozen other men customers, dressed in their traditional garb, to get their breakfasts too. The tameez is large and flat, like pizza, and varies in its appearance and flavors (seeds, spices) depending on where the guy who makes it is from, like maybe Yemen or Afganistan. You tear little pieces off and dip it in the foul. It is delicious and very filling!
Another of Adnan's favorite breakfasts consists of feta cheese with olive oil and olives, eaten with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers and pita bread. I always eat something else when he has this for breakfast since I am not a big fan of olives. Lunch can be a turkey sandwich or a chicken salad, or leftovers. A favorite Middle Eastern lunch or dinner is “Shawarma,” a rolled up pita sandwich with shaved meat (usually lamb or chicken), lettuce, tomatoe, cucumber, maybe pickle, and tahini sauce. Here in Arabia, they throw a few french fries in the sandwich before rolling it up. If you have ever had a gyro sandwich, you could look at shawarma as its Middle Eastern version.
Another favorite Middle Eastern lunch or dinner item is another sandwich, called “Falafel.” Think of falafel as the vegetarian version of shawarma. Instead of shaved meat, the main ingredient is a fried ball or patty made up of ground fava beans, chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley, and spices. The mixture is formed into balls about the size of a hockey puck and deep fried until it forms a golden brown crust. The inside remains green (from the parsley). Adnan likes to halve a pita bread, insert 2-3 smooshed falafels, and adds tomatoe, cucumber, lettuce, and the tahini sauce. The idea is similar to the veggie burger or the Boca burger, but falafel has been around for centuries.
Rice is a staple of the Middle Eastern diet. It is often flavored with a variety of spices or meat drippings, and usually served with chicken, lamb, or fish. Adnan’s mom experiments quite a bit with many local vegetables and other plants that I have never heard of before, as well as parts of animals that I have never eaten before. Most of it I will at least try and many times I am pleasantly surprised that I actually like it. She also likes to fry a lot of food, while over the years, Adnan has gotten away from frying.
One of my very favorite foods here is a fried eggplant dish. The eggplant is cut into slices about ¾" thick and cooked in a frying pan in some oil. The eggplant is served under a spicy ground beef mixture which is then topped with a minty yogurt sauce. The combination of these textures and flavors, to me, is unbelievably delicious.
Here is a list of some more well known Middle Eastern dishes:
Shish Kabab - very popular here, marinated beef, chicken, or lamb being the preferred meats of choice, on the skewer with onion, peppers, tomato, etc. Served in a pita or with rice.
Hummus – a luscious dip made of crushed chick peas (garbanzo beans), lemon juice, garlic, and tahini (crushed sesame seed paste). Served with pita bread, it's tasty, healthy and easy - it can be made in a blender. Another similar dish is called Baba Ghanoush, which is made the same way as hummus, except with eggplant instead of the chick peas.
Stuffed Grape Leaves – Rolled into little cigar shaped cylinders, these can be stuffed with just rice, or a rice and spiced ground beef mixture. Some people don’t like the grape leaves themselves, which often require an acquired taste.
Tabouleh – A deliciously textured and colorful finely chopped salad having as its main ingredients parsley, onion, tomato, lemon, mint, and its most distinctive ingredient: bulgur. It’s great on its own, or stuffed into pita along with falafel or hummus.
Kapsa – A flavored rice and chicken (or lamb) casserole type dish.
Sambusek – Triangular shaped spiced ground beef pie wrapped in eggroll type dough. These are a specialty of my husband's - they are incredible!
The food here is fantastic. It’s very tasty. The fact that my husband does most of the cooking and is such a great cook makes it even better!