I’m often asked where to get started when delving into Middle Eastern cooking, so I’ve put together a list of essential items in a new series called The Middle Eastern Kitchen. Most of these items can be picked up on sale, or second hand, so you can focus funds on the most important part: the food!
1. Tagine or a good stew pot in general. Rich, braised stews are a prized part of Middle Eastern cuisine. Look for heavy-bottomed pots with tight-fitting lids. Cast iron is great, and can often be found on sale online. If you’re buying a tagine, just make sure it’s fit for cooking and serving, as some of them are purely decorative.
2. Multipurpose baking/roasting pans, for everything from roast lamb to baklava. Try a rectangular baking tin for sweet dishes like syrupy semolina pie, and oval dishes for casseroles and roasts, for a bit of variety. Ceramic and metal are both great.
3. Food processor. Some may say this is a luxury item, but for me it’s a necessity. Hummus would never happen without it! Most food processors also come with blade attachments, which makes slicing large quantities of vegetables a breeze. I also use the processor to mix bread dough and quickly pulse herbs for marinades and rubs.
4. Cookbooks. I should probably be telling you to only ever come to this blog for Middle Eastern inspiration! But it would be unjust not to mention the chefs and writers that I find most inspiring: Anissa Helou, Claudia Roden, the Ottolenghi & Tamimi duo, and Greg & Lucy Malouf. There are many more, but these writers are the gold standard.
5. Ibrik (Turkish coffee pot). Strong, cardamom-laced coffee was a staple in our home growing up. My uncle Suhayl brewed a pot at each family get-together, taking our individual sugar orders (1 for me, 2 for others, 3 sneaky spoons for those who shall not be named). Turkish coffee can only be properly brewed in the ibrik – learn how to do that here. I have a large one that makes six (small) cups of coffee, and multipurpose it to boil eggs, too. You can pick these up for $5 at Middle Eastern stores.
6. Metal skewers, for shish kebab! And, of course, myriad other kebabs of the Persian variety. Try experimenting with cubes of fish and vegetables, as well. No need for an outdoor barbecue – grill pans and ovens work beautifully.
7. Fresh herbs and spices. Eating Middle Eastern food is a sensual experience that draws on layers of flavors from herbs and aromatics. Fresh mint is a great place to start. Brew it into tea with hot water and honey or a cinnamon stick. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, tuck it into a grilled halloumi and pita sandwich. Buy it pre-cut from the supermarket, or pick up a mint seedling from your hardware store and place it in your windowsill or garden. Mint is a prolific grower and with a little TLC, it’ll keep giving back.
I hope that helps get you started. What do you think – have some of these items already? Any more you’d like to add?