Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East – Review and Giveaway

Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian, published by The Experiment and distributed by Thomas Allen and Sons.  The Middle East, the Cradle of the Western civilization, the birth place of western culture and rich spices for over 10,000 years.  Explore the delights from Mesopotamia and Asia Minor that the Arabs, Armenians, Iranians, Kurds, Jews and Turks have been enjoying for centuries in your own kitchen today.  The late Arto der Haroutunian first published Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East in 1983 when vegetarian cooking, let alone Middle Eastern vegetarian cooking was relatively rare in North America.  Ahead of his time, der Haroutunian’s book with some 250 recipes laid dormant and out of print for 20 years. This new reissue is the first time the book has been available in North America. Congratulations to Laura who won this copy for her very own kitchen repertoire!

About the Book

The book boasts simple easy to make recipes.  Nomadic tribesmen were never interested in haute cuisine.  They cooked out of necessity.  Their fare was basic, simple, honest food, yet with complex flavours from the spices and herbs readily available in their surrounding regions.

“So rich is the cuisine of the Middle East, so varied the use of ingredients and versatile their application and, above all, so tried and tested the dishes – for thousands of years – that anyone who approaches these recipes will find satisfaction and contentment.  In addition, they will be in touch with the past when perhaps life was simpler, more leisurely and undeniably, if judged by the quality of the food offered, more healthy, wholesome and natural – and what was good for Methuselah should be good enough for you and me!”

My Thoughts

It took me a bit to get into this recipe book.  I explored each and every recipe, trying to understand the foods and flavours of the Middle East.  I was under the impression that Middle Eastern fare was falafels and fatoosh or tabouleh.  What to my surprise, the various mixtures and combinations so foreign to me, that sound so nutritious and healthy.  Der Haroutunian took me back to the romantic feel of the Middle East, the tents, the open fires with spicy aromas wafting through the air.  The sand, the heat.  I discovered that the Greek pallet has connections with the Middle East.  The recipe for Spanakopita or Spinach Pie I explored was a delightful surprise.  In my attempt to make my own connection to these recipes and share them with my North American taste buds.  There are a lot of foods made with eggplant, yogurt, many pickled foods, and flatbreads. The recipe for Macaroni with Cheese “Banirov Arsha” was fabulous, baked and cut into squares.  Cabbage and Tomatoes “Kapuska” so delicious with a mixture of paprika, dill and lemon juice. The Turnips in Olive Oil “Yoghov Shogham” turned out to be a great Armenian recipe.

Book Highlight

I decided to make a whole meal from Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian.  Most of the ingredients I had on hand and dinner was so fast and full of great tastes.  I decided to feature a dish with Spinach and garlic I had in my food box.


Spinach with olive oil and tomatoes

“This recipe is from Cyprus –  though I hasten to add that it is typical of the entire region, barring Iran and the Gulf States where olive oil is hardly ever seen.”

  • 1 lb fresh spinach
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 large ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Discard coarse stems and damaged leaves and rinse the spinach thoroughly to remove soil and sand.  Place the spinach in a large saucepan and cook just in the water that clings to the leaves until limp.  Drain in a colander and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water and chop coarsely.

Heat the oil in a large pan, add the garlic and fry for 2 or 3 minutes.  Add the spinach and stir to coat with the oil.  Scatter the tomatoes over the spinach and sprinkle the salt and pepper over the top.  Cover the pan and cook for 5 to 10 minutes stirring occasionally.

Serve hot with a pilaf of your choice.


Saffron Rice

“Aromatic saffron rice is an Indian dish which is also popular in Southern Iran, especially among the fierce Baluchi and Afghan tribes.  Magnificent with appearance, glowing, golden and exquisitely delicate in flavor.  Often a meal on its own, accompanied by vegetables and yogurt.”

  • 4 tbsp butter
  • Seeds of 4 whole cardamom pods
  • 4 whole cloves
  • Three 1-inch pieces cinnamon sticks
  • 1 medium-sized onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain rice, washed, soaked for 30 minutes in cold water and drained
  • 3 1/4 cups water, boiling
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp crushed saffron threads, soaked in 2 tbsp boiling water for 20 minutes

In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the butter over a moderate heat and when the foam subsides, add the cardamom seeds, cloves, and cinnamon sticks and fry, stirring constantly for 2 minutes.

Add the onion and fry, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until its golden brown.

Add the rice, reduce the heat to moderately low and fry gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.  Pour the boiling water over the rice, add the salt and stir in the saffron mixture.  Cover the pan, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until the rice is tender and all the liquid has been absorbed.

Remove the pan from the heat, spoon the rice onto a serving dish and serve immediately.

Contest Rules

You can Win your own copy of Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East, by Arto der Haroutunian, published by The Experiment and distributed by Thomas Allen and Sons, by leaving a comment at the end of this blog, and as well let me what your favourite food aromas make you think of the Middle East?

You can of course buy your own copy from your local book store.  Thank you to Thomas Allen & Sons for donating my copy so that I can offer this amazing giveaway!


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11 Responses to Vegetarian Dishes From Across The Middle East – Review and Giveaway

  1. Diggity Dog says:

    The book looks wonderful! What I like is the scent of a nice mint and cucumber salad. It’s just so light and wonderful, maybe with a yogurt dressing… makes me hungry right now. I need to go get some mint from my neighbor as he’s promised to let transplant a few shovel fulls of his large patch.


  2. Wanda Baburek says:

    This cookbook looks fabulous! My favourite middle eastern spice hands down is tumeric. I love the aromas of spices whafting through the house when I have a dish simmering away in the kitchen.


  3. Alissa Neufeld says:

    This book looks great !!!
    I would have to say the subtle smoky smell of roasted/ charred eggplant is one of my favourite smells. I absolutely love eggplant and it’s versatility.


  4. Janet Tufts says:

    I never enter contests (can’t be bothered) and who would ever have thought signing up for a produce program could offer SUCH fun! Thank you. Like Cee (above) I am going to comment on cinnamon. A few weeks ago, I made a Moroccon chicken marinade and when my husband was bbq’ing, he thought it smelled rather odd, but the taste was to die for and I am sure it was the cinnamon. Cinnamon offers something really unique to such a variety of foods…from muffins, to chicken to rice!


  5. Julie Lorenzin says:

    One of my favourite Middle Eastern veggie dishes is the Fatoush Salad. After having it at Barakat in downtown London I wanted to make it at home but couldn’t figure out what the delicious red spice throughout it was. I finally found the secret… sumac (usually sold as a coarsely ground powder and can also be found in berry form; it can be found at Greek and Middle Eastern stores). It has a wonderful tart lemony flavour. Fatoush salad is simple – chopped romaine lettuce, chopped green/red peppers, red onion, celery, parsley and dressed with a simple olive/lemon dressing. Sprinkle the sumac over the top and toss! Serve with hummus/baba ganoush, pita. We often add grilled chicken for a wonderful summer night dinner. You can find sumac in London at any one of the Middle Easter grocers.


  6. Bobby says:

    I must admit I do not know much about Middle East dishes. I have tried Loubieh Bizeit (string beans cooked in a garlic and cilantro sauce) and baba ghanoush (a dip made from mashed eggplant and flavored with seasonings.), so the aroma of garlic and cilantro make me think of Middle East dishes I have never tried making any dishes on my own though, so the cookbook would be a new adventure for me.


  7. Oh, that cookbook sounds like it has some delicious recipes! Like many of the other commenters, I’d say the smell of lemon and garlic make me think of Middle Eastern food.


  8. Cee says:

    Cinnamon! One of the tastiest meals I’ve had has incorporated lentils, carmelized onions, long-grain rice, and cinnamon. Delicious!


  9. Ann Moore says:

    The picture on the front cover was enough to make my mouth water. Eggplants are so yummy! I’d say that fresh lemon, garlic, and perhaps cumin make me think “middle east”.


  10. “Hello Julie….I went and had a look. The first recipe ..Spinach w/tomatoes…I used to make this with dandelion greens. Lots of iron and still just as yummy 🙂 The book looks yummy…I mean good….I mean interesting!!!!! Your doing a great job, I love your page. xo”….”I love to try new recipes consisting of new tastes and “zingy” spices.”


  11. becky ellis says:

    This book sounds fantastic – middle eastern food is one of my favourites. I love knowing that I can find delicious vegetarian options no matter where I go as long as there is a falafel shop! The aromas that remind me the most of Middle Eastern food are garlic and lemon – preferably together!


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